How to Escape Overwhelm: Embrace a 5-Hour Workday

by Pat Hammond on Wednesday, July 03, 2019


Photo Phone is Ringing by Andreas Klassen on Unsplash

I have spent the last five months being overwhelmed. 

I'm not sure how it happened. I stopped doing web stuff and have been diligently saying "no" to a lot of people and projects. It was supposed to give me more time to focus on writing and getting NH Business Guild off the ground but each day I got further and further behind. 

At one point I decided to start getting up at 4:30 a.m. so I'd have more time to get things done before I "went to work"

It was crazy. 

I'd done everything I could think of to fix the problem, but there are only so many hours in the day and I was working at least twelve of them. So I decided to do something radical. 

I embraced the idea of a 5-hour workday.

I took a hard look at what I was really spending my time on and asked myself how many of those things were actively moving my goals forward. 

I also looked at the way I was making money.

After giving up web development I'd been doing small pick-up jobs to augment my income. I knew if I had more time I could make just as much doing things that helped me work towards my goals, but I was already maxed out and exhausted.

It was time to be ruthless.

I gutted my daily to-do lists and by the time I removed everything that didn't directly help me achieve my stated goal I was left with a workable daily routine. 

I didn't want to walk into it blindly so I also spent half a day researching people and companies who had gone to a 5-hour workday. In most cases, the new schedule worked for them. 

There were some hiccups and adjustments had to be made when a client or project needed something that couldn't wait until tomorrow and there was a general consensus that there would be some days when you had to work a regular 8 or 10 hour day to address a specific situation.  But most people were able to be productive and get their work done within a 5-hour timeframe. 

Based on what I was reading, my takeaway was I had to:

1. Define what work needs to be completed every day --> 50% of your time engaged in the thoughts, activities and conversations that produce most of your results

2. Eliminate distractions --> schedule email & social media, avoid being "always available"

. Set realistic goals --> understand some days will be longer

4. Do one thing at a time

5. Plan for interruptions --> don't schedule every minute

Remember: 80 percent of production comes from 20 percent activities -- eliminate the rest.

I also needed to adjust my existing time management framework to ensure I stayed on track. 

It wasn't a huge deal. The system worked fine, I just needed to add three questions that had to be answered first thing every morning.

1. What did you finish yesterday?

2. What's your goal for today?

3. What are the obstacles?

The final piece of the puzzle was using a time tracking app so I could keep track of exactly how much time I was spending on activities. I already use an app for tracking billable hours so it wasn't a big deal to click the timer every time I started or finished any activity. 

That was all it took to pare my day down to a manageable 5-hour chunk.

I figured it would take a while to work out the kinks and get everybody I work with on board so I committed to a 90-day trial. 

After almost two weeks I'm generally happy with how it's working. So far my biggest challenge has been when other people disrupt my schedule. I've also found it's much easier to stick to the new routine if I work from my office rather than home. Neither of these is a surprise or a deal breaker.

I'll have to wait until September to see how well it's worked overall, but I'm already getting things done and I'm optimistic.

And that's a whole lot better than I was two weeks ago. 

If you too find yourself in a constant state of overwhelm, think about giving a 5-hour workday a try. 

I'd love to hear from anyone who has done it or is thinking about it.

Pat Hammond

Director, NH Business Guild