Last week I started a little productivity project that I called my "4-hour Workday Experiment". My goal was to work only 4 optimally productive hours a day and to keep my efficiency ratio at 80% or higher. I think I did pretty well with it, considering that it turned out to be one of the hardest things I've ever done.
No kidding--it's tough, and I'm not gonna fudge and say that I didn't fall off the wagon once or twice. I did. Those of you who received emails and skypes from me on Saturday and Sunday know what I'm talking about :-). But in comparison to the hours I used to work, last week was a HUGE improvement, and I feel like I'm moving in the right direction.
I'm so excited that bunches of other small biz owners have expressed an interest in doing their own 4-hour workday experiments. Since I learned some great lessons already and am tweaking my plan, I'd like to pass on some pointers for how to make the most of your 4-hour workday:
Don't try to force yourself to work harder.
I'd already gotten this piece of sage advice from Steve Pavlina, but did I listen? Nope.
On a few of the days, I got over-eager and worked with the intention of cramming 8 or more hours of work into a 4-hour workday, with disappointing results.
Learn from my mistake--trying to work harder doesn't make you more efficient; it just makes you frantic, frazzled and frustrated.
Steve Pavlina advises to severely limit your work hours with no expectations on how much work you will complete. His assertion is that your mind will automatically adjust to the scarcity of work time and that you will naturally pace yourself accordingly.
Some folks may feel uncomfortable with this approach. You may be thinking, "I'm trying to run a business. I have things that NEED to get done. I can't just say 'Whatever gets done, gets done.'"
I hear ya. But one thing I've found is that this experiment is almost entirely psychological.
Yes, you have to plan. Yes, you need to set up your environment so that you can work in a focused manner, but none of this will work if your mindset isn't in sync with your goals.
Your goal is not to work harder. Your goal is to be more productive. These are two very different things.
To work harder is just to expend more energy. Productivity has to do with how fruitful your efforts are.
So, if you believe that the only way to get things done is to work really hard, then this experiment is not for you. But, if you're willing to try something different, to trust that your mind is a powerful tool that you can train to be more productive, then this 4-hour workday experiment may be worth a shot.
Sometimes the most productive thing you can do is to take the day off.
One of the major challenges of being a small biz owner is that we have no paid vacation or sick days, and we often don't have staff who will pick up our slack if we decide to take the day off. What happens is that we just work, work, work, and put our own self-care at the bottom of our to-do list.
Around Wednesday of last week, I started feeling under the weather. Of course, I ignored it and just kept chuggin' along. As each day went past, I felt worse and worse. By Friday, I was miserable, but I was determined to gut it out and work anyway. Looking back on it, that was a mistake.
When you're really not feeling up to par, the pain and discomfort you feel makes it almost impossible to concentrate and be optimally productive. On Friday, I couldn't work 4 hours straight through, because I felt so icky.
I felt sub-par on Saturday and Sunday too, but felt like I needed to make up for Friday by working over the weekend.
Perhaps if I had taken the day off on Wednesday of last week and focused on resting and getting better, then I could have gotten better faster and bounced back full force by Thursday.
At a certain point you need to ask yourself, "How will I get the most bang for my buck with my time?"
Sometimes the most productive thing we can do with our time is take the day off and take care of ourselves.
Write down your list of prioritized tasks every day before turning on the computer.
At least for me, it wasn't enough to just severely limit my work hours.
On the days I did my prep work before turning on the computer, I was focused like a laser beam. On the days when I thought, "I know what I need to do--I don't need a list today" I got easily sidetracked and distracted and felt more overwhelmed.
Not suprisingly, my fun days were the ones where I was focused, had direction and felt like I was doing my best work. My not-as-fun days were the ones where I felt overwhelmed and like I was working bunches but not getting very much done.
Give yourself a break. Don't beat yourself up if you fall off the wagon.
Like I said, this 4-hour workday experiment is one of the hardest things I've ever done, but the hard part is not sitting down for 4 hours and working optimally. That's the easy part.
The hardest part of all is stopping your mind from thinking about work after you turn off the computer.
This 4-hour workday experiment is as much a lifestyle change as starting a new exercise program or making healthy changes to your diet. For the first few days or weeks, it'll feel a little awkward.
You may give in to a Sunday afternoon internet surfing binge. You may give in to the urge to check email one last time before bedtime. We're all human and these things happen.
Productivity is a muscle. It takes time to build it up.
What I'm focusing on is progress, not perfection. I know that although I didn't do everything perfectly, that I did start to make some major healthy changes in my work habits.
Every day last week I turned off my computer at about 3pm. On all days (except for one) I kept the computer turned off for the rest of the day.
I also got into the habit of delaying the start of my workday and spending the early morning doing non-work activities that I enjoy.
If you're doing this experiment too, I'd love to hear your take on things, so please don't hesitate to chime in and share your own observations and experiences.