If you’re required to work 9 to 5 (or any set amount of hours), it’s likely that you fill your time with busy work. Since you know you have to be at work, regardless of how much work you get done, you create meaningless tasks and spend hours going through emails. You work for work’s sake.
This page may contain affiliate links. For more information, see the full disclosure here.
When I first read Tim Ferriss’s book, The 4-Hour Workweek, it changed how I view work and productivity. It introduced me to the idea of work for work’s sake and made me realize how much of my time at work is spent doing so much and accomplishing so little.
We are constantly told (both directly and indirectly) that we need to be running around and doing things all day in order to be successful employees. But that mindset leads to work for work’s sake and not for the sake of actually accomplishing anything.
We actually accomplish more by being intentional with our time and refusing to be “busy” all day long.
Here are some tips to help you reject work for work’s sake and get more done while working less.
1. Don’t Work the Full Amount of Time You’re at Work
There’s a lot of conflicting information about how much of a typical 8 hour workday is actually productive. But the vast majority of studies agree that it is less than 6 hours and many say that it’s closer to 3.
Knowing that you’re not productive for the full amount of time that you’re at work, decide to be intentional about the time you spend not working.
Now, don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying to just stop working at some point and lazily sit around the office.
What I am saying is that it’s okay to set times that you will be working and times that you won’t. Schedule in breaks. Take a full lunch.
When you give yourself time to rest and to focus on non-work related things, you’re more likely to spend the time that you are working more productively because you’re not tired or distracted.
Not forcing yourself to work non-stop for 8 hours will make a drastic change in your level of productivity. I promise.
2. Ask Yourself “Am I Inventing Things to Do to Avoid the Important?”
This question comes directly from Tim Ferriss’s, The 4-Hour Workweek, and may have been my biggest takeaway from the book. (In case you’re wondering, I highly recommend this book. I’ve now read it twice and could read it again and still learn new things.)
I am the queen of inventing things to do in order to avoid tasks that I don’t want to do.
I think, “I could write a letter to accompany this proposal… or I could rearrange all of the files in this folder so that they’re in alphabetical order. Clearly, these need to be in alphabetical order.” But the truth is that writing the letter is something I don’t want to do and I’m using un-alphabetized files as an excuse to avoid a crucial task.
It’s these types of meaningless tasks that we assign ourselves (or that others assign to us) that take up time and leave the important work undone or rushed.
Try to ask yourself, “Am I inventing things to do to avoid the important?” anytime you switch tasks. I’ve found this to be incredibly helpful and has increased my productivity immensely.
3. Eliminate Tasks that Don’t Have to Be Done and Delegate Others
Chances are, there are things on your to-do list that don’t actually need to be done. Delete them. Cross them off. Throw them in the trash.
If that task isn’t going to have major results – and if not doing it won’t cause any systematic failures – just decide to not do it.
For items that have been assigned to you, send an email to your supervisor. Explain how that task is distracting you from being able to accomplish other more meaningful tasks and ask to have that task unassigned. If you can really prove that it’s not as important as your other work and won’t provide the same kind of results, then your supervisor will likely agree that you should focus your time and attention elsewhere.
Likewise, if you have an assistant, identify tasks on your to-do list that they could do 80% as well as you could and let them do it. Handing over work that others could be doing frees up your time to accomplish things that only you can do.
4. Pick the 2 or 3 Things You Will Accomplish Each Day
This one’s simple. Look at your to-do list and decide which 2 or 3 things you will accomplish that day.
What are the 2 most important items on your list and will your day be complete if you accomplish them and nothing else?
These are generally larger, more daunting tasks, and that’s okay. They’re normally the tasks we avoid. But if you tell yourself that they’re the tasks that matter then you’re much more likely to actually accomplish them.
Set aside all other tasks and focus on completing these tasks first. Once you complete these, you can work on other less meaningful tasks.
5. Set Short and Concrete Deadlines
Once you’ve decided what you’re going to accomplish, think about the absolute shortest amount of time that it can be accomplished in and set that as your deadline.
If you absolutely had to finish this because your best friend was just in a car accident and you needed to leave the office as soon as possible (after finishing this task), how long would it take you? Now set that as your deadline.
Write down the time you need to finish each task – one following the other – and then get to work.
Setting short deadlines (really short deadlines) takes away any time you might have been able to spend doing unimportant or unnecessary work. It also forces you to start the task immediately, and, for most tasks, starting is half the battle.
6. Reward Yourself
This last tip is also great for helping you stay motivated at work. It’s this: Set rewards for yourself for when you accomplish a specific task or group of tasks.
Instead of taking small breaks throughout the day, I like to reward myself with time at the end of the workday. I use that time to work on other productive but non-work-related tasks, such as schoolwork and this blog.
Find rewards that work for you. Maybe it’s a lunch away from your desk (if you don’t already do this) or a piece of candy after each accomplished task. Maybe it’s 15 minutes of reading or a 10 minute phone call with a friend.
Whatever it is, setting a reward can make you excited about accomplishing the tasks you decide you’re going to accomplish that day.
I always look forward to the time I give myself as a reward at the end of the workday. It makes me happy and spurs me on to accomplish more than I would otherwise be willing to accomplish.
One Last Note
Rejecting work for work’s sake is one of the best things you can do to increase your overall productivity and happiness at work.
Just because you have to be at work, does not mean you have to be constantly moving and doing things all day. Work smarter, not harder and use your newfound time to do things that are refreshing and increase your productivity even further.
Letting go of work for work’s sake is imperative to increasing your productivity at work and starting to work towards a career you love. If you want to change the way you feel about your day-to-day work, decide to use the steps above for a week or two. See what happens. I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised.