The Work Less Challenge

Happy at work - not overworked

More work will not always get more more results – and will not make you happy at work

Can’t talk, working. Can’t eat, working. Can’t come home, working. If you have felt you didn’t have enough time to get your work done, then I’d like to offer a different perspective that will make you more effective and more happy at work: Instead of desperately trying to squeeze in more hours for work, give yourself the challenge of reducing work without reducing results. Since work smarter, not harder is sooo overused, I’m going to call it the Work Less Challenge – a way to increasing happiness at work and in the rest of life as well.

Stressed with less?

At friend of mine recently got bumped down from 40 hours to 25 hours a week due to financial challenges at the company. The work is stil there, however, and as a Project Manager, she is struggling to get everyting done in time. She feels she can’t allow herself to reduce the quality of the work done (we all have our pride), and working fewer hours actually has her more stressed (and a whole lot grumpier) than working full time, since she’s running faster to make ends meet.

The trouble comes when we reduce marginally. Anyone who have seen a speaker with a 1-hour seminar being given only 40 minutes will have experienced an increase in pace, with slides flying on and off the screen and key points coming only half across. That’s why, at the TED and TEDx conferences, they drastically reduce speaking time, so you’re forced to come up with something new. So it was for me this saturday when I spoke at TEDxSquareMile in London. 10 minutes was my allotted time, and I had to give a whole other speech than usual, in order to still be succesful (I’ll brag another day, and just add that it was awesome).

Creative and happy at work with less

Suppose my friend had only one day a week to be a Project Manager. Then things have to change. There’s no longer room for two to three daily meetings, a dozen calls and 20-50 emails. The approach has to change, and that lets creativity loose. My friend might start considering working like this instead:

  • One weekly half-day workshop with all involved, where we don’t just talk, but actually work on plans and decide on solutions and commitments for the next week.
  • No meetings longer that 20 minutes. No tables, no chairs.
  • All meetings are voluntary – if you believe work is more urgent, then get out and do it.
  • Only plain-text mails and documents since making something look “nice” is just a time killer.
  • Living 80/20 to the max: “perfect” is the enemy, and “good enough” is almost too good.

Signposts that you have too much time: People are texting in meetings, or hiding behind their computers. Emails get responded to immediately (weren’t you working?) and “It would be nice to…” requests gets more priority than reaching the goal.

Legendary IT company 37signals gets it right when they refuse to hold meetings (calling them toxic), never work more that a few people on the same job, launch half-finished products (good enough), deny request for additional features (reduce complexity) and during the summer reduce work to four days (skip the things that aren’t important and go surfing). All while making a healthy profit, being happy at work and having millions of happy customers.

Your challenge: Work Less

Try it for a week. Ask yourself If I had to finish my work in half the time, what would I have to do differently? Then try it out.

Use the time freed to be with your friends, play with your kids, do sports, read a book or do the things at home you’ve been putting off. Work is NOT the singular purpose in life, and looking busy does not make you look valuable, intelligent or important. I just makes you look stupid, and you are smarter that that. If working less could get you the same results, then tell me one reason why you should not do so? Going from 40 hours to just 25 would actually allow you to learn a second language (or third, fourth or fifth, if you’re not american;) in just a few months, if you committed the time for it.

If you’re facing a similar problem, or have successfully reduced work, then I’d love to hear your story.