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A Four Hour Work Week? I'm There

Most of the people I know seem to be in a competition for who works the longest hours. Apparently the more time you spend on the job, the better you are. It reminds me of my junior year in college when a campus-wide salmonella outbreak sent hundreds to the infirmary a month before finals. For the next four weeks I had to listen to people competing over who had been sicker. Pounds lost, bouts of diarrhea, whether or not you'd been hospitalized--these became the measures of "success" on a clearly competitive campus.  At one point it seemed that if you hadn't been dumb enough to eat the undercooked stuffing, there was something wrong with you.  But I digress . . .

It's my personal feeling that we live in a dysfunctional culture that considers your character to be morally suspect if you want to work less than 50 hours a week. At one point in my work life, I was the HR manager for a large manufacturer. All of the senior management, myself included, would carefully watch to see who left the building first. If you left before 8 p.m., (after coming in at 8 a.m) then you were considered to have worked a "half day." You could also expect this to be mentioned in any performance discussions. There's something seriously wrong with that mindset.

So a few days ago I was intrigued to find Tim Ferris's Four Hour Work Week blog. Apparently Tim is running two successful businesses on 4 hours of work per week, a track record I frankly envy.

I found Tim's blog via a link from Stephan Spencer  who was writing about Tim's presentation at the recent Web 2.0 Expo. From Stephan's notes, it sounds like Tim had some good suggestions that could benefit nonprofits. (You can also check out a brief video of Tim's remarks here.)

  • Practice "selective ignorance." Do you really need to know EVERYTHING? A little delegation and an information diet could go a long way.
  • Batch your work--Tim suggests doing similar work at specific times. So you check all of your emails only twice a day, for example.
  • Don't check email first thing in the morning--This is actually a tip that I read somewhere on Tim's site, but naturally couldn't find again. I've heard this one before and the point is that you can get easily sucked into other people's stuff if you check email first thing. No real emergency is going to wait until 11 a.m., so it's not like you're going to miss something vital, particularly if you've warned people that you only check twice a day.
  • Use the Pareto Principle (the 80/20 Rule)--Focus on the "critical few," not the "trivial many." There are many applications of this rule. For example, 80% of your problems will be caused by 20% of your people. So if you did something about that 20%, you'd eliminate 80% of your headaches. In another application, 80% of your results come from 20% of your activities. And still more applications of the idea here.
  • Outsource your Life--Tim's rule is if someone else can do a decent job with the task for 50% or less of your hourly salary, then you should seriously consider outsourcing the activity to someone else. ("My Outsourced Life" is a great article on that idea). On a side note--I've personally pondered the notion of whether or not US nonprofits should be looking into outsourcing some of their functions to other countries. Seems like there could be some interesting win/wins for US nonprofits that partnered with social entrepreneurs in other countries to get administrative and other kinds of support. It would save money for the US NPO, freeing up resources to be used in other ways. It would also provide a sustainable living to people in other countries. . . just a thought.
  • Schedule life in advance--For many people, if there's a pocket of free time in their lives it will often be filled with work. Tim suggests that you should make sure to as ruthless about carving out your personal time as you generally are in accommodating work.

Some good ideas--although I admit that I probably won't give up my email addiction.

Also, on a related note, check out this post from Jon Udell on multi-tasking and the influences on group vs. individual productivity. Some interesting stuff.


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