HW 001: Best Advice You’ll Ever Get

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.

My Positivity List – a way to happiness at work

It’s easy to be self critical, and most people have experienced an internal dialogue wherein they convinced themselves that they weren’t good enough. When we doubt our own ability to handle a challenge, or try to gauge if we deserve a promotion or some form of recognition, a lot of us look for flaws. We discover shortcomings and blow them out of proportion.

Psychologists talk about negativity bias: A person experiencing both a positive and a negative event will feel worse than neutral despite judging the events to be of equal importance and magnitude. The poor experience simply matters more to us.

The same thing happens when we look at lists of pros and cons, where we automatically assign greater value to the negative aspects. Similarly, many people spot threats before opportunities. Early in human evolution, this was quite useful, as we struggled every day to stay alive. Notice the animal creeping up on you, and don’t forget which plants might kill you if you eat them, and you stand a better chance of surviving, and thus to pass on you genes. And so we are stem from ancestors who excelled at spotting potential problems. Useful in todays world? To a degree, no doubt. But we can benefit greatly if we focus out attention more on what’s right and what’s working for us, since that’s what we need more of if we are to be successful – and happy!

In todays’ modern work environment, our love for the negative and our keen eye for potential hazards can be an unnecessary burden we carry with us. However, there is hope. By seeing the world through a more positive lens, we can counter our insticts. It’s time to notice whats good in the world.

Activity: Write down all advantages and positive aspects

Sit down, grab a piece of paper or your journal, and write “List of positives” at the top. Then proceed to making a list of all the things that count in your favor. The topic you focus on can be broad: What am I good at? It can also be more specific: Reasons why I’m qualified for the job I want to apply for, or Evidence that I can handle this project. This activity works at home as well: Evidence that I can manage my finances, or how about The advantages regarding my current living conditions. You’ll find positive evidence in past successes and experiences, feedback, education and training, recognition from others and so on.

Please note, that we are not talking about deceiving ourselves with false evidence. Recognizing the natural pull of bad news and negative aspects, all we are doing is balancing the evidence and thus leveling the playing field by giving the actual and real positive sides the attention they deserve. This comes not by itself, but it can make all the difference in your level of happiness. Try it out – set aside 15 minutes to come up with your list, and see how it adds perspective.

My Positivity List is a one of the 12 ways to happiness at work featured in the illustrated ebook The Happy Dozen, available for free download.