4 Things You Can Do Right Now if You’re Working Extra Hours

When I’m not interested in doing something or going somewhere, the easiest cop-out for me is to complain about how busy I’ve been this week, or how I haven’t had time for anything lately.  It’s easy to convince yourself that you’re too busy to do anything - there’s been times I’ve wanted to catch up with an old friend, attend a going-away party, volunteer for a good cause or even spend 10 mins when my kid asks me to play, but I thought I was too busy.  When this happens I’m copping out on myself - sacrificing the things add the most value to our life experiences for a busy calendar.  It doesn’t feel right to say to tell people I care about that I’m too busy to make time for them - whether it’s true or not.  As humans, I don’t believe we were built to live such busy lifestyles that we can’t find time to make time for what matters.  This goes way beyond work-life balance, it goes to the root of whether we’re actually “working,” or just filling gaps with busyness.

Tim Ferriss originally coined the phrase “busyness is a form of laziness,” but in our American society, there’s honor in busyness; work-life balance doesn’t matter and it’s really easy to hide behind the curtain of our busyness.  We like telling people how much we have going on because psychologically, it makes us feel important and fools us into believing we’re being productive.  Yet, it takes focus and strategy to be productive, and that thoughtful concentration and mental energy.  Most times we procrastinate on what’s hard or uncomfortable to do, and being productive can be both - it takes real work!  We’re inherently going to take the path of least resistance so don’t beat yourself up; it’s natural to lean towards laziness.

My introductory post to this series posed three questions for the busy; three questions to drill down to whether you’re actually as busy as you think you are, or whether you’re being lazy about how you work, and the first is this:

Do You Consistently Work Extra Hours?

You may feel like there’s no time to keep up during a normal 8-hour workday, so you have to work longer hours to manage your workload.  If you find yourself answering “yes” to Question 1, there’s hope for you, but you have to want it.

You may be putting in 9 to 14 extra hrs per day of what you perceive to be “productive” work. Get over yourself.  It’s an impossible task to be productive for a full 8 hrs per day let alone anything more, so what are you doing all day?  Usually, it’s an inability to set boundaries and say “no” to the people and activities demanding our unproductive time that holds us back.

If unproductive work is the only outlet that gives you purpose and you enjoy the extra hours then have at it! You may as well stop reading now - congratulations, you’re living your dream, and there’s nothing wrong with that.  However, for those who seek a fulfilling life experience outside of the office and who’s extreme hours are inhibiting progress in this area, here four ways you can free up those extra hours:

1. Get off E-Mail.

If you keep Outlook open all day, and worse, get pulled away from your work with incoming messages every 2-mins then stop.  Turn it off.  If those who want to invade your inbox need you they’ll call.  Just setup an auto response to let them know how to reach you if it’s urgent.  Most times, they’ll find another way to get the information and leave you to your work.

2. Be Selective About Meetings.

Whether your hosting the meeting yourself, or attending someone else’s meeting, you need to be getting value out of the time.  Ask yourself, or the host (1) the objective of the meeting and (2) the desired outcome.  If you or they waiver, you’re not ready for a meeting.  Most meeting hosts don’t even think about these questions before corralling their colleagues together; they just continue to build up Company overhead needs and expect the to remain profitable long-term.

If the host actually has answers to these two questions, but their answer adds less value than another task you needed to do for that particular day then you can’t make it; you have higher priority work.  You don’t need to be rude about it, just politely let them know you’re tied up or that you only have 5 mins.  It’s amazing what decisions can be made in 5 mins if the brain trust knows they’re under the gun.

If your Supervisor is making you sit through silly meetings then well, that’s a whole other issue for a future blog post - but there’s hope for this as well.

3. Send it to Voicemail.

Unless you’re a call center, if someone phones you while you’re in the middle of being productive, don’t be afraid to send it to voicemail.  If they leave one then treat it as urgent, check the voicemail and call them back if it is.  If non-urgent, create a reminder to call the person back in the place you manage your tasks; however you do this.  What?  You don’t have a system for managing tasks?  I could write 100 more posts about organizing work tasks and I’m sure I will someday.  For now, try Evernote (totally not being paid for the recommendation).

4. Escape the Cube.

If you work in a cubicle, expect interruptions.  It comes with the open, “collaborative” environment your company is attempting to create.  If you really need to bang something out, find an empty office or conference room to work in and shut the door.  If you’re already blessed with the privilege of an office, great!  Just shut the door and hang a “unavailable until HH:MM” sign to let people know when you’ll be done.

In Closing - If You're Working Extra Hours

If you consistently work long hours, and consistently is a keyword here, then you don’t have to put up with it. To perform at a high level you need to produce valuable work.  The deliverables have nothing to do with the hours, and if you’re Manager or Supervisor doesn’t understand this concept and just expects you to work late every night then their probably too lazy to think about what your deliverables need to be.  Their measure of performance is the time you put in…so ask yourself, is this really the kind of boss I want to work for?

Is Your Busyness a Form of Laziness?  Continue Reading this Series at: