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9 to 5 image via Shutterstock

15 productivity tips to help you escape the 9-5 lifestyle

If you’re spending 12 hours a day at your job and still not finishing your work, it’s time to make a change.

TIM FERRISS IS among the most popular writers around on productivity, picking up skills, and escaping the 9-5 lifestyle.

His first bestseller, The Four Hour Workweek, came out of from his own experience of going from working long hours, seven days a week to figuring out how to run a business more efficiently.

But even for people not ready to take that step, Ferriss has some valuable tips for figuring how to get dramatically more done in less time, leaving more room to get ahead, relax, and do the things that make you happy.

1. If you’re spending 12 hours a day at your desk and still not finishing your work, it’s time to make a change.

It’s incredibly simple to fall into easy habits, or just do things the way you’re trained. Ferriss writes:

If everyone is defining a problem or solving it one way and the results are subpar, this is the time to ask, What if I did the opposite? Don’t follow a model that doesn’t work. If the recipe sucks, it doesn’t matter how good a cook you are.

For example, Ferriss had huge success making sales calls only at 8:00-8:30 in the morning and from 6:00 to 6:30 at night because he got around “gatekeepers” and directly to executives.

2. Interest, energy and ability go up and down all the time. Trying to work through it when you’re miserable is unproductive.

The way many of our jobs and careers are planned leads to doing the same thing for hours, even years on end. It doesn’t account for the fact that people aren’t built to work that way.

Your interest and ability to do a particular job or task varies over time. It’s more effective to plan for it than to simply try to work through it, or spend unproductive hours staring at a screen.

Design your work day, and potentially even your career to take that into account.

3. Doing less is not necessarily being lazy.

Don’t give in to a culture that values personal sacrifice over personal productivity.

Often, our workplace culture places way too much emphasis on face-time, late evenings, early mornings, and eating lunch at the desk as a sign of hard work and dedication.

Long hours show neither. There’s a big difference between being productive and being busy. Instead of measuring the amount of work you do, measure results in terms of the amount of time, and eliminate the less important things that take forever.

Eliminate work for work’s sake.

4. Stop putting hard choices off because of timing. It kills productivity.

There’s never going to be perfect time to quit a job, ask for more responsibility, or take on a risky new project.

Waiting for the perfect moment is simply a delaying tactic that keeps you preoccupied. Pro and con lists serve the same function. Take the leap and course correct as needed. The consequences are rarely as bad as you imagine.

5. Ask people for forgiveness instead of permission.

Waiting for someone else’s approval is the easiest way to delay or avoid something you don’t really want to do. That way, you can blame inaction or failure on them instead of yourself.

And if you do want to do it, but think someone will deny you, just go for it. Unless the damage is catastrophic, you’ll be able to fix things or apologise. People are hesitant to try new things, but once the ball’s rolling, they’ll rarely stop it.

6. Emphasise what you’re good at rather than trying to correct weakness.

The majority of people are better than average at a few things, and pretty bad at others. Trying to improve weaknesses will only lead to small improvements. You might move in the direction of average, or mediocre.

But focusing on your strengths makes you exceptional in one area, which is far easier to leverage. Do what you’re best at rather than wasting time on repairing things.

7. Figure out how to use stress rather than letting it make you less able and confident.

Bad stress, like a yelling boss or destructive criticism is definitely negative.

But without a certain level of stress, you’re unlikely to get motivated. Examples of good stress include role models that push you, and taking the sort of risks that expand your comfort zone.

People who avoid all stress end up never taking a risk and failing.

8. Don’t choose unhappiness over uncertainty. Define the worst case scenario to change this.

Unhappiness is certainly unpleasant. But uncertainty is scary. Most people will opt for the former, and never follow through on resolutions.

You just replay everything that can go wrong, and don’t end up doing anything due to pessimism, fear, and insecurity.

An easy way to overcome this is to precisely define the exact worst that can happen if you radically change your work life. You could get fired, struggle to pay your mortgage, or have to sell your car.

But when these scenarios are defined instead of vague fears, you’ll usually realize how unlikely they are, and be able to make concrete plans to avoid them.

9. Watch out for fear disguised as optimism.

One of the biggest ways people avoid change is with false optimism, the idea that things will get better over time. If you’re miserable now, it’s likely you’re using optimism as an excuse for inaction.

Are you better off than you were a week, month, year ago? If not, things are unlikely to change without major action on your part.

The author of the Four-Hour Workweek, Tim Ferriss. He’s clearly onto something. (Image: AP Photo/Rick Bowmer).

10. Set unrealistic and hugely ambitious goals.

Most people are relatively insecure, and go after “reasonable” goals. That means the competition is fiercest at the low end. Wildly ambitious, impossible to achieve goals are easier because less people really truly try for them.

Average and uninspiring goals will only fuel you through one or two roadblocks. Unrealistic goals are an adrenaline boost.

If the payoff’s average, your effort will be too.

11. Forget about time management and the “results by volume” approach.

Many time management tips are about learning to get more done in the day. The real focus should be on doing less.

People tend to do lots and lots of busy work to avoid the difficult and critical stuff. A better strategy is to do the difficult stuff right away and eliminate everything else.

Doing something unimportant well does not make it important, neither does the fact that it takes a long time.

Being great at answering email isn’t necessarily a good thing. It means you’re spending too much time on a task that isn’t all that productive. Focus on things that are effective — that get you closer to your goal in the quickest way possible.

12. Use the 80/20 rule: 80 per cent of the results come from 20 per cent of the time and effort.

Working incredibly long days but still feeling like you have work to do is a sign that you’re doing something wrong.

Ask these two questions, inspired by economist Pareto, to get back on track, Ferris writes:

“What 20% of sources are causing 80% of my problems and unhappiness?”

“Which 20% of sources are resulting in 80% of my desired outcomes and happiness?”

That helps you identify tasks or customers or relationships that you should just drop in order to focus on what makes you productive and successful.

13. Give yourself less time to do everything.

In addition to Pareto, use Parkinson’s law: a task will swell in (perceived) importance and complexity in relation to the time allotted to complete it.

Basically, you take longer with everything because you’re expected to be at your desk, at minimum, from 9-5. If you have 8 hours to do something, you’ll take all 8 hours for something that can be done in less time. You end up with better quality due to higher focus.

Staying at your desk forever doesn’t mean you’re actually getting the job done. Image: Shutterstock

14. Master the art of not finishing things and interrupting people.

Everyone’s made the mistake of focusing on tasks that are poorly thought out, difficult to execute, and won’t result in much gain. Sometimes they’re unavoidable. More often than not, if you make that case aggressively to someone that they’re simply not worth the time, you can get out of the task.

The same goes for meetings and phone calls that drag on forever. It’s better to be rude than waste hours a week being polite. Never schedule meetings without a defined agenda and set end time, and get up and walk away when you need to.

15. Some things are just time consuming and repetitive. Do them all at the same time.

Eventually, unanswered emails, forms you haven’t filled out, and other time consuming logistic tasks will pile up if you don’t get too them. They have to be done.

But the worst thing you can do is interrupt more important tasks to take care of these things as they come in. Do them all at the same time in short, intense bursts.

- Max Nisen and Aimee Groth

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