A week into working less —actually 2 weeks when this article gets to see the light of day— I have seen some remarkable results of that one simple decision.
If you just rather jump to a summary of the benefits I have found, please feel free to scroll to the bottom. But hey, feel free to read the lengthy version too, that's why I wrote it down ;-)
To help me remind myself of the decision I took, I shaved my head. You might think this is some radical and stupid thing to do, but for me it stood for change. Habits can be sticky and hard to change —and doing something radical helped me to keep that decision in mind. Hey, and for me it isn't like I haven't been bald before (my first time almost cost me my job at that time!) and seeing the grey hairs on my sides I am not really regretful either ;-)
Fun thing about that first hairless period was I also had to play at a wedding ceremony of friends, and it was kind of a weird thing to show up bald suddenly ;-)
Working out the decision
For the first few days I have been crystallising my decision. At first I plainly said I would no longer work more than 40 hours a week but I rapidly altered that to do work only during the day, whether that would be less or more than 40 hours I don't really care.
It also doesn't mean I do not allow myself to sit behind my laptop in the evenings or weekends. It does mean however I will not be doing work at those times. For me that does not necessarily mean not doing development stuff or research. If I want to do that because it gives me joy —why not?
It does mean however that my family can interrupt me, that I will be able to close the lid if relationships with my wife, kids and friends require so. Someone showing up for coffee or an extended time of caffeinated talks with my wife are more important —at least, that's part of my decision.
A tricky mind...
I've found my mind trying to trick me into working evenings a couple of times over the last 2 weeks. One of those thoughts was: 'If I do this now, I don't have to do it tomorrow'. The problem with that thought is it takes away my energy and most-likely take twice as much time as I would do it tomorrow. I resisted the thought, looked in the mirror and realised: no —not any more!
Another thought that crossed my mind was: 'If I don't do it now, I won't make the deadline in time'. This might be true to some extend. But I questioned myself wondering if even doing it in the evening would really help me finish in time or was maybe just an extending of the conclusion I wasn't going to make it anyways. I also realised it is a lie from a different perspective: the energy I spent working that night would have direct effect on the day after, leaving me there with less focus and energy to complete the task at hand.
My mind got me during the day with a surprise as well: I was no longer able to postpone stuff to the evenings. It had to be done during work hours now and I suddenly realised I have —unconsciously— been procrastinating, aided by the thought I could do it in the evening. With a budgeted time limit this is no longer an option...
Focus has been an issue for me for quite some time now. The feeling of not being productive, being busy but not getting anything done. Distracted all the time. Not hacking away with laser-beam concentration as I used to.
With my colleagues I talked about it a lot. What can we do to make that better. What do we rearrange in work, in furniture, in setup, in schedule to make sure we are able to focus and get into the flow. Some of the changes aided in getting better and sometimes even helped create an hour or two of great work. But never really in a breakthrough way providing the something that I needed to get my focus back. Most of the changes and attempts we made were extraneous —ouch!
A week into working less I am amazed at how much of my focus has returned, how much productive I have been. I seriously think I did more the last week in less than 40 hours than I did in the weeks before spending lots of more time!
I am excited how this will continue to grow and help me in getting actually more done than before!
Another benefit: I have found time back. For a long time I had the feeling time was slipping through my hands. One of the thing I frequently heard myself say I was too busy. Or that I would love for the day to have 48 hours instead of 24. I am amazed to see I found time to read, talk with my wife, do a game with my kids and still not feeling like time is too short! And I even started going to bed at more normal hours... without even trying...
Thinking about the time I have thrown away thinking I had to work... Ouch again!
As I briefly mentioned above, I noted I was procrastinating a lot —aided by the thought I could do it later that evening. One result of the somewhat simple decision to cut down my working hours, is that it has led me to automatically procrastinate less. I have this budgeted time now where stuff needs to happen and simply don't have the 'luxury' of postponing it to a later moment.
I am less stressed. Have more energy, started reading more, started writing again and picked up my guitar again. I have been able to give undivided attention to both my wife and kids without something nagging me that I wanted to get some work done. Suddenly I have the time and the energy to have relationships again with family and friends. I know this sounds drastically, but I honestly did not realise how far off I was until I decided to stop.
A week into this journey I realise too I am not there yet. I still am distracted at work more easily then I would like. I still am to low on energy. But the journey has only just begun, and I am excited to see where it will bring me!
To sum up the benefits of working less, in a more balanced way (whatever that means), I have:
- more time to spend on the things that matter in life (i.e. relationships)
- found that I am more productive than before
- realised I had developed some nasty habits (depriving myself from rest, procrastinate more)
- seen there's a way ahead of me which I am looking forward to walk
- found time do actually add value to others by listening to their story and sharing mine
Seeing the response my first article on this subject I reckon I must not be alone. I hope you join in the journey of getting really productive and still find time to be your friend. I love your feedback, whether it will be via Twitter, a comment, a phone call, a conversation or an email.
Though I intended to write about technical stuff on my blog —which I will do shortly as well— I have found it is fun to share this journey as well. I hope it encourages you (or give you understanding why I might take till next morning before I answer your email ;-) )
Thanks for reading up till here, I am amazed you did. And thankful too. Onwards we go!