How to Work Less and Do More

About a year ago, a CEO I know well was on the verge of burning out so she decided to set about transforming her business-life routine. She wanted to work less and yet still see her company continue to grow rapidly. Who doesn't, right? In fact, her goal was to double her business and at the same time work only four days per week. A year into her quest, I caught up with her and asked her how things were going. 

She said that the business was doing surprisingly well, even ahead of the aggressive projections for growth she had set. How did she do it? The key was in changing some long-established habits. Below, she explains some of the changes she enacted that allowed her, and her company, to get more efficient.

1. Check email 2-3 times a day and never first thing in morning--As CEO, I found I was spending entirely too much time on busywork and other people's priorities. Cutting back the number of times I checked e-mail freed up a significant chunk of my time every day. I also learned how to utilize the functionality of Microsoft Outlook (especially e-mail rules) and set up automated filing of routine e-mails into folders that I can batch and read at my convenience and not be distracted by them individually.

2. Establish rules about communications:

     a. E-mail is not for urgent issues. My rule is "If you need to speak with me urgently, call me."

     b. Meeting management. Meetings are 30 minutes by default (instead of 60) unless otherwise needed and justified. They also are not accepted on the calendar without an agenda 24 hours in advance.

   c. Meetings are for decisions only. That means they are not just for communication--that can be accomplished more efficiently by other means.

3. Keep a running list of items to discuss with your team--Often times being in attendance at the office every day of the week creates an environment of "drop-in" availability which is inefficient. By keeping a running list of items to discuss with key team members and then using scheduled time to unpack all of the issues at once limits the frequency and inefficiency of one-off meetings. You also get the added benefit of more self-reliant people.

What she learned along the way:

1. Improved productivity--Freeing up the time also freed up my mind. One of the great values that CEOs can bring to their company is clarity and decisiveness. This requires time out of the snowstorm of the day-to-day operations.

2. Focused on doing important things rather than everything--Setting the rules for communication not only changed my perspective on my day-to-day contributions but also changed my team's approach to their workload and productivity.

3. An improved work/life balance--It may seem like a little change, but that extra day per week has really helped my mental and physical health.

It's possible. You can do this. In this case, the transition took about 3 months to complete, and there have been some exceptions to the 1-day off schedule because of conferences and clients. However, I have a 75 percent success rate of taking Mondays off and things are getting better.

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