The Ideal Work Day

Lately I’ve been reflecting on my work life and where I’d like to be in the future, in terms of both my career and my daily environment. I also feel exhausted by the idea that I’ll have to work 8 hours a day for the rest of my working career — presumably another 35 years. In a world where working from home and flexibility is king, I know I can’t be the only millennial with this concern…

One of my career goals (see blog post about Prioritizing Career goals) is to have a truly flexible schedule. So, I asked myself, if I had full control over schedule what would I want it to look like?

Part of this whole process to get to The Ideal Work Day is to (1) Believe that the ideal work day can and will happen to you (2) Identify what your ideal work day would be, if you had full control (3) Identify the activities or businesses you would want to work on during that time and (4) Work towards the ideal work day. Here’s a breakdown of each step:

Believe that the Ideal Work Day can and will happen to you

You are in charge of your life. Even when it feels out of control or our work days feel controlled by other people (coworkers, our boss, our boss’s boss), we do things by choice every day. We get up and go to work for individual reasons. Many of us go because we need the paycheck. Some of us go for personal fulfillment or career aspirations. A few of us even go because we find it fun.

No matter what your reason, flexibility and autonomy are important. So much so that studies have shown folks are more satisfied and work longer with better results if they have flexibility and autonomy in. More and more, those of us who work office jobs crave the flexibility to work from home or make our own schedules. I see this all of the time in my current role.

But what you need to understand and believe is that you can be in control of you work day.

Visualize and Write Down your Ideal Work Day

Before I mapped out my ideal work day, I first built parameters to address what’s important for me to accomplish during any given day. As you may know from my post Workout Schedule, working out is very important to me and I like to incorporate two workouts a day – one cardio, and one that’s more strength focused or flexibility driven. Additionally, getting a good night’s sleep and eating healthy are also important to me and I incorporated those elements into my parameters as well. Reading, writing and learning are also paramount to my feeling satisfied with my work. And of course, downtime is a must.

Below are my specific parameters that helped to shape my Ideal Work Day:

  • Ideal wake up time: 7-8 a.m.
  • Ideal bedtime:10 p.m.
  • Workout twice a day between 1.5 – 2 hours total
  • Take time to eat healthy meals
  • Write and research every day
  • Make time for reading
  • Spend time with my husband and dogs

When creating your ideal work day schedule, it’s also important to keep in mind when you do your best work. For example, I’m terrible at doing work that requires a great deal of concentration (like writing) in the early afternoon. I usually work the best in the mornings and then get my second wind at about 3 or 4 p.m. I try to plan my most complex tasks during that time and then do more simple, administrative tasks that don’t require a lot of mental effort in the early afternoon.

In her book Better than Before Gretchen Rubin refers to a “morning person” and a “night person” as a lark or an owl, respectfully. I’m a lark — which means I do my best work in the morning and can benefit from getting up early to focus on my most important tasks. Some folks are owls and do their best work at night. Neither is better than the other, but it is important to know which one you are so you can structure your Ideal Work Day accordingly.

Identify the areas you want to work on during your Ideal Work Day.

After I developed my parameters, I went about trying to figure out my ideal and, most importantly, flexible schedule. Here’s what I came up with it:

Start Time

Task

7 a.m. Wake up
7:30 a.m. Walk dogs
8:30 a.m. Eat breakfast and write (blog post or book)
11:00 a.m. First workout (cardio)
12:30 p.m. Make and eat lunch
1:00 p.m. Various business tasks — answering emails, editing website, creating social media links, images, and posts.
3:00 p.m. Write (blog post or book)
4:00 p.m. Second workout (weights or flexibility)
6:00 p.m Make dinner
7:30 p.m. Walk dogs or take to dog park
8:30 p.m. Relax and hang out with husband
10:00 p.m. Read and Bedtime

You’ll notice that this ideal schedule doesn’t involve a full-time job.

Whoops.

It’s true, if I had my way I wouldn’t be working a 9-5. Let’s be honest though, it’s more like an 8-6. At 30-years old, it’s hard for me to imagine being in my career for another 10 years, let alone double or triple that. It’s hard for me to imagine working full-time for that long too — just think of all the time, energy, stress, maintenance, bad eating habits, and everything else that comes with working a 8-6 job every single day.

I do enjoy working, though, as I think most people do. I especially enjoy working when I have autonomy, flexibility, and support.

Work towards the Ideal Work Day.

Working towards the ideal work day depends on your personal situation. For me, a big piece of my ideal work day revolves around becoming financially independent, or atleast close to it.

Whoa, you might be wondering… What does financial independence mean and how do I get there?

Rather than explaining the concept in detail to you, I suggest listening to the ChooseFI.com podcast. I’m absolutely hooked! Jonathan and Brad (the hosts) provide such a fantastic and digestible framework for what it looks like to become financially independent, especially in their Milestones of FI and Why of FI episodes. They also explain what they call “FU money” where you’re not financially dependent on a 40-50 hour week job, but you’re working where and when you want. In essence, you have the ability to leave the “the hamster wheel” or “the corporate ladder” with little consequence because you’re not dependent on that income. Becoming financially independent isn’t about being lazy, though; it’s about pursuing your passion and having the freedom to do that whatever and wherever you want.

But back to my main point…

You need to figure out what your barriers are to achieving the ideal work day. For example, let’s say you’re like me and value flexibility, but your boss doesn’t typically allow flexible schedules. Is there something you can do about this? Perhaps there’s a conversation that needs to be had with your boss. Maybe you need to figure out why your boss feels this way and see if there’s any way to compromise or work around the why.  

Or maybe you’ve been in the same job for a number of years and are become increasingly bored with your work. Is there another job that you can do within the company that will challenge you or special projects that you can take on in your current role? What about part-time work?

My point is: if you love your job except for a few things, look for opportunities to have the ideal work day within your current role. If your ideal work day just can’t happen in the environment or career field you’re currently in and, as a result, it’s sucking away your energy and passion, then evaluate what is required to leave that field. Is there training or formal education you would need for a career field you’re more interested in? Is there consulting work you can do or a another small business that you can start? Are you financially independent and can theoretically leave the job you’re working in or allow a small business to grow slowly?

Thinking about the barriers and working towards breaking down the barriers to an ideal work day is very important. You can’t get to the ideal work day without doing so.

So take the steps I outlined above and let me know what you came up with. If you feel stuck or need help along the way, feel free to email at livingincrementally@gmail.com

Look forward to hearing from you!

 

Prioritizing Career Goals: The Warren Buffet Challenge

By many counts, Warren Buffet is seen as the most successful investor of the 20th century. At the moment he’s worth over 88 billion dollars! So naturally when I hear career advice from Mr. Buffet, I’m inclined to listen. He’s also really great at managing his time and saying no, which are both individual arts within themselves.

The rich invest in time, the poor invest in money.

Warren Buffett

One of Warren Buffet’s long term employees once asked his boss how to prioritize career goals and focus on the most important tasks that will achieve the highest results. More than just following the 80/20 rule or the “Pareto Principle,” he wanted to know how to narrow down his list of career goals. As research shows, focusing on too many goals often leads to unfocused exhaustion and procrastination. Buffet asked him to do a simple exercise that consisted of the following first two steps:

Step One:  Write down your top 25 career goals

At first, 25 goals sounded like way too many to me, but once you get started you’ll find you have more goals than you think. When you go through this exercise, the goals do not need to be in any particular order — the important part of the exercise is to just reflect and write.

Here’s what I came up with for myself:  

My Top 25 Career Goals:

  1. Become an Assistant City Manager or equivalent level position
  2. Become a Professor
  3. Earn a PhD
  4. Make at least $500k a year
  5. Have a truly flexible schedule
  6. Blog regularly and earn a sustainable income from it
  7. Create and build a company
  8. Hire great people that thrive in their environment
  9. Become a master in excel
  10. Learn website design
  11. Be a great speaker
  12. Create a successful podcast
  13. Become a certified life coach and have regular clients
  14. Run for City Council
  15. Write a book
  16. Gain a higher level understanding of data analytics
  17. Tutor kids on the side
  18. Take affiliate marketing course
  19. Take course on podcasting
  20. Network with highly talented managers in my field
  21. Mentor students and/or young people in personal finance and other practical life skills
  22. Retire from working full-time by age 45
  23. Teach yoga on the side
  24. Be a great manager
  25. Be more involved in real-estate

 

Step Two: Prioritize your goals

Now that you have your top 25 career goals, how do you prioritize? Buffet asked his employee to review the career list thoroughly and circle the top 5 goals.

Only five.

Below are my top five career goals:

  1. Make at least $500k a year
  2. Blog regularly and earn a sustainable income from it
  3. Create and build a company
  4. Write a book
  5. Become a professor

 

What I Learned from Prioritizing my Goals like Warren Buffett

Prioritizing my career goals using this exercise has taught me a few different things. (1) I want to do a lot of different things and need to spend time focusing on the things that matter the most to me (2) There are several goals that cover other goals and (3) the career path I’m on right now is only loosely connected to what I want to do in the long-run. I’m sure a lot of people can relate to that last point — sometimes we feel “stuck” or simply wondering how we arrived at where we are now. Although I don’t feel stuck and I am genuinely interested in what I’m doing now and my career path, I’ve realized through this exercise that what I’m doing now isn’t directly related to my top five goals — or the goals I should ultimately be focused on.

Challenge Yourself

So here’s my pitch to you: take the Warren Buffet challenge. Try to wrap your mind around the fact that time is the most important aspect of life. Not money. You only have a certain amount of time on this earth and you want to use it to the best of your ability. Also, you’ll see that making a good living is one of my top goals. I want to encourage you to think about the fact that earning that amount of money is not a bad thing, in fact it’s fantastic. With a good income, you’re able to support your family, live without the stress of making ends meet, and, if you have a high savings rate and are smart with investment, experience the freedom of living financially independent.

Take the challenge and let me know what you come up with. Feel free to email me at livingincrementally@gmail.com or post comments on the blog. Looking forward to hearing from you!

Future Posts

The Warren Buffet Challenge can also be applied to many different areas of your life — like exercise, weight less, daily to-do lists, and much more. In future posts, I hope to talk more about my goals in these other areas and how I’m setting quarterly targets for each of them. Stay tuned!

Finishing is Overrated

They say it’s about the journey, not the destination. That’s absolutely true. As we’re renovating my house right now, I’m starting to realize that the journey is way longer than the destination anyway — so better to have a good attitude about both and enjoy them!

This mantra can also be applied to our work life. Recently, I’ve become interested in working smarter not harder. After all, people are promoted and provided opportunities because they add value to the organization, not necessarily because they work harder than everyone else.

Like many folks, my job is multifaceted and I’m constantly working and balancing multiple projects and priorities. One  of the ways I’ve found to work smarter is to not worry so much about finishing something and to instead allot a specific amount of time to a project and work on it a little at a time. This is hard for me — I like to make to-do lists and check projects off as complete. If you’re like me, you make the to-do list the day before or the morning of and find it frustrating when you can’t check the task(s) you intended to accomplish that day because you got interrupted or because priorities shifted.

But, it’s not realistic that we constantly “finish” things and it’s frustrating when we set unrealistic goals. So to help with that, I’ve started allotting a certain amount of time to work on a specific project, and then I move on. Instead of checking off that I finished a certain task, I’m checking off the time I spent on it.

My to do list might look like this:

  • Spend 2 hours on employee evaluations

Or if my schedule is all over the place or I have several meetings that will most likely zap a lot of my creative energy, my to-do list for the day might look more like this:

  • Start on employee evaluations

Sometimes, all I need to do is think about a topic and then start to work on it the next day. For that type of task, my to-do list would possibly look more like this:

  • Brainstorm ideas for youth event

Organizing work like this allows me to check items off my to-do list, feel accomplished, avoid frustration and just overall be more productive and happy. Since I’ve been deploying this strategy, it’s drastically changed the way I work. Try this system and let me know how it goes for you.