Decide How Long to Work

Thoughts on Excellence Free E-Newsletter Series
Volume 16, Issue No. 2a
June 1, 2017

By Dan Coughlin


I’m currently conducting a six-month Executive Group Coaching project for eight executives in eight different companies spread across the United States. We meet once a month in two groups of four through video conferencing, and then I write a feedback letter to all of them after the second group session for that month.

The First Questions

My first two questions to the group were, “How many hours do you work in a week, and how many hours do you want to work?” The average of their answers was they work 64 hours a week, and want to work 50 hours a week.

I then asked, “What will you have to do in order to get down to the number of hours you want to work in a week?”

Their Answers

Here’s some of what they said:

  • If I limited my work hours, I would have to take some things off my plate.
  • I’ve learned to accept that the work will be there for me the next day. I don’t have to finish everything every day.
  • I would delegate more responsibilities, and let things go to other people.
  • I would spend less time overseeing people and checking up on them.
  • I would attend less meetings.
  • I would let go of some control and trust my team members more.
  • I may need to hire another person.
  • I will put things on my calendar so people will know I’m not available. Thinking time and concentrating are actually work activities, but people look in and see me by myself and think they can just pop in and start talking.

My Thoughts

Notice how limiting the number of hours they work in a week forced them to focus and make some difficult decisions.

People tend to fill whatever container of time they have at work. If they have a three-hour meeting, they fill it. If they have a 45-minute meeting, they fill it. When a person has no cap on how many hours he or she will work in a week, then the person tends to add more and more hours.

By operating within a fixed number of hours, the person forces himself or herself to really focus on one thing at a time and make meaningful progress. This also forces the person to choose what not to do, which is actually the greater challenge.

When your chosen number of hours are up, force yourself to stop working. If you use them up by Wednesday afternoon, then you have to stop for the week. If you do that once, you will probably become much more careful about where you spend your work hours. Work hours are like money. If you set a limit on how much you’re going to spend in a week and you spend it all by Wednesday, then you have no money left for the rest of the week. The next week you will become much more careful about where you spend your money.

Your Homework Assignment

From this discussion we landed on the idea of an Activity Tracking Sheet. I suggest you put one-hour time slots from 6 AM to 1 AM on a sheet of paper, and print one out for yourself for every day of the week. Keep track of where your time goes. At the end of each hour simply write in “Work” or “Not Work”. See how much time you actually work. Decide if that is the right amount. Then decide what you will do to get it to the number you want to land on.

This will force you to make decisions about how you use your time.



Republishing Articles

My newsletters, Thoughts on Excellence, have been republished in approximately 40 trade magazines, on-line publications, and internal publications for businesses, universities, and not-for-profit organizations over the past 20+ years. If you would like to republish all or part of my monthly articles, please send me an e-mail at with the name of the article you want in the subject heading. I will send you the article in a word document.

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