Work Less to Achieve More

I kicked off January 2014 with a mission: reduce my working hours to increase my productivity. In case you missed it, here’s the idea in its entirety from Day 4 of my New You for a New Year series:

The major benefit of building this career for myself is that I can and do work around my family’s schedule. My typical working months are January through May and then September through December (up until the holiday break).

I took six months off for a big move in 2013. The months I did work this year needed to count, and for the most part, they did. I started off strong, but I could have finished with a bang … and I didn’t. And that’s okay, but I need to stretch my comfort zone and push through procrastination and burn-out once and for all.

It’s 2014 today! I have a new plan for the year, and this will be important as I set my goals and schedule for the coming months. This may seem paradoxical to the issue, but I’m going to reduce my working hours.

I’m super excited about this idea and dying to share. I have a potential seven working hours every weekday (while my children are at school and the house is quiet). That’s thirty-five hours a week to myself. Up until now, I’ve tried to fill those hours with laser-focused production and an occasional day off here and there. That’s produced epic failure, major burn-out and unhappiness.

I’ve been thinking about it lately: I don’t know anybody who works a laser-focused eight-hour day without losing their marbles. And when I say laser-focused, that’s what I mean: set the timer, the only task in front of you is the task at hand. No phone calls, no chit chat, no email-checks, no Facebook status updates … just work that allows you to cross important things off your professional to-do list.

Most people go to work and take plenty of breaks, interact with their co-workers, and get up for a stretch and a stroll.

Meanwhile, I’m locked up alone in my house with the work that needs to be done. I don’t even allow myself to stop and use the bathroom while I’m on the clock! It can wait until the timer goes off (I do 50 minute work sessions with 10 minute breaks in between). That uber-strict regimen isn’t working; it results in two weeks of production, four weeks of burn-out.

Therefore, I’m only going to work four hours per day, Monday through Friday, with two personal days and one family day scheduled each month. Additionally, I’ll be taking off June, July, most of August and most of December.

Of course there will be tinkering outside of work hours. That’s why I read business books on Christmas day. As I said before, I love this shit. But, the hard stuff, the stuff that I don’t want to do because it’s not fun and easy, that gets done every weekday during my four-hour, laser-focused work session.

I’m excited to share my results.

Okay, I’m still ridiculously excited about this idea. So much so that I will talk your ear off when I get going about it. My husband has suffered through hours of a one-sided conversation about how much I’m getting done with my four-hour workdays.

What I’ve realized is this: Creative energy isn’t cheap; it’s quite costly on both the mind and spirit. Most of what you do with your working hours requires great innovation. Your work involves less mundane tasks than you’d expect to complete during a typical 9-5 at a traditional job. A creative career is full of new ideas that are taxing to manifest.

By end-January, I will have worked a total of 76 hours (January 1-31st minus weekends, two holidays, one family day and one personal day). I’ve kept a running log all month long, and I tracked every single thing I did with those hours. Additionally, the reduced workweek has allowed to to complete unfinished business, lose some weight, stick to my budget and eat healthier. I’ve kept track of personal goals in my progress log as well.

The results have been so astounding that I’ve decided to keep a progress log for each working month in 2014. I’ll share the document here on the last working day (January will be released this Friday!). I can hardly wait to share! In the meantime, please share with me:

How do you manage your working hours?

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20 comments

  • Sooo looking forward to seeing how this turns out for you. I’ve just had a few 24hr stints that wiped me out so I’m definitely looking for a way to organize and condense.

  • I like a rule that I’ve come across and use (I’m not sure whose it was) is I stop each day/session while still keen to continue, and note what it is that I want to return to as the first thing next session. The idea is to avoid exhaustion from productive but overly-long sessions, and instead to maintain mental and physical enthusiasm from session to session. This does need a surprising amount of discipline (avoiding “I’m pretty exhausted, but if I push myself hard I can make just one more”), but the rewards are great.
    Another way I consider myself fortunate – and this ties in with Lisa’s pattern – is that I tend to work afternoons elsewhere, and have just half days for my business, which does tend to make the time both precious and manageable, and gives me a range of sources of stimulation each day.
    I do need to have time off at weekends more than I do though, because otherwise things can still become a bit relentless…
    Best wishes to all

    • That’s a really great tip, John – and not one I’ve been implementing until recently. Without recording where you left off, it takes several minutes of valuable working time to find your place again! Thanks for adding and all the best to you.

  • Do you mean 4 hours a day? 4 hours a week would mean I would not even get my orders done never mind the additional stuff like photography, social networking, listing items, etc. I am currently in my studio 5 hrs a day minimum and it still is not enough. I also work another 4 at home on computer related stuff (anything on said machine). I am burning out a bit myself at this point and know I need to change something. I like the idea you are putting out here and hope it works for you.

  • Hi – I retired my day job in early December and I am working on my creative business “full-time” now. I really appreciate this article, because after two successful months, I am beginning to see that I could burn out, or have no time to do fun things other than my fun business. Thanks, Lisa. I was thinking about the four hours a day myself before I read this, so your article confirmed for me. My Etsy shop garnered over $1000 in January and I opened a Shopify store on 1/21/14, and sold $107 there. I saw you shared your figures today, and thought I would share mine.

  • This is truly the best, most concise description I’ve heard of what being a working artist really entails…

    “What I’ve realized is this: Creative energy isn’t cheap; it’s quite costly on both the mind and spirit. Most of what you do with your working hours requires great innovation. Your work involves less mundane tasks than you’d expect to complete during a typical 9-5 at a traditional job. A creative career is full of new ideas that are taxing to manifest.”

    Love that. I may quote you. : )

  • Thank you so much for this article! I had a week to make tons of new jewelry to up my inventory for a last minute craft show. I really burnt myself out and have been physically sick since the show and unable to make anything new. I will try this out to see how it works for me. I have another show this weekend and less than a week to make more inventory. I guess it never ends. :/

  • Interesting article 🙂 I too really liked your quote and can completely relate:

    What I’ve realized is this: Creative energy isn’t cheap; it’s quite costly on both the mind and spirit. Most of what you do with your working hours requires great innovation. Your work involves less mundane tasks than you’d expect to complete during a typical 9-5 at a traditional job. A creative career is full of new ideas that are taxing to manifest.

    I have been working as a professional artist, and for the last 10 years it has been full time. In the beginning for the first few years, I literally painted large scale canvases for 7-8 hours a day at a furious pace. Forgetting to eat, go to the bathroom all that good stuff. It was exhausting!!! However most of my friends and family thought I had the easy life and occasionally banged out a painting or maybe two a week in between watching daytime tv! While my partner and I have together built a very successful business grossing over six figures a year (and I say that not to brag but to encourage that it is possible if you want to push yourself…and yes. I can prove it), the time has come for me to also re-evaluate my priorities.
    At 45 years old (yep, those years really do fly by) I am wanting to transition into a slower pace so that I can hopefully grow old gracefully and to rest my overworked worn out shoulder 🙁 Iam too hoping that by rebalancing my work and personal life I will be happier and feel more content.
    I wish you much success on your journey and look forward to following your journey….it’s nice to relate to people in the same boat, rowing up or down the same river.
    Thanks for the post! 🙂

  • I am about to write a complete blog post but the summary of how I schedule my work hours is in priority.

    First I spend the morning doing the family thing.
    Then orders, there is no point in promotion if you can’t fill the orders you have. Followed by the rest of my priority list.

    I must say Lisa you are an inspiration to me and I am building my business based on your advice and finding funnily enough its working. Thanks so much for your advice.

    Anyone that would like to know the rest of my schedule can head to my blog. Have a great day, Joy

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