Home » Declutter Your Life » Downsize your work and your life!

Downsize your work and your life!

By Leo Babauta from Zen Habits

One word says it all...

How much of your day is spent doing administrative tasks, and not creating or doing other important work?

How much time do you spend responding to emails and IMs and social networks, making payments, doing paperwork, filing, sitting in meetings, driving, doing errands, and so on? How much of that could be cleared up for more important work?

Imagine this for a moment: you have no administrative tasks, only the core work that you love doing. Your day has been cleared for creating, building, doing high-impact projects. Isn’t it lovely?

Is this a pipe dream? Perhaps for some, who have little control over their work. But if you have a larger degree of control, let’s explore the idea of “frictionless work” or even “frictionless living”.

If you have little control, consider a change.

What Are Your Admin Tasks?

Take inventory of your work: what admin tasks take up your time? Add to this list over the course of the next couple of days, because you’re probably forgetting some.

Now ask yourself: which of these can be eliminated? Many of you will probably answer, “Very few”, because you’re used to the way things are done. “This is how things are done.” But that’s an artificial limitation — instead, ask yourself how it can be changed. How might it be possible? Think radically different.

To eliminate tasks, you might have to make major changes over time, but the beauty is that you’ll also be freeing up time. Consider some examples:

If you do a lot of paperwork, can you require forms to be filled out digitally, perhaps online? This will eliminate a lot of work, and if the database is set up right, eliminate filing.

If you spend a lot of time on calls or email, can you provide other ways for people to get info or get things done? Perhaps put up an FAQ online, so common questions are answered (like Google does for its product support), or provide web pages where people can automatically download products or get other things done without you as the bottleneck? Or can you route those requests to someone else?

Also unsubscribe from newsletters and notifications and so forth, so you don’t have to spend time processing them in your inbox. Consider each email that comes in and ask yourself: “How could this be eliminated?”

Can you eliminate meetings, or at least get out of them? How can you get the info without meetings? How can projects get done without the meetings?

If you worked at home, you wouldn’t have to commute, or do a lot of other tasks associated with working in an office. It’s not always possible, but often you can work towards that goal.

Can you drop clients or parts of your business, losing a little income but eliminating all the admin work that goes with it? The free time could be spent creating something that would more than make up for the loss of income.

Can you eliminate features that aren’t completely essential, so you don’t have to do all the work to support those features (similar to how I eliminated comments)?

Can you stop worrying so much about growth, customers, competitors, statistics, and so forth — and focus instead on what you love doing?

A great quote by web designer and developer Sam Brown: “I used to stress a lot about my business, my clients, the amount of work I was doing and my competitors – but the minute I stopped worrying about all of that and focussed on just doing great work that I was happy with it really made a big difference, to me and my business.”

If you think a task is necessary under the current conditions, consider changing the current conditions.

These are just a few ideas and questions to get you started, but you can see that by radically rethinking your work, you might be able to eliminate a lot of admin tasks.

And free up time for what truly matters.

This concept of eliminating admin work can apply to your personal life as well. Imagine your personal time with as few chores, errands, paperwork, and commitments as possible. You’d be free to … well, do what you love most.

I can’t claim to have done this completely, but I have made huge progress towards a frictionless life. Of course, I still have chores to do (washing dishes, laundry, etc.), but I’ve eliminated a lot of personal tasks:

I don’t pay bills anymore. I either pay them in advance if I get a big lump payment, or I set up automatic payments each month. In fact, because all my transactions are electronic, I never go to the bank.

I don’t file personal paperwork anymore. I’ve gone paperless, so all documents that I needed to keep are scanned, and everything else is already digital. Even contracts are done digitally.

Housework is minimal. Admittedly, my wife does the laundry, but we share in cooking and cleaning duties, and most of it is painless as we have a pretty sparse home. It’s fairly clean all the time.

Errands are minimal too. Mostly it’s going to the grocery store or post office, and we moved last year so those are within walking distance. So we often walk to those errands, getting a nice workout and enjoying the outdoors in the process.

There isn’t much else we have to do, except things with our kids and each other. The fun stuff. Much of the friction of living has been eliminated.

It’s not always easy to change your work and your life to get rid of the friction of admin tasks, but once you do, it’s simply lovely.

However, there will likely be a temptation to fill up your freed time with more email, social networking, blog reading, and so on. I’m not saying you shouldn’t do this, but before you do, consider how you really want to spend your time.

Do you want to remove the friction just to fritter it away with distractions?

I’m a big fan of doing nothing, of solitude and relaxing and playing. So if that’s how you use your freed time, I’m jumping with joy.

You might, however, spend this time creating, and that’s one of the true wonders of creating frictionless work and a frictionless life.

Spend your time doing what you love, living your passion, making something new and beautiful. You’ll be glad you did.

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