For those of you who don’t know, I recently had the pleasure of testing out the four hour work day. Although my experiment only lasted a few months, it gave me great insight into what it would be like if I was working for myself full time. And by full time, of course I really mean only four hours a day 😉
But now that I’m back working 8 hours a day at a real job I’ve started thinking a lot about efficiency and what it means to be an efficient worker. One of the big reasons why I don’t like 9-5 office type jobs is because of the amount of time wasted. Would you be surprised to learn that at my last day job there were literally days where I went in and didn’t do one ounce of work? I’m sure there are some people that go into work and work their ass of for 8-10 hours a day and take lunch at their desks but I’m certainly not friends with any of them.
Optimal Work Day
Believe it or not, I started this site because I feel that the optimal amount of work is about 4 hours per day. As I learned, you can get plenty of work done in just four hours a day. And although I often worked more than that, there were also times when I didn’t work at all or just responded to e-mails here and there during the day.
But regardless of how much time I spent working, I always made sure that I was actually working during that entire time. I like to say that when I was self-employed I got shit done. My average workload ended up being about four hours a day but it never really felt like work. If I had nothing to do, I’d start working. If I was tired, I’d go to bed.
It didn’t help either that I took my day job hiatus during the last few months of summer since it was 75 degrees and sunny whenever I looked out my office window. I probably would have worked a lot more if the weather was gloomier but that’s rarely the case in SoCal. Instead, I’d work every morning for a few hours and then go out and have some ‘ME time’, finishing off with a couple hours of work before bed.
Cut the Crap
If you cut out all the pointless meetings, chatting with friends by the water cooler and bathroom breaks(I tend to take long ones haha) you’re probably in the 4-5 hour range too. I know some of you might even be working less than that but as long as you’re appearing to work hard that’s what really counts.
If you don’t have work, it’s silly to physically be at work for 8 hours because that’s what society dictates. I often find myself waiting for the clock to hit 5 so that I can leave. Even though I get all of my work done in a timely manner and of the highest quality I still have to appear as if I’m working until the work day is over. How efficient is that? That’s just one of the reasons why I won’t be able to work a day job forever – there’s too much time that is wasted.
Efficiency in Action
Now that I’m working full time during the day and blogging and writing by night I have to be more efficient than ever. I really don’t have time to mess around when I get home since I only have about 5-6 hours of free time every day. On most nights I spend about 2-3 hours working, yet I’m taking on about the same workload as I was during my day job hiatus. So how am I doing it?
One of the most valuable lessons I learned from the corporate world was how to stay organized. I always tell people when it comes to budgeting and saving, if you save a little more money now, that amount will compound over time and be worth more the longer you hold onto it. The exact same thing holds true when it comes to being organized but instead of earning more money, you’re saving yourself more time.
The longer you wait to organize your files, the more work you’ll have and the harder it will be to eventually find what you need. It’s a very simple concept but I can’t tell you how valuable it is. I actually employ a lot of the 5S organizational skills and lean practices that I learned at my last job to my own businesses and even my personal life.
Here are just a few examples of how I keep my business operations running efficiently:
- Dealing With Advertisers – I deal with hundreds of advertisers on a monthly basis. A lot of these jokers don’t speak English very well and to be frank, aren’t very good at their job. They say they’ll have the ads ready by a certain date yet I won’t hear from them for weeks. I keep a simple spreadsheet that tracks my contact points with each advertiser. I’ll track everything from the initial inquiry to receiving payment and that often involves updating my spreadsheet every time I receive an e-mail from an advertiser. Even though it may take a little extra time to update my spreadsheet, I try to answer these e-mails all at once and batch process to save myself time.
- Document Everything – I’m always amazed at how often people are forgetting things. I don’t have a scientific system for staying on track of everything but I make sure that I write anything down that’s important. I use Google Calendar to mark appointments, follow-up dates and things of that nature. But I also like to use Evernote which is a note software that syncs notes you take on your computer to those on your phone and vice versa. I have way too much going on in my life to rely on my memory to remember everything I need to do.
One of the reasons why I’ve been able to continue working online with my day job is that I’ve started hiring help. I have a VA who helps me with data entry type tasks and I automated a lot of the social sharing that I used to do manually(using a service called dlvr.it – best $107/yr I’ve ever spent!). I also hired a couple writers to help me out when my workload becomes too much. It’s hard to find trustworthy people who do great work and are reasonably priced but in order for a business to grow, it’s imperative that you hire more employees and expand.
Right now I spend a large majority of my time dealing with e-mails. I get a lot of e-mails for a one man business and that’s also one of the reasons why I’m looking into hiring a VA to help manage my e-mails. But for now, I do everything myself. Since everyone knows the excuse, “I didn’t get your e-mail” is BS(that’s not how e-mail works!), I make a point of replying to every single e-mail I receive.
I get most of my e-mails during the day and if I don’t have time to respond to them, I’ll star them for follow-up or I use the labels function in my gmail to organize them. Again, it’s a pretty simple system but it works.
Since I send out a lot of batch e-mails, I found a tool that automates the process called Mail Merge. It’s a script that runs through Google Docs and Gmail and it allows you to set variables for whatever fields you like and send the same message to a list of e-mails. So for example, I can send a personalized e-mail to as many people as I want but the body will remain the same or I can change certain variables within the e-mail depending on who is receiving it.
Being Efficient Requires More Work
These are just a few of my secrets that allow me to work two jobs and still have time left over to enjoy my life. By now you may have realized a theme here. Efficiency often requires more time spent up front but it always seems to pay dividends in the end. Not only will you save time and money, but you’ll also save yourself the stress and hassle of not knowing where things are or how things are done.
No matter where you’re starting from on the organizational totem pole, it’s important that you’re always trying to do more. You can’t be satisfied with the status quo. In order for your businesses to expand and grow, you need to slowly take on more work, hire more people and be more efficient. I’ve seen a direct correlation between how efficient your business is and how much money you make and that’s why I’m always striving for maximum efficiency.
Readers, what do you think about how efficient you are at work? When you own your own business, being efficient matters a lot but does it even matter much to you when you’re working for someone else?
-Harry @ the Four Hour Work Day