Most Americans are spending too much time at work. And it’s often not because they’re getting so much done, but rather because they’re not making it a priority to shrink the workday and be more efficient. I haven’t mastered the art of a shortened workday myself, but there are many tips and tricks that I’ve employed when I have a busy week outside of work or I’m feeling that I need to be at home more. Some of these are somewhat tangential to the popular “4 Hour workweek” but these are the tactics that work for me. Before jumping on some of these suggestions as practices of a slacker, think about them in depth and just consider how much wasted time and effort goes into doing some of these things and that if everyone followed the same tactics, there would be less work overall. Needless email chains, meetings, presentations and other activities that could have been altered, minimized or eliminated altogether are prolonging your workday needlessly.
- 1. Don’t check your email incessantly. Some recommend just once or twice a day. I try to keep it to every couple hours. The point is to check it LESS. It will work (more on that below).
- 2. Don’t feel the need to lead or prolong and email chain discussion. Often times, if you don’t reply, someone else will, and if you didn’t even look at the email until the end of the day, chances are, the issue’s already resolved. Perhaps you were the ONLY one that could resolve the issue? Then it’s appropriate to step up and lead. But when one of five people can answer a question, why does it always have to be you?
- 3. Don’t hit reply all. If you are compelled to reply to an email chain or an initial email where they cc’d the world, just reply to the individual. Inevitably, people feel the need to add their 2 cents, question your reply, pat you on the back, go off on tangents, or whatever. Each of those subsequent emails is wasting your time and that of others. By just replying to the initial sender, it cuts out all that unnecessary redundant reading and replying.
- 4. Don’t go to every meeting. People will often invite you to a meeting because they assume you MAY want to be invited or MAY be able to contribute or they’re inviting two different people in your group. Think about how many times you’ve been in a meeting and said to yourself “Why the heck am I here??”. Well, avoid the pain upfront and skip some meetings that don’t make sense. Be professional and send a decline in outlook or whatever system you’re using, but cite other pressing issues or priorities and decline some.
- 5. Cancel meetings as appropriate. I have a few projects that are multi-year projects and I’m the project manager. There’s a tendency to just meet on scheduled intervals even if there are no new real pressing issues or developments. What I do is sometimes cancel every other meeting or cancel them altogether and start discussing topics just 1:1 as appropriate. Aside from the hour saved from the meeting, you’re saving time on agendas and minutes. If you leave the meeting series on the calendar, the team is still engaged and locked in for future meetings, but you’ll find intervals where it’s not efficient to meet. So, cancel.
- 6. Batch Process. Are there certain activities that you have to perform routinely but you end up doing a little each day? In my personal life, this might include paying bills or cleaning a room (and writing 2-3 blog posts in a night!). At work, it might be issuing invoices or doing agendas/minutes. By ganging everything together and cranking out several actions at the same time as opposed to splitting it up, you’ll be much more efficient. Think about all the setup time and distractions you can avoid and get all the work done at a particular time each week.
- 7. Avoid Overload and Hit Small Tasks ASAP. Rather than staring at that massive presentation or 2 hour task which spills over into an entire day without ever being entirely complete, bang out all the little things ASAP. This means making that quick phone call, forward on an activity like an email or approval in a system, stopping by that office while the door’s open for a quick face to face chat, or whatever it may be. What ends up happening is, by skipping all the little items and wasting time procrastinating on a large project, none of the small stuff gets done and then you feel compelled to do it late at night before you leave. Do it early, things will move quicker and you can leave on time.
- 8. Bring Work Home. While this sounds like you’re not really saving time, there are two benefits – First of all, it beats being at work. Perhaps you can see more of your kids or get some extra daylight and doing work at night works better. But also, it might actually be more efficient. If your work environment doesn’t lend itself to efficiency and you have co-workers talking to you, joking around in the office, etc., you can be more focused and efficient at home potentially.
- 9. Lunch – Eat at Your Desk and/or Bring Your Own – If you eat with co-workers each day, you can plan on killing an hour. If you go out to lunch, the commute and wait alone are sure to eat up at least 30 additional minutes. Even if you have a company caf, by eating at your desk you can work while you eat and even if you blow off steam while you eat and do no work, it’s still quicker. If you bring your own lunch, that’s even quicker than going down to the caf or running offsite for lunch each day. The lunch break is a huge time-killer. While there’s a social aspect to it, you’re trading that for your own personal time at night. Is it worth it? Or perhaps there’s a compromise. Maybe you only join friends 1-2 days a week instead of every day. Surely, there’s some time to be saved here.
- 10. Just do it! What time you normally leave, pick an hour early. If you’re normally toiling away until 6PM, leave at 5 tomorrow. Just watch, you’ll make it by being more efficient and cutting out unnecessary tasks.
That does it! Try these out and report back or let us know what your favorite time hacks are at work so you can get out of there earlier.