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How to work fewer hours

As business owners we are desperately enthusiastic that our businesses do well. We’ll commit long hours, every day, to working on them. Working fewer hours sounds like it should be easy when you are your own boss. Just go home early! Ha. Because we care about our businesses, we care that everything happens. Even at weekends.  It is possible to work fewer hours on your business, and this article will tell you how.

How to work fewer hours comes down to 2 things:

  1. Having less tasks to do
  2. Doing those tasks quicker

1. Having less tasks to do

First step to work fewer hours is to work out what you do now. You could start by creating a business overview to list all the sections of your business and tasks within them (instructions on that here), then keeping a note of tasks you spend your time on, adding anything you missed to your business overview.

Now you have a comprehensive list of the tasks you do, let’s remove some tasks.

  • Stop doing any tasks you do that aren’t contributing to your business – these are often small, habitual things we don’t even notice, like printing emails.
  • Delegate anything you can
    • I appreciate that this is not open to everyone. Consider which tasks take you longest or make you most stressed vs the cost of someone else doing it for you. If you don’t know the cost – we often assume things are too expensive – find out, it might be a nice surprise. Skills exchanges are an option too – as long as you feel the value you’re giving is equivalent to the value you receive
    • Maybe you already have someone who does something for you. How much time do you spend checking their work? Can you train them better, so you don’t have to spend your time there?

2. Do the remaining tasks quicker

There are loads of ways to do tasks quicker to enable you to work fewer hours. Here are the quickest wins that have the biggest impact for most people.

Improve the process: 5 ways to improve the way you do the things you do.  

  1. Remove steps that are no longer necessary. They may have been a good idea once, or will be one day, but right now aren’t a good use of your time. e.g. posting to a social platform which doesn’t have your target audience and you get very little engagement – focus on those that work best for you until you have a marketing team to do everything well.
  2. Use a different program. There are so many great free options for small businesses now, have a look to see if there is something more efficient for you. Try my Software for small businesses article to inspire you.
  3. Store the information you need in one place. Looking at a process from end to end it may become apparent that you go all over the place to get everything you need – a file here, a web address there, a notebook, another file… is there any way you can put it in one place? Or link to all the different places from one place so each is just a click away?
  4. Automate anything you can. Any tasks you repeat regularly, particularly copying and pasting, might be able to be automated, so the job is done automatically and you’re not involved at all. They can be simple (Trigger: ask Google Assistant to add ‘apples’ to your shopping list, Action: it appears on your Trello shopping list) or quite complicated (Trigger: someone fills in an online form, Action 1: that information is put in a spreadsheet, Action 2: email notifying you key info, Action 3: schedule a meeting). Have a look at third party integrations like Zapier or IFTTT; or see what is built-in to your existing programs.
  5. Start batching. Batching means doing one job repeatedly at one time rather than doing that job multiple times over the course of a day/week/month. There are loads of benefits, read more about it in my article The Joy of Batching.

Once you know you’re doing the right things, in the best way possible, the only remaining way to work fewer hours is literally doing the same thing quicker. Fortunately, there are ways to help do this too.

  • Procrastination – takes up a lot of our time. Identify why you’re procrastinating a particular task, and you may be able to mitigate it; e.g. procrastinating clearing out your office because it is boring – try putting on a podcast or your favourite music while you do it.
  • Focus – distractions are awful time thieves. Where possible, turn off notifications (and little red numbers!), close everything else on your computer, and really focus your effort on that one task.
  • Plan – schedule doing tasks at certain times, e.g. checking emails/notifications at certain times of day (rather than all the time), or setting aside time to manage your finances. This prevents you worrying about when you last did it/will find time to do it, and enables you to really get into the task when it happens.

Following the above will set you on the path to work fewer hours and allow you to enjoy the fruits of your labour more.

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