THE BLOG
09/25/2014 04:50 pm ET Updated Nov 25, 2014

Three Steps to Working Less

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We work too much. Period. End of story. No debate.

And I believe that it is about time we did something about it.

But, let's not forget that work IS (or should be) a good thing. For most of us, our career is our work. Our contribution to our companies is our work. Work challenges us to be smarter, more creative, enhance our social skills and reach for heights we might never have known we could reach. Career, contribution, smarts, creativity, growth -- these are all really good things.

So why do we want to do less work if it is such a good thing? Let's do a quick reframing of our ultimate desires. Let's topsy turvy this concept for a moment. Our ultimate goal is not to work less but to live more. What do you think? Sure, the concepts sound similar, but they are very different. Working less is just that -- working less. Living more is being more connected to ourselves, our families, our colleagues, our friends, nature, and our work!. As Abe Lincoln once said, "In the end, it's not the years in your life that count. It's the life in your years."

It is with this type of thinking that I'd like to propose the idea of working better. Inevitably, working better will lead to working less simply because you have figured out how to get rid of all the work that doesn't align with your ultimate goals. Working better means that you keep all the goodness that comes with the work you do (stuff that you want to be a part of your life), while eliminating all the badness (stuff you don't want to be part of your life).

Let's take the first three steps to working better (aka working less):

1. Spend the next five minutes writing down the reasons why you work. Sure, we work for money, but go further. What does the money afford you? Travel? College tuition? Retirement? Shoes? OK, now that you have the money thing out of the way, why else do you work? To help people? The challenge? You enjoy leading teams, working with others, making a difference? Some of you may not have anything beyond the money thing, and that's OK, but spend a few more minutes really exploring WHY you work.

2. Now, get your current to-do list and calendar in front of you. Put them up front and center and spend five minutes reviewing what you have to get done in the next two weeks. Who are you meeting with? For how long? How many hours do you have set aside to work on reducing your to do list? Do you have a really important deliverable in the next two weeks? Get in close and really digest what you are working on for the next two weeks. Notice how you might react to seeing different actions on your list or people on your calendar. Maybe you smile when you think about a meeting with so-and-so because you are discussing the next strategic something-or-other. Maybe you roll your eyes and make some odd grunting noise when you see that you have some action on your list that has been there for months because you just don't want to do it. Notice all of these reactions -- they are really important.

3. Take a deep breath. In and out slowly. Now, get your WHY list from step one and put it next to your to-do list and calendar. Using your WHY list as the starting point, quickly immerse yourself again in all the reasons you work. Try to focus on the qualitative reasons, not necessarily the quantitative. It is within these qualitative reasons that you'll find happiness, excitement, and desire to do your work. Next, take these feelings and look at your to-do list and your calendar. Do you see areas of alignment? (Hint: These might be the things that made you smile in Step 2.) Great! Keep those actions/meetings as scheduled. Do you see areas of misalignment: (Hint: These might be the things that made you roll your eyes or feel sick in Step 2). Great! Now you know what you need to get rid of. The more you get rid of, the better you will feel, and the less work you will have to do.

The "getting rid of" process is not easy, and frankly requires its own detailed, three (or more) step blog post to fully dissect. We'll tackle that next time. For now, appreciate that you have made significant progress toward working better, and hence, working less. At the simplest level, getting rid of tasks that are incongruent with why you work will free up time in your schedule. At a more complex level, getting rid of tasks that are incongruent with why you work will allow you to spend more time and energy on the items that are in alignment. Ultimately, the more energized we are about what we are doing, the better work product we will produce, our success will increase. One could go so far to say that the better you work the more money you will make!

Let's quickly address the topic of money. Yes, money is important and the most established way to receive money is to earn it through working. But that doesn't mean you have to kill yourself for your money. Realigning your primal money making desire with your "why do I do what I do for money" will help to keep your working life more in your control. The more control you have over your working life, the better the chances of less work.

Work less by working better. Work better by realigning your life and your work. Live more by working better.

And you thought this was just about getting a few more hours in your day!

If You Do Nothing Else...

Take 15 minutes out of your schedule in the next 24 hours, and do the exercise above. If nothing else happens, you will at least have remembered why you do what you do -- which on some level, may help manage your stress.