In Gothenburg, Sweden, recently, officials proposed an experiment: Some chunk of government workers—now working seven-hour days—would cut their schedules to six hours. Would they be just as productive as their seven-hour colleagues if they left a little earlier?
My guess is no. All of us have a point of diminishing returns. But I suspect that point is north of 30 hours per week.
The experiment does raise an interesting question, though—what if you suspect you are working past the point of being effective? If you consciously tried to work a little less, you might be able to get just as much done—and be a lot happier about it. Here are seven ways to slice an hour from your schedule so you can leave on time:
The quickest way to save an hour is to choose one hour-long meeting or conference call each day and politely extricate yourself from its clutches. If you’re feeling overscheduled, look at your appointments and rank them:
- When do you not add value?
- What recurring meetings are just about updates, not decisions?
- What could be done informally?
- Which meetings could happen less frequently?
- Could you send someone else?
I know one woman who reduced her meeting load by 40% through precisely this process. It’s worth a shot.
Most people feel focused early in the work day, which makes mornings a great time to tackle difficult work. Schedule your day’s most vexing task for first thing, and with any luck, it will take an hour less than if you left it lingering until 3 p.m.
People inadvertently extend their workdays by circling around to say goodbye to people in the evening. It’s a nice ritual, and you want to have these chats, because informal connections are key to coming up with new ideas and solving problems. But you can train your coworkers to have these chats earlier in the day, rather than later. Try circling around right after lunch, or at least no later than tea time. That way you’ve still got time to execute on what comes up, and you can slip out the door at quitting time without cutting off a conversation prematurely.
Just because electronic calendars schedule things in half hour increments doesn’t mean you have to. If you can’t kill a meeting, compress it. Turn 60-minute meetings into 45-minute meetings and you can buy yourself additional time.
This is a corollary to the previous point. If you do get 15 minutes off between meetings, don’t waste this time deleting unimportant emails or checking Twitter. Identify which chunks of the day’s tasks can be done in 5 to 10 minutes, and tackle these first. You will never get to the bottom of your inbox, so stop trying.
Choose a time—ideally 60 to 90 minutes before you intend to leave—and don’t make yourself available for formal appointments after this time. Instead, revisit the day’s to-do list and pretend that an evil villain has informed you he will cut off the power to your building at 5 p.m. Knowing that, what would you still choose to do, and what would you push off? Most likely, you’ll be back at work tomorrow. A lot of stuff can wait.
Building the life you want is largely about having the guts to do it. Unless you inhabit a world of scheduled shifts and time cards, you can just leave an hour earlier—even if your boss is still there. Who knows, maybe she wants the office to herself for a while and is annoyed that everyone is hanging around!
If you find yourself dithering on this, try raising the stakes. Join a carpool that requires you to leave at a certain time, or join a sports league or take a class that gives you a reason to get out the door once or twice a week. Not only will you leave on time, you’ll have a life worth leaving for too.