Work attitudes: Four lessons learnt from my four hour day
What seemed like a simple reduction in work hours turned into a valuable experience in understanding my work attitudes and how I work best.
This is the second in a two part series. Click here for Part 1 – Work Less: Why I changed to a four hour day.
When I was first dazzled by the promise of a Four Hour Day six months ago, I had visions of lazy afternoons curled up with a book with my business just running itself in my absence.
But what I wasn’t expecting was the shift I had to make in my work attitudes and how much I’d learn about my own work habits.
Lesson No. 1: Focus on what works – for me
There are plenty of people in the business world who are ready to tell you how to run your business. And in the early days this abundance of advice can be helpful in finding quick ways to get the myriad of startup tasks done. And even further down the track, the perspectives of others is a great way to look at your own business with fresh eyes.
I’d been in business for a while, I had experience of what worked and what didn’t work, and yet I was still looking outside for my answers. Rather than busily replicating what everyone else was doing I had to discover “my way”. I looked at how I could leverage my particular knowledge, skills and experience to bring me the income I desired. And when I put my ideas (rather than a pale imitation of someone else’s) into practice, it was fun and I got great feedback from clients and peers.
"When I was first dazzled by the promise of a Four Hour Day six months ago, I had visions of lazy afternoons curled up with a book with my business just running itself in my absence."
Lesson No. 2: Set boundaries – and then be flexible
Perhaps the most unexpected lesson came in the form of a little question that kept popping up in my four hours: Is this work? And then it became more specific: does this generate an income?
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Whether it was travelling 90 minutes for an hour meeting, researching a new technique or meeting a colleague for coffee, I was questioning many activities that were part of how I worked. At the other end of the boundaries issue was the need for flexibility – especially around my own deadlines. I developed a series of questions that acted like border security for my work boundaries:
- What are the consequences of this not being completed today?
- Who does this impact on?
- If I continue to work on this (and go over my four hours) then when will I make up the time later in the week?
Lesson No 3: Not-doing is as valuable as doing
I generally equate getting results with taking action, so to actually stop (in those other 20 hours of the day) was a bit tougher than I thought.
Yet what I discovered when I stopped all my busy-ness was the big picture clarity missing from what I was doing. In that space, my own new ways or new perspectives on work issues I was facing came to the surface. I had a much better understanding of all the facets of the situation and planning became effortless. “Emptying the cup” created the paradox of being incredibly energized and productive. And gradually I became more comfortable with saying no, and making sure I had my new “incubation space”.
Lesson No 4: I’m not alone
As I began talking about my Four Hour Day with friends and colleagues, I was startled by their responses. While there were a few predictable “It’s alright for some” comments from some of my dearest friends, the far more overwhelming response came from people saying “Me too!”
I’d unknowingly found a hidden enclave of (mainly) soloists who for their own reasons (family, other work, community) were all making their version of the Four Hour Day work too. But best of all was hearing a friend, venturing into her own new business, declare that the thought of working a Four Hour Day had brought her business to life.
And that’s what the Four Hour Day ultimately has been about for me: Re-imagining my work and my life so that I’m doing the things that I enjoy – every day.