It would be patronizing to tell you if you only want to work 40 hours a week, then just work 40 hours.
It’s not that easy, of course. There are all sorts of reasons why you might feel unable to limit your workweek. For me, it’s that there’s always more work to be done. For others, it could be that your boss has a never ending list of assignments for you.
However, my work is not my life, so I’ve had to put boundaries in place that help me actively avoid workaholism.
Every person and every work situation is different, but if working a 40-hour week is something you’re able to strive for, these are the steps I’ve taken to help me regulate and stay balanced.
1. Start With Your Why
The first question you have to ask yourself is: “Is there anything in my life that I want more of?” For the longest time I thought making money was my thing, and I focused on that. But, it wasn’t bringing me joy.
Finally, I realized more money’s not going to make me happier—my family will.
The thing I want more of is time with my family. That’s my why. So, find your own motivation for wanting to work less hours.
2. Find Out Where the Time Goes
If you want to change how you spend your time, you need to figure out where it’s going. I would encourage you to track your time for a while and determine where it’s spent during the day.
There are also a lot of tools that can help with this. RescueTime, for example, helps break down in minutes how much time you spend in each application on your computer. I recommend it if you’re trying to figure out where you can make easy cuts.
If you work at a company where there are more Slack channels and emails to respond to than there are employees, you know what I’m getting at. Trying to stay on top of everything that’s going on, and feeling like you have to be in the loop, can be a full-time job in itself. But, the first step to saving time is prioritizing how you spend it.
3. Start Each Day With a Plan
If you know you could work 14 hours and be OK, but you really want to stick to eight, start off each day saying, “Today I’m going to work eight hours.” It’s that simple.
I’ve made a commitment that when 5 PM rolls around, I’m going to go make dinner with my wife. That’s important to me. So, to respect that cut-off time, I kick off each day with a plan.
I start in the morning by filling out a spreadsheet—you can find my template here—with what’s on deck, what’s up next, and what’s done:
- On Deck: The queue of everything on my plate
- Up Next: Tasks I’m currently focusing on—I try to just keep one or two things in this column at a time
- Done: Where I keep track of all the stuff I’ve completed per week
Sure enough, when the end of the day hits, there are often still things I could continue doing (as most people would agree). But that stuff is going to be there in the morning. So, come back to it after you’ve slept on it—maybe you’ll have a fresh perspective to tackle a project, or maybe you won’t even need to do as much as you initially thought.
4. Do One Thing at a Time
Multitasking is a myth. It’s amazing how much work you can get done when you stop trying to do multiple things at once.
Prioritize your list of tasks, select one, start working on it, and when you’re done with that one, move on to the next thing. If something comes up while you’re working on a task, you may have to re-prioritize. If a new task needs to take precedent over whatever it is you’re working on, stop what you’re working on and move it back to the list. When you approach each assignment individually, you work way more efficiently and ultimately produce better work.
5. Focus on Your Strengths
We all have different strengths. You can gauge how much time you’re putting into something versus how much time you know someone else can put into it, which means you know what you should be delegating to others.
6. Track Your Progress
For the past 10 years, I’ve kept track of every single thing I’ve done at work. This serves a couple of purposes.
One, I can look at the list and reflect: “I only worked 40 hours, and even though other people worked more, I’m proud of all this stuff I got done.” And two, every six months I talk to our CEO, Nick Francis, about the things I’ve accomplished and the things he wants me to accomplish next. This is a great way to set goals and stay aligned with your manager on what’s expected and what’s getting done—and a great way to convince your manager that 40-hour weeks actually work.
Anyone can accomplish a 40-hour workweek with the right mindset and a plan. Because in the end, it’s your output—not the hours you’re in a seat—that really matters.
A version of this article was originally published on Help Scout. It has been republished here with permission.
Photo of person working courtesy of Hero Images/Getty Images.