A few weeks ago, I expressed my desire to cut my work hours in half without experiencing a drop in income. Yeah, I know. It sounds crazy. But I think it’s possible.
In an effort to make that happen, I approached the FWJ community for advice. The post received a number of great comments that, when combined, serve as a fantastic resource for anyone who wants to work on their own efficiency/time management/etc.
As I mentioned last week while handing out free nachos, I decided to combine them into a single post (this one) and to comment on them a little bit.
Buckle up and bring a drink. This is gonna be a long trip. It could be even longer–there were some truly great ideas and some of them deserve more attention than I can give them here.
Note: You won’t find anyone talking about increasing their rates. That was intentional, not an oversight. When I asked folks to chip in with their $.02 worth, I asked them to leave that topic alone. I didn’t want to get into the 8,372,898th discussion of freelance writing rates.
Without further ado, here’s an overall look at what folks around here had to say about getting things done more efficiently.
Thanks again to everyone who commented. My apologies if I somehow forgot to reference your particular remarks in this post. Every shred of advice provided had real value.
Some of you decided that my rant about “killing time” and some of my other remarks evidenced excess stress and advised me to relax. Dava, Marcia, Debi and Debra all seem to think I’d benefit from a healthy dose of chill pills and they’re probably right. Tsarina thinks I should cut myself a little slack.
That’s good advice. A high-stress attitude can be exhausting, which can reduce efficiency. If one wants to log fewer hours, it’s important to make the remaining hours awesome.
In all honesty, my original post probably made me seem a little more tightly wound than I actually am. Nonetheless, I think we can all benefit from stress reduction and I’m going to try to maintain a nice, mellow sense of perspective as I work toward my goals. I think that much of the other advice provided will make it easier to shed stress, too.
A number of you recommended hiring someone else to handle aspects of my business, freeing up my time to concentrate on what matters most to me. Ideally, the improved productivity would generate enough money to pay the support while leaving me with an improved bottom line and more time on my hands.
Chris recommended hiring someone to do my research. Kate thought I could benefit by putting a VA on the payroll. Allena and Phil liked the idea of hiring out, as well.
I think I can benefit from this in the near future, but not immediately. My fractured schedule and somewhat weird organizational strategies make it tough to bring someone else in on the action without hitting the “pause” button long enough to get that someone up to speed. We work in a deadline-driven discipline and that just really isn’t an option right now because of it.
By doing some other things, I can get myself in a situation where it is possible to utilize the talents of others more frequently and with greater effect.
This is an area in which I have extensive experience. For several months, I was spending a significant percentage of my time assembling teams to complete large content production tasks and managing the projects. Let’s just say I discovered that outsourcing and relying on others can be a challenging process. I hope to use the lessons I learned on that front in the future.
Smart scheduling was another recurrent theme. Chris thinks I should actually work intentional “moments of nothing” into the schedule. Laura cautioned against overscheduling. Jeremy recommended scheduling things that don’t really exist in hopes of fooling myself into heightened levels of efficiency. Vicky liked the idea of making time bargains as a means of self-encouragement. Dee advocates the idea of a 50-minute hour and Su-sieee recommends cutting one thing out every day in order to make life easier and more productive. Carol thinks I should take more time off and believes that a weekly all-day break is a great way to recharge one’s batteries.
I can see how some of the scheduling “tricks” would work extremely well for some people. I don’t think I’d respond well to some of them–they seem a little artificial to me. The ones that really resonate with me on a personal level are the need to avoid overscheduling and working periods of “down time” into the schedule That notion of turning the world “off” one day per week is mouth-watering.
Reading all of this advice about schedules has pushed me to examine the actual mechanics of my personal scheduling. That includes the tools I use, the way I assess likely time requirements, etc.
A few people made the perfectly sane observation that there was an alternative to trying to work less while maintaining or increasing income. Camilla and Marcia both recommended spending less money in the first place and Janed pointed out the potential advantage of moving somewhere less expensive.
Like most families, we’re getting pretty vigilant on those fronts and it can make a big difference. I’m completely portable in terms of work and my wife is a special education teacher, which is a relatively high-demand profession all over the place. We’ve discussed the idea of moving to a less expensive area (yeah, we are in Kansas, but we’re in Johnson County, which is relatively pricy).
TBri reminded me that single parents are in an even tougher situation. Brad (the official Nacho Winner) pointed out just how silly it is to complain about having too much work when some folks are struggling to make ends meet these days. Helen’s tongue-in-cheek recommendations about canceling the good things in life to make more time for work pointed out the risk of taking efficiency to an extreme and Fran’s comments about the role of personality responsibility in these situations struck a chord.
These comments don’t really qualify as advice. However, I found them to be some of the most valuable contributions. It’s really easy to get so wrapped up in the details of running your business that you lose track of the bigger, more important things. Thanks for the reminders.
Systems and Automation
Chris advocated automation and overall simplification (cutting things in half repeatedly). Matt told me it was time to stop multitasking and that working through the ol’ to-do list in a more focused way would yield results. Ericka recommended devising better systems.
I’ve had the tremendous luck to work extensively with a leading expert on systematic approaches to business operation and with a client whose analytics business focuses on isolating and improving critical drivers in business processes. So, I do have a good understanding of how to develop and apply smart systems to my workflow. Now, the challenge is listening to the good advice I’ve received and combining it with the knowledge I’ve gained.
On an intellectual level, I’m a true believer in systematic processes and automation as a means of improving efficiency. The problem, thus far, has been stopping the existing Rube Goldberg-esque machine long enough to implement the changes. It’s hard to stop to tie your shoes when a bear is chasing you. I’m going to find a way, though.
Karen and Patti recommend improved health. Of course, they’re absolutely right. Even if they weren’t right with respect to the impact of better health on productivity, it would still be worth following their advice simply because early death isn’t really on my to-do list.
We tend to have sedentary lifestyles. When we’re working way too much, the effects of that motionless life becomes even more pronounced.
I think it’s time to start running again. Swimming on off-days. Sorry, Patti, but I just can’t see myself doing yoga. I know it’s great, but I just don’t think it’s me.
Angie, Marcia and Su-sieee all think I could benefit from a little more shuteye. They’re right. A little more sleep would boost waking hour productivity so much that it would probably result in a substantial net gain in output. It might also cure my Exploding Head Syndrome. It’s also a great stress-reducer and it would undoubtedly improve my mood.
Jodee wants me to hold out until we perfect cloning. I just don’t think science has advanced enough for me to keep plugging along with the status quo that long.
Raina recommends decluttering my life and Ericka emphasizes a productive workspace. These are extremely smart recommendations and they’re two of the few I’m already doing effectively. I’ll vouch for them.
Leslie observed that one can kill two birds with one stone by finding ways to work on projects that provide you with information you can use to improve other elements of your business.
Annie reminded us that priorities trump the concept of “balance” and that we should strive to do the bulk of our work during those times when we tend to be most productive.
Ashley understood my “I wanna crush Ian’s head with a window air conditioner” impulse and Stacy appreciated my use of the word “asshat”. No, those aren’t pieces of advice. But I love them.