Detox diets seem to be fairly popular these days, where you adopt a bizarre diet for only a few days to flush out toxins. I’m not going to start questioning the medical effectiveness of spending a week eating nothing but broccoli juice, but this does bring up an interesting idea. Could it be possible to detox your workload to get more spare time?
This is a question I asked myself several weeks ago. I was spending all day to get done just a couple hours worth of meaningful work. Although it felt like I had a lot of time to complete everything, work just seemed to expand to fit my day. So I decided to detox my workload.
Detoxifying – Cutting Back on Task Creep
Detoxifying your workload means figuring out how much actual work you are getting done and then making sure you are only at work for that much time, possibly less. Let’s say you are “working” for eight hours but only getting done 3 hours of productive work done (if you discount the games playing, breaks, web-surfing, photoshopping yourself into pictures with celebrities, etc.). A detox diet would mean committing to only be at work for 3 hours.
This process eliminates task creep. Task creep is the tendency for the time it takes to complete a task to be roughly equal to the time you give it. If you need to write 10 pages in eight hours, it will take eight hours. Even if you could write that much in as little as two.
Detoxifying your workload can be a bit difficult if you have a boss who doesn’t like the idea of paying you for eight hours when you only show up for three. I’d suggest trying the technique in your personal life first, to detoxify areas where you have more control. I used detoxifying on my blogging work, but I suspect that for most people actual employment only accounts for a portion of all the things they want to be productive at. Detox your chores and side activities first.
A workload detox is similar to a dietary one in a number of ways. It flushes the toxins of wasted time out of your workload. It has you working (consuming) a lot less. And it will probably feel like crap the first day.
The first day of the detox usually results in less productivity and a bit of uneasiness. When you are used to frequent breaks, actually working non-stop for two to three hours is difficult to do. Remove all the wasted time and you are left with almost pure work, making your work period a lot more intense.
But once you are done, you suddenly have a large chunk of spare time. If it normally would take you 6 hours to do some chores but you compress it to 2 or 3, you are now left with 3-4 extra hours. The initial uneasiness is replaced with actual free-time and not disguised busyness. After a few days you get used to the compression and soon you are completing just as much work as before, within a much smaller timeframe.
How the Detox Works – Eliminating Non-Work and Low Value Tasks
If your skeptical about how a detox diet works, I’ve found it eliminates time without removing productivity through three mechanisms:
It removes non-work activities. The most obvious way a detox diet works is through removing activities you do during work that have no value whatsoever. Random web-surfing, shuffling papers, changing your desktop background. All of these activities immediately get purged out of your system when you no longer have the time to engage in them.
It removes low value tasks. You might find that even if you eliminate all of your non-work activities, you still aren’t fitting the same eight hours into three. This is when you start purging activities that have value but not a lot. E-mail, stats checking and work that has little value get purged out or reduced to a fraction of their size. Detoxification forces you to use the 80/20 Rules you know about but frequently ignore.
It makes you more energized. When you are left with some core, highly productive tasks after your detox, you are then forced to move faster with those tasks. Even if you remove low value tasks and non-work, your day still might not fit. The third effect is that you move a lot faster to complete those tasks, sometimes doubling your rate of production. This effect is impossible normally because moving faster for 8 hours would result in complete burnout even if it can be achieved over three.
Conducting a 7-Day Detox
Detoxifying isn’t a permanent strategy. It is an example of pushing an idea to an extreme. You will lose a lot of temporary flexibility as your work is compressed into a fraction of the time. But like detox diets, detox for your work can flush out the toxins plaguing your productivity so you can retain many of the benefits afterwards.
I went on a week-long blogging workload detox. Here are the steps I followed to make it a success:
- Calculate how much time you are “working” and how much is getting done. You want two numbers. One is the current amount of time your tasks are taking up in your day. The other represents the amount of meaningful work that you believe fits in with those tasks.
- Schedule off a specific time in your day which now becomes your work period. If you have three hours of “work” and one hour of productivity, the next step is to schedule a specific hour of your day to work. When I detoxified to 2.5 hours, I scheduled it in the morning of every day to prevent procrastination.
- Commit to the detox for a week. Seven day should be enough to flush out some wasted activities. Keep it for seven days and see how it affects your productivity.
- Continue with moderation. The detox is too extreme to be long-term, but you can re-establish your productivity levels at a more moderate point. If you went from eight to three, you can reset at five. This way you get flexibility, productivity and more spare time.
Evaluate Your Work
Once you have detoxified your workload, the next step is to evaluate what the toxins were so you can be sure they don’t come back. The detox should give you a new perspective on what is most valuable, so when you return to a moderate point of work you can prevent low-value tasks from creeping in and stealing your time.
Ask yourself what were the first things to be removed during your detox. Make a short list and identify the key culprits. Once this has happened, consider starting a 30 Day Trial to reduce or eliminate these culprits entirely. Sometimes it takes a detox to realize the extent to which e-mail, web-surfing or other tasks really were wasting your time.
Enjoy Your Spare Time – Watch Out for Task Gremlins!
Once you detox you will get more time added to your day. Ensure that time isn’t wasted by filling it up with enjoyable activities. Join a new organization, do something fun, learn a new skill. Otherwise you will just resort to wasting the spare time you have.
In a time-starved world, there will always be task gremlins coming to rob your spare time. Don’t let them reclaim this sudden burst by manually inserting some new activities. It doesn’t have to be work, but if it is completely unscheduled, small tasks invade your day. Folklore use to say gremlins tinkered with machinery to cause problems, don’t let task gremlins rob you of your newly freed time.
Ways You Can Use Detoxification
There are a number of ways you can use detoxification as a strategy for creating more spare time. Here are some suggestions:
- Regular work – Instead of 9-5… 9-12?
- Personal projects – I compressed my total website work and writing for my book from hovering around six or seven hours down to 2.5 without sacrificing productivity.
- Gym – Compress an hourly routine into forty minutes by ramping up the intensity.
- Television – Compress an hour show into forty five minutes by taping it and watching without commercials
- E-mail – Answer all your e-mails in one sitting, once or twice a day to shave off time checking and rechecking.
- Cooking – Optimize your cooking time so there is less preparation time. Or prepare meals in advance to reduce time spent in the kitchen.
- Chores – Even mundane chore times can be compressed if you are forced to be more efficient. Why not cut out a third or half of your household work to get a few hours of spare time.
Participate in a Group 7 Day Detox
Why not use the benefits of peer-pressure to help in your seven day detox. Commit with me to following a week-long detox of one aspect of your life. Here is how you can join:
- Pick Your Detox – As I mentioned previously, you can detox just about any aspect of your productive life. Just because your boss won’t let you work three hours a day, doesn’t mean you can’t participate by detoxing your exercise, chores or personal projects.
- Find Your New Worktime – Commit to working on this detox for only a certain period in the day. It helps to put the commitment in writing.
- Find Your New Activity – Decide what you want to do with your reclaimed time. Do this in advance to avoid the task gremlins!
- Sign Up With the Group – Write in to the comments below to sign up for the detox. I’ll collect the e-mails and send out a daily e-mail for the next seven days. Your e-mails won’t be shared and I’ll remove them after the trial is done. You can participate privately by sending me an e-mail through the contact form  or join publicly for some extra motivation by writing into the comments.
The detox will begin Monday, May 14 and end Sunday May 20. I’m going to give the weekend for more people to sign up. Sign up soon because I’ll send out the first e-mail tomorrow and the first trial reminder the day after.
For my part, I’ll be detoxifying my web usage, compressing all web usage aside from posting blog entries down to 30 minutes every morning. I plan to use my reclaimed time to do more reading with nearly a dozen books I just got in from Amazon.
After the trial finishes I’ll post an entry summarizing our results. Have a great weekend, and I’ll see you on Monday.