In our busy culture, it seems everyone wants to know how to work less, but still get everything done. By now pretty much everyone I know has either read, or at least heard of 4-Hour Workweek. When I work with clients concerning productivity, they often ask me whether or not I can teach them how to work less and help them achieve a 4-hour work week — or anything close to it.
The short answer is ‘yes,’ BUT not for every client, and even for those who get the ‘yes,’ it comes with a few caveats that must be explored before they get all gun-ho about working a handful of hours and somehow making more and accomplishing more than ever. There is so much more to it than that.
What are the caveats you ask?
Well, the truth is that very few – very, very few successful people can earn the income they want and only work four hours a week. Why? Because not everyone works in a field that allows self-management of time and resources, not everyone is called into a career that lends itself to automation, not everyone WANTS to be an entrepreneur or to run their own business, and certainly not everyone is only in it for the money —
In fact, I usually speak against it in full support of figuring out your calling and your passion and working in it as long as it remains your calling and your passion. I believe God designed us all for something specific (which may or may not be career related, but will still have a huge bearing on task management).
As much as I appreciate some of the ideas in the 4-Hour Workweek book, I am not a 4-Hour Workweek advocate for a number of reasons. But that’s neither here nor there. Today we’re going to talk about how to work less and accomplish more, the practical way — the way that will work for EVERYONE — by calculating our most productive time of day, and restructuring our ‘lists’ to ensure we’re doing the tasks that NEED to be done during our most productive hours.
Let’s start with the math (I know, I know – math, ugh. But, I promise you that you won’t have to do the math. I have included a pretty cool little tool that will do it for you).
The math we’ll tackle involves ultradian rhythms. An ultradian rhythm is a 90-120 minute cycle that occurs inside a circadian rhythm (or a 24-hour circadian day). Science has revealed that our days are driven by these cycles and that the cycles determine our level of alertness and productivity at any given moment in a day.
Early in a cycle, we have heightened energy and ample focus, but by the end of a cycle, we are likely to feel scatterbrained and fatigued. The end of these cycles (or valleys if you look at an ultradian diagram)
Image reference: MentalHealth.com
You can calculate your ultradian rythyms in the day the same way you would at night. Hyper-dedicated people will appreciate that, to truly do this the right way, numbers should be tracked for 4 full weeks, or 30 days – one month). The reason it is recommended we track these rhythms for a month is because circadian days and ultradian rhythms can compile into something called infradian rhythms (in humans, this refers to cycles that are longer than a day that can impact the ultradian and circadian experiences within the body). Infradian rhythms can included hormonal changes that occur in cycles over a certain period (obviously, of particular interest for women) or even season changes and the impacts they have on the body.
It’s especially helpful to start this process on a day that you’ve been able to wake up on your own, unassisted by an alarm clock and unpressured by an early appointment. To get started with the tracking process, note the hour you wake up on your own, on your day of choice, and make note of the hour you went to bed the night before. Your daytime rhythms will be influenced by your sleep patterns and if you’re not getting good sleep, you could experience fewer peak performance hours in the daytime.
Using a spreadsheet (in fact, you can find loads of these online – one of the best I’ve used can be quickly downloaded for free courtesy of Chris Bailey) rate your energy, focus and motivation, on a scale of one to ten, at the top of each hour in your waking day (meaning, while you’re awake – don’t get up earlier or wake up in the night just to do this, duh). The spreadsheet will calculate your averages and allow you to pinpoint your most productive time of day.
Remember, your numbers will be skewed if your sleep patterns are off your norm, so do your best to get adequate sleep, normal amounts of sleep during the rating time. Don’t over do it, and don’t under do it.
Don’t take more than 30 seconds to record your numbers. This should be an insta-record of your feelings; no agonizing over the rating, no overthinking it, just pick and move on.
If you’re dedicated to the process, you’ll have a daily score, a weekly score and finally a monthly mathematical score based on your personal assessment of your energy, focus and motivation during each hour of the day.
You can use the averages to determine what time of day, what day of week and what week of the month you need to schedule specific tasks and projects in order to get more done and you’ll also learn what times of day you SHOULDN’T work. To wit, you’ll learn how to work less because you’ll be working when you’re good and working and not working when you, well, suck at working.
Trying to work through your LEAST productive times is usually counterproductive. I personally walk away and do something relaxing or restful during those times, because I know anything I did produce would be total crap.
But, there’s also a balance to consider. When you’re feeling the most energetic, you might be less focused. Finding some middle ground in your averages will give you your true sweet spot.
Consider filling your most energetic times with things that require less focus, like cleaning house or working out.
When your energy, focus and motivation are all humming (but not too high), you’re in the zone. The zone is a very good place to be when you’re trying to get more done, make more money, and have time left over to enjoy your life.
I’d love to hear about your experiences with this experiment and answer your questions on this subject. Reach out to me on social media and tell me all about it. And if you have any tips on how to work less that you can share with the rest of us, we welcome your wisdom!
How to work less. How to work less.