Achieving financial independence isn't the only way for you to redirect more of your time towards personal things rather than work - you can very much achieve some of the results and benefits by making it so that you have a more accommodating work schedule. One of the most obvious ways to do this is to start working from home more often. Just imagine the time you'd get back by not needing to commute to the office - and you haven't counted anything else that costs you time yet. There's just one problem - how do you convince your manager to agree to your proposal of working from home on a more permanent basis?
If you analyse your day in the office you'll realise that you only actually need about 4 hours in order to get a day's worth of productivity done - the remaining time is simply lost to interruptions and lack of focus. Many of these interruptions can be eliminated by simply not being in the office, and it theoretically means you could get your work done by lunch time every day. Imagine all the time you'd have back to yourself. Problem is - your manager needs to trust you enough to let you stay away from the office and the way to do that is to actually demonstrate your capability and reliability on the job. Get that right and you'll find yourself working less time without needing to wait for financial independence or early retirement.
Understand the meaning of less time
Firstly, less time spent at work doesn't, and shouldn't, equate to less work done.
If we think about all of the time that's lost during our work day we can come up with a list that looks like the following:
15 minutes getting ready in the morning.
45 minutes commuting into work.
15 minutes getting "settled" after you arrive at the office.
45 minutes throughout the day where you have various chats or breaks - coffees etc.
60 minutes for lunch.
30 minutes browsing the internet when you've lost motivation and focus.
15 minutes before a meeting where there's "no point starting anything right now".
15 minutes at the start of each meeting waiting for things to get set up, people to get settled.
15 minutes of that same meeting covering old-ground for that one person.
30 minutes towards the end of each day where you're honestly just waiting to leave.
45 minutes commuting home.
30 minutes to sit down and wind down after arriving home.
If you tally up all the time that's spent in your work place it comes to 3 hours and 45 minutes where you're not actually being productive - almost half of your day if you work from 9AM to 5PM.
Notice I never use the word "waste" when it comes to this non-productive time.
This is because this isn't a fair description to give it. The time is simply "lost" due to the common interactions in the work place and there's no one individual who's at fault for it.
With 4 hours and 15 minutes of productive time it does mean you could actually get what you needed to get done each day by the time lunch time rolls around - assuming you start your work at 8AM and stay focused through to around 12:15PM.
Problem is... your manager probably isn't going to let you walk out the door at lunch time every day.
So the key is to start figuring out how you can work remotely instead - which requires you to lay some foundations in order to get your manager's buy in.
And, when you manage to pull it off, you wouldn't only be saving yourself the 3 hours and 45 minutes each day - you'd also save the 45 minute commute each way and perhaps any time you spent recovering after work.
Less time spent doing your job, same output, same money.
Does this sound like a winning formula when it comes to financial independence?
Where you lose the most time
So now we know there's about 4 hours and 15 minutes of effective productivity in each day - a generalisation based on the above assumptions of course, but somehow I don't think it's far off the mark.
Here's an equation:
Time at work - leaked time = more time for you
Idle chatting, browsing social media, doing low-impact tasks like answering emails, coffee breaks, loss of focus, going for a smoke, general interruptions by people in the office.
These are all places where time is leaked, which I'm sure you're already aware of.
However, there's one major culprit that costs you more time than all of the above combined:
Encounters with your manager
Encounters with your manager cover all the things such as meetings, random check-ins, quick catch ups, answering their emails, answering their phone calls, and the need to explain the same thing to them for what seems to be the zillionth time.
Not only is time spent suffering through these encounters, but time is also lost due to you losing your focus on the work you might've been doing before they interrupted.
And the more encounters you have with your manager, the more reliant they are going to be on having you around and being available.
Which unfortunately means they're going to be less likely to let you work remotely.
Fortunately I've got a few tips that can help you reduce those encounters which will make them less likely to "always need you to be around".
1. Show you can self-manage
It's important to understand that avoiding too many encounters doesn't mean you're also going to avoid work or responsibility. In fact, it means the opposite.
One of the main reasons that a manager feels the need to check in on their staff is because most people don't take the initiative to manage their own work. They simply wait for the manager to hunt them down before they actually do anything.
The result is a manager who's constantly on the hunt.
Since you want as few of these check ins as possible in order to avoid the interruptions, you want to convince your manager that they don't need to check in on you as often.
The best way - become the hunter instead.
Be the one who seeks out your manager in order to keep them posted on what's happening. The benefit of doing this is that you get to control when the encounters happen, meaning you can arrange it so that they don't happen too often.
Also, since you're controlling when the encounters happen you'll also be better prepared, which means you're going to be more convincing in the manager's eyes that you're well on top of things.
2. Get bigger batches of work
If your manager only gives you one or two tasks at a time they will have a reason to check in with you every few hours, which means more encounters.
It's much more preferable if you simply had a bunch of tasks with deadlines spread throughout the week that you could work on without being micro-managed.
Get familiar with what a good amount of work is for you to handle and take on the responsibilities for getting the outcome done.
Don't bite off too much at the start; build it up.
And make sure the batch of work is manageable in terms of the load and the schedule.
Eventually a daily list of tasks might become a weekly list or more, which ultimately gives you much more control on how you get it done and, more importantly, how you can manage your own time to accommodate.
Eventually your manager might realise that they don't actually need to check in on you all that much because the work is getting done on time. They can simply set you up for the week and leave you to it.
Can you think of a better argument for allowing more remote working?
3. Deliver on quality
The quality of the work you deliver is intrinsically linked to your reputation and trust in the work place. Submit work that has errors and it's only going to get sent back to you for amendments.
If it happens infrequently then it's probably not that big of a deal - we're all human and make mistakes sometimes - but if it keeps happening then you'll start to see unwanted results.
Firstly, your reputation will drop as your colleagues will start to question your capabilities.
Secondly, your manager's reputation will also drop since they're responsible for your performance.
Guess what that results in; you guessed it, more encounters.
By making an effort on producing high-quality work you not only raise your reputation, you'll also gain the trust of your colleagues.
Those who are working on the same projects will feel confident that you're not going to weigh them down. And those who aren't working on your projects won't have anything to gossip about.
In fact, you might even find a few backers among your colleagues who bring up the fact that your work is always done on time and to high standards whenever someone asks why you're never around in the office.
4. Manage your manager
Being pro-active in keeping your manager updated shows good self-management. But keeping encounters to a minimum and making it happen on a predictable schedule requires good manager-management.
Here's an example schedule:
5 minutes at the end of each day to send a really concise email. Bullet points on what you worked on today and what you're going to work on tomorrow. Assuming five working days in your week this will take up 25 minutes in total.
15 minutes each Thursday afternoon to write and send a more detailed update report that covers the progress made during your week. Make yourself a template to save time, and keep it less than one page in length.
Schedule 15 minutes each Friday morning to have a recurring call with your manager. Use the progress update report contents as the agenda.
Based on this schedule you would only spend 55 minutes each week keeping your manager up-to-date on your work.
With there being end of day updates and a weekly report, the recurring call should only really cover any questions or concerns rather than discussing what has happened. This allows the call to be focused and, more importantly, concise.
The schedule can also help stave off any unscheduled calls that may interrupt your day. Since your manager knows there'll be an end of day update they will feel more confident in leaving you alone and waiting for the regular email.
Another signal that working from home wouldn't be an issue.
5. Be contactable
Everybody knows the work-from-home game. You're not always going to be at your computer and you're going to spend some pockets of time during the day doing personal things.
In return for the flexibility you promise to get your work done on time and to standard.
However there's another promise that needs to be kept, and that is that you will remain contactable during office hours.
Phone, email, text message, online chat, it doesn't matter what the method is, you need to respond in a timely manner.
Sometimes that does mean you need to sit back down at your home-office desk and put in a bit more time for the day, despite finishing your 4 hours of productivity already. But this is all about impressions.
If you never answer your phone or messages after lunch when you're working from home, it's going to look like you're slacking off whenever you're at home.
And that's going to get people talking to your manager which will inevitably lead to more encounters.
People won't care that you got your day's work done in the morning, they'll only focus on the fact that they can't get their work done and that you seem to be relaxing whenever they're still working.
A call or a message for help once every two weeks that takes up another hour of your day is a small sacrifice in order to gain multitudes of hours back over the course of a month.
And here's the thing - soon enough you might even discover that everybody at work, including management, knows your work-at-home schedule.
But nobody will really care since you're still getting your work done and they know they can still get in touch with you if needed.
The purpose of financial independence is more freedom and control over your own time so that you can spend it however you want. The problem is that there's a barrier in the form of a particular monetary figure that could still be many years away.
While you're working towards that goal there's nothing stopping you doing other things in order to realise some of that freedom and control.
One way I've personally managed this is by getting my managing director to agree to me working remotely 100% of the time, which allowed me to make the personal decision to move from London to Hong Kong and pursue the life I want out here.
It's a sweet deal, especially since tax is so much lower over here. But the agreement never would've happened had I not already proven myself at work.
Much like many things in life there is always an upfront effort that's required before you can reap some of the greater benefits; just think of any "passive income" source.
But if you're willing to make that effort and have a little grit, you might find that some of the benefits of financial independence are very much achievable within a much shorter time frame.