Be your best self.

How To Work Less Without Getting Fired

I used to live in a city where pretty much everyone worked in the public service. Even though I technically never worked in the public service, I did work in an office job – punching the clock, having meetings, all that jazz. I liked my job, I LOVED my workmate and I had a very pleasant experience in my few years working there. However, while I was working in this office I got to witness all the bullshit that comes along with working a 9 to 5 job. There are always people who work harder than others and there are always people who seem to get rewarded for doing absolutely nothing. I’m a firm believer in earning my money – if someone is paying to do a job, I do it well. However, I don’t believe in working for free or sacrificing my health to build an empire unless I own it. These beliefs made me a master at working smarter, not harder in my office job. I rarely, if ever worked late and if I did extra work, I expected to be compensated for that work. I honestly don’t believe that you need to be married to your career to make progress. It’s totally possible to work less without getting fired and maybe even nab yourself a promotion. Here’s how to go about it…work less

1. Be honest and open when people are wasting your time

If your boss insists on having a 3-hour meeting once a week that is as good as useless, put together a succinct proposal that outlines the reasons why you should be excused from these meetings. It can be difficult because most people in upper management positions love wasting everyone’s time talking about useless shit because it makes them feel productive but the key is to go in hard and settle on their compromise. I pitched to my boss many years ago that her weekly (and mind-numbingly irrelevant) meetings didn’t apply to my department and it was a waste of time for both my workmate and myself to attend these meetings. She wasn’t happy about this but she couldn’t argue with me (because I created an airtight case) but she compromised by allowing just one of us to attend each week and we’d take it in turns while the other remained in our office. It was a pretty good compromise as my time was only wasted every second week instead of every single Wednesday.

2. Work the hours that you’re supposed to work

If you’re supposed to be at work from 8.34 to 4.47 every single day, that’s when you should be there. Everyone knows when you arrive and leave work, no matter how subtle you think you’re being. It’s also quite easy to delude yourself into thinking you arrive on time every day when in reality, you might be fudging it a little. I used to work with a guy who was always complaining about how he had to stay late every day to finish his work but he would arrive after 9.30am every day. I pointed this out to him and he was outraged and said I was exaggerating. I showed him on his computer his log in times every day that week – 9.20am, 9.45am, 9.35am and 10.10am. He was gobsmacked and had no idea he’d been wasting the first hour of every day. He started coming in on time and miraculously discovered that he finished his work by clock-off time. Funny that.

3. Clock your over time

Even if your workplace doesn’t offer overtime, it’s important to keep track of the work you’re doing. This comes in handy when redundancies and layoffs happen in your office. Management will look for any excuse to single someone out when there are cutbacks. This is also handy if you have an emergency and you’re late to work – even if you don’t get paid overtime and you technically don’t have flex hours, it’s always useful to be able to prove that you put in extra hours when needed so there’s no need for your boss to get all huffy when your car breaks down and you’re a bit late one morning.

4. Work really hard when you’re at work

I have honestly met some of the laziest people in the world when I worked in an office. I worked with a guy for three months and he literally did nothing the entire time he was there. I mean actually, totally nothing. The weird thing is that he stayed late every day and used to come in on the occasional weekend, so my boss thought he was brilliant. When she went to renew his contract I told her to get him to show her what he’d done in the past few months. He had nothing and the stuff he did show her, was stuff that I had done. If you’re at work, you need to work. It’s really difficult to fight for changes or better working conditions if you spend most of the day on Facebook or bitching about how much you hate your job while making your tenth cup of tea for the day. If you work to the best of your ability when you’re at work, you’ll be an incredibly valuable employee. An employee whose boss won’t question you when you ask for a raise.

5. Set firm boundaries

It’s very easy to be taken advantage of in an office environment so make sure you stand up for yourself. If you’re taking on more responsibility, you need to be paid for that. If you’re working in a higher position while someone else is away, you need to be paid for that. Most people end up doing extra unpaid work because they get pressured into it. It’s never a bad idea to pick up the slack for a while and be a team player but if you’ve been filling a senior position for longer than a month without any talk of remuneration, you need to call a meeting with your manager.

Do you struggle with creating boundaries at work? Do you have any tips for working less without compromising your career?

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  1. Dee 9 years ago

    Great article!

    I’ve recently completed a leadership course and time management and working smarter is a big part of it. I did a three day time analysis and wrote down everything I did in three days (including interruptions) and it was amazing at how much time I spend just getting interrupted by other people. I’m about 40% more productive now in the same time – just by recognising how many people interrupt me – and asking them if we can discuss things at another time.

    But I hear you on the people who waste time thing… my manager is never getting through her work and always complains about how busy she is, but she doesn’t get in until 9.30am every day (and actually doesn’t start work until 10 by the time she fusses about making coffee etc), takes long lunches and then leaves early/on time. Zero time management. Drives me mental.

    • Author
      Carly Jacobs 9 years ago

      I cannot cope with time wasters! Drives me bonkers! And I hear you on being accountable for your own time – people have no idea how much time they waste. This is why I have a blogging office now – it makes me so much more productive!

  2. Tamsin Howse 9 years ago

    I can tell just from reading this you would make a great boss, and also rub people up the wrong way in a few places I’ve worked (past tense being the important point here)!

    The thing with working overtime all the time without being compensated and/or working above your pay rate without being compensated is that eventually you will become bitter, resentful and your work will suffer because of it. Happy workers are better workers, and the more bosses who recognise that, the better.

    It’s great to take on more responsibility but it’s also about clear expectations. One of the ways I have advanced my career so quickly is by doing things above and beyond what I was supposed to be doing, but you need to be clear about why you’re doing it and what you expect from it. I did it with the expectation that, when a promotion came up, I would get it and that worked out well for me. But that’s what I wanted – if you’re doing something where the payoff is not something you actually WANT then it isn’t worth it, no matter how many other people would want it.

    • Author
      Carly Jacobs 9 years ago

      Oh yeah I absolutely rubbed people up the wrong way… lazy people! But I was always (and still am!) a very good employee so I could get away with it. And I totally agree with doing extra work to climb the ladder as long that’s what the result of the extra work will be!

  3. “Great advice!” said the (current) office worker reading your blog on company time. 😉

    • Author
      Carly Jacobs 9 years ago

      Ha! Look, everyone needs a break in the middle of their day!

  4. KezUnprepared 9 years ago

    Fantastic advice – so many people live under the illusion that more hours means a better worker. Sometimes it just means bad time management.

    • Author
      Carly Jacobs 9 years ago

      Totally! If you reach lunch and you haven’t done any work, that’s a huge problem and it happens so easily in offices. I’d love any office worked to spend a day as a teacher – no one knows how much work you can actually fit into a work day better than a teacher.

  5. Kathryn 9 years ago

    When I went from being a full time worker to contracting, I found most of the bullshit disappeared. You rarely get asked to do overtime when you are on an hourly rate and you get out of going to stupid meetings (stupid meaning those wafty ones about long term vision or whatever).

    I’d add that, if you do have flex time, come in early and leave early. If you have an hour at the beginning of the day without anyone else around, you can get a ton of work done.

    And, seriously, you can bet your arse that the people who complain the most about being busy are the ones doing the least work. How can you get anything done when you spend all day going from desk to desk bitching about how busy you are?

    • Author
      Carly Jacobs 9 years ago

      Oh totally! It’s been years since anyone truly wasted my time because I simply don’t allow it. I love the early mornings in an empty office – it’s the best! I did this morning in fact!


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