This is the first of a series of three articles on minimalist workplace philosophy. Check back on Wednesday for a guest post by David Damron of The Minimalist Path.

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Americans work too much. Did you know that the average American worker spends 47.1 hours at the office per week? Some even work up to 70 hours. That’s insane, we’re killing ourselves. No wonder we never have time to cook breakfast and dinner, let alone exercise and spend time with our families.

The great recession has exacerbated this problem, because people are afraid they’ll be laid off if they don’t spend extra hours on the job.

The problem with delayed gratification.

The worst part about this whole equation is that we’re expected to slave away our youth for a far off goal of someday retiring to a nice beach somewhere when we hit our 70′s.

I’ve got some news for you, you probably won’t make it to 70 working 70 hours a week.

Now, I’m not saying you should quit working. Everyone needs to work in order to make money to survive, but an outrageous amount of time at the office is a good sign that you are working in a fear-based environment.

It’s time to start working less.

The best time to start working less was five years ago, if you missed that opportunity the time to start is now.

You’re afraid you’re not good enough, so you end up working long hours to prove to yourself and your employer that you’re being useful. This is the opposite of what your approach to work should be. You need to prove to yourself and your employer that you’re so useful that they can’t survive without you, and in order to do that, you and them need to value yourself enough to let you go home at a decent time of day.

But the truth is, you are good enough. Your employer needs you to do your job, because what you do is valuable. If what you do isn’t valuable then you need to go work for a company that you’re passionate about.

Why it doesn’t matter whether you’re self-employed or an office drone.

I’ve been self-employed since August, but before that I did a three year stint at a magazine office in New York. While I was there I developed a number of strategies to take control of my work schedule. I hope you’ll find these strategies useful, and you’ll apply them to your own work life.

This tips apply whether you’re working in an office, or from your living room.

While I might be working from anywhere these days, I wouldn’t be here without the solid work ethic I developed while I was working at the magazine.

You are probably more in danger of overworking when you’re self-employed than when you’re working in an office, because all of the money you make hinges on your ability to bring in the cash.

Be aware of your freelance work schedule, because if left unmonitored, the flexibility can be more dangerous than any day job.

If you get yourself fired, it’s your fault not mine.

Any of these suggestions below can be abused. You have to approach the modification of your work schedule with a decisive and yet conscious attitude. The idea behind most of these suggestions is to do your job better, make yourself indispensable, and go home at a decent hour.

Do not use these suggestions to be a slacker and not accomplish what you’re paid to do at your job –this approach can be a one way ticket to a pink slip if you’re not conscious of how others are perceiving what you’re trying to achieve.

Be aware of your surroundings. Don’t do all of these suggestions all at the same time. Be sure to retreat if your colleagues (and especially your boss) get defensive.

Use these tips wisely and you’ll be working thirty hours a week in no time, use them poorly and you’ll be working 0 hours a week in no time. I am in no way responsible if you lose your job if you blow your cover or act inappropriately.

The warning being said, I’ve put all of these techniques into play in both an office and working from home, and I’ve had huge success with all of them.

21 WAYS TO TAKE CONTROL OF JOB WITH THE MINIMALIST WORKWEEK.

1, You can probably do your job in less time than you do. There is this prevailing idea that you need to do your job for 8 hours a day. The problem with this mentality is that you stretch your daily tasks until they fit into the 8 hours. I know some people who fill the down time with idle time surfing Myspace or blogs. That might be wasted time, and you could be going home earlier. Make a list of all of the tasks you have to do on a regular day. Now estimate how long it takes you to do those tasks. Cut each of these estimates by 25% and try to make everything fit. Now you’re only working 6 hours a day! Hurray!

2, Set a go-home time. Projects will always land at your desk at 4:59pm. This is an inevitability, because colleagues will spend a day working on a problem and then present it to you right before they go home for the night. By setting a go-home time people will start to understand that they can’t keep you longer, so they’ll give you stuff they need to be done earlier. You have to make the decision that work can wait until tomorrow.

3, Make yourself indispensable. One of the best ways to work less is to make yourself so important to your workplace that they just can’t do anything without you. You do this by being remarkable, by being awesome, by being so effective and intelligent at your job that no one can do anything close to the level of work that you achieve. Does this sound difficult? It’s really much easier than you think. The secret is focusing on what is important to succeeding at your job.

4, Become a leader. No one questions when the boss takes a two hour lunch break, or goes home at 5pm. This is because they’re a leader, and you need to become one too if you’re going to escape workplace monotony. Start taking the lead on projects, make decisions quickly and show initiative. People will start to look up to you, and they will let you work less because they know when you are working you’re doing a remarkable job.

5, Learn to delegate. One of the most important skills anyone can learn is the ability to let other people do work for you. If you have people working under you, learn to trust them to do their jobs. There are endless tasks that would be better done by someone who isn’t you. Outsource stupid repetitive tasks to an intern or a less experienced employee. Give yourself time to work on the hard problems. The important thing is to concentrate on the work that you have to do, and let everyone else concentrate on the work that they have to do. If you can’t trust someone who works under you to do their job, then maybe you should get someone else to do that job.

6, Eliminate unnecessary tasks. Every job has stupid tasks that someone assigned someone to do once a week five years ago, and they just keep doing them. Make a list of every stupid task you do and try to either automate them, delegate them, or simply stop doing them. Maybe no one will notice, maybe you didn’t have to do it anyway.

7, Learn to live on less. Many people work too much because they live unsustainable lifestyles. They have two mortgages and two cars, and they eat out every night, and then go drinking and pretty soon they need to be making $100,000 a year to sustain the lifestyle. By learning to live on less, you will be able to work less. If you only need $2,000 a month to survive you only need to make $24,000 a year from working, and that can free you for a world of other opportunities which will inevitably grow to providing much more than a dead-end job ever will.

8, There will always be tomorrow. Most jobs have projects that will take months or years to achieve. Recognize that you will be working on a task for a very long time, but that you need to take time off to rest and recuperate before the next day. Everyone needs balance, or else you’ll burn yourself out. So go home at 5pm, come back in at 9am, and you’ll start over with working. The project won’t go anywhere overnight, trust me.

9, Refuse to put out fires. There will always be colleagues who have problems that ‘have to be dealt with now! It’s an emergency!’ Don’t buy into this, nothing is an emergency. Just tell them you acknowledge their problem, but you’re very busy right now and need to finish your current project. Check in two hours later, and I bet that most emergencies have been dealt with by those who started them. If you run around solving other people’s problems all day, you won’t get anything done on your own projects.

10, Isolate yourself. Lock yourself in your office and don’t come out until your work is done. When people call, tell them to drop you an email and you’ll reply when you have time. If people are constantly dropping by your desk to ask questions, or have idle chit-chat you’re not getting work done. Questions should be asked via email. Small talk is for the bar after work once a week. If you have a cubicle, put headphones on.

11, Avoid meetings like the plague. Meetings are endless time suckers. No one ever accomplishes anything at meetings, so stop going to them. People hold meetings because they don’t know what to do, they have no ideas, so they rely on other people to develop them. If something important needs to be discussed, that’s great, call a meeting. But meeting every day to go over TPS reports is useless, and there are better ways to approach workplace optimization than disrupting everyone’s schedule so they can sit on their blackberries and zone out as everyone else talks.

12, Take the initiative on important projects. Learn to be a leader when important projects come your way. Be discriminatory on which projects you are willing to take on, and which you will simply refuse. In most offices there will be ideas pitched that just ‘must be completed’ which are in reality just dead ends. Avoid these projects. When you see a project that is going to lead to amazing results, dedicate all of your available time to making these results a reality.

13, Let unimportant projects die. Like above, but different. Don’t get involved with projects that are stupid. Let stupid people do these projects and focus on the ones that will lead to results. No one ever got promoted for finishing a stupid project that no one cares about.

14, Don’t associate with the water cooler gang. Do you know the guys who stand around the water cooler bitching and moaning about how hard life is? They always find a way to shoot down your idea, or tell you that it’s impossible. Stop talking to these people. They are everywhere, and they are mostly useless. These are usually corporate lifers, or people who are just so sick and tired of themselves and their job that all they can do is be negative. Cut these people out of your life.

15, Stay positive. Being optimistic can do a world of good in many situations. When you’re discussing a remarkable project –one that everyone thinks is going to bomb,– and you’re willing to go out a limb and be optimistic, people will start to see you as a natural leader. Don’t be a downer when people come to you with ideas that just won’t work, point them in a direction that will help them succeed.

16, Don’t check email every five seconds. Sitting at your computer and hitting the send/receive button is pointless. By checking email every five minutes you are disrupting your ability to concentrate on the task at hand. Set specific four specific times a day when you check and respond to email, the rest of the time you must be on radio silence working on remarkable projects. See my post on Inbox Sub-Zero.

17, Stop using voicemail on your work phone. Checking work phone voicemail is a ten minute process, so just stop using it. People should be using email to ask you questions, not spending time talking to you on the phone. Go ahead and put a voicemail message up saying that you don’t usually respond to voicemail messages in a timely manner, and request that an email message be sent instead.

18, “I’m too busy to do that right now.” This is the best defense against any lame project that comes your way. Just say you’re too busy, you’re overwhelmed, you’re on deadline, you can’t help right now, but you can in a day or two. Most projects will go away in a day or two, or go to someone else. Be sure to differentiate between awesome projects and lame ones though, you don’t want to use this excuse for things you really can make a difference with.

19, Give yourself 20% of your work time for your own projects. Have you heard of Google’s famous 80-20 workplace rule? Well, let me give a quick rundown if you haven’t. Google lets it’s employees work on their own pet projects for 20% of their time. Gmail was born out of this philosophy. Make it a priority to give yourself this time to work on your own projects at work, even if your boss isn’t down with the idea. You’ll birth some really awesome ideas during this time.

20, Gradually transition to working from home. Some people see huge productivity boosts when they work from home. When I was working at the magazine, I eventually transitioned into working from home for half the day. I was working on a blog network, so this just seemed natural to let the employees work from home during the morning (in their PJs, heh). I was able to do so much more during that time at home than I was at work, and I was also able to sit in the kitchen and make breakfast, and sip coffee while I was doing it. Convince your boss to give you a 3 week trial period where you work from home one day a week, then show your boss that your got 200% more work done during that time. Maybe they’ll let you work from home permanently?

21, If you hate your job… Can you honestly say that you like your job? A lot of people are working dead end jobs, because they think they have to. Just stop, if you can. Make the decision now to transition into a new field, or start your own business from home in your spare time. You spend half of your life at work, and it’s not worth hating yourself for half of your life. You can do better, you can do anything.

I owe a debt of gratitude to a number of genius workplace philosophers. I highly recommend that you check out these authors, if you’re interested in taking control of your work life.

These are not affiliate links, I’d rather you check them out at the library. If this information helps you, and you’re interested in helping me write this blog, read how to support my writing.

Leo Babauta, The Power of Less
Timothy Ferriss, The 4 Hour Work Week
Hugh McLeod, Ignore Everybody
Seth Godin, The Dip

These books helped me leave my job, and learn how to work from anywhere. I highly recommend them all.

If you enjoyed this post I’d love it if you could retweet it on Twitter or your favorite social network of choice. Or email it to a colleague who works too much!


 

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