Americans are workaholics by nature. According to Harvard economist Juliet Schor, the average American works 163 additional hours, or one month a year, more today than 1969 (“The Overworked American”). The Employee Benefits Research Institute tells us that Americans work more hours per year than any other industrialized nation—putting in an average of 6.5 weeks longer than the French workforce, and 8 weeks longer than Germany’s.
With the extraordinary stress of today’s workplace, creating a satisfying personal life is one of the best investments you can make in your work. When you are exhausted and depleted and don’t know where you’ll find energy to tackle that next project—take a leap into the unknown. Trust that work will survive without you for an hour, an evening, or a weekend. You must embrace the fact that sometimes your best hope for getting to the bottom of your to-do list is to let go and get a life.
1) Shorten your workday by 30 minutes. I promise you’ll get more done than if you put in your usual nine to ten hours. That’s because committing to leaving earlier gives you a deadline and forces you to eliminate the little time wasters (silly interruptions, procrastination, and perfectionism) that eat up your day.
2) Avoid multitasking. Recent studies show that it can take the brain twice as long to process each thing its working on when switching back and forth between activities. By learning to focus fully on one project at a time, you can regain the extra hour or two you crave. Just don’t squander it on mundane chores!
3) Break the habit of total self-reliance. Insisting on doing everything yourself burdens you and prevents others from feeling valuable and needed. Delegate more at home and at work, and free your time for things you love and excel at.
4) Capture all your to-dos in one place. People who haphazardly write lists on stray notepads, post-its, and backs of envelopes waste time wondering what to do next and worrying that they’re forgetting something. Choose only one tool (planner, palm, notebook) to track everything you need to do, and prioritize from the top down. Start every morning with the most important item, not the many small, easy tasks. You can always squeeze the little things into the gaps. Conquering the big to-dos gives meaning to your day.
5) Schedule one purely joyful activity each week. Think of an activity—dancing, reading, playing the guitar—that you haven’t done for a long time and that brings you instant happiness. Put it in your datebook as a nonnegotiable appointment with yourself, and watch the quality of your life transform.
Editor’s Note: New York Times bestselling author Julie Morgenstern is an organizing and time-management expert, business productivity consultant and speaker. Her company, Julie Morgenstern Enterprises, is dedicated to using her philosophies and methods to provide a wide range of practical solutions that transform the way people and companies function.