Downshifting: How to Work Less and Enjoy Life More

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Who has never wished to step off the ever-accelerating treadmill of work, just to gain some kind of balance in life? Downshifting is a practical, hands-on guide that actually shows how to move from the fast track to a more satisfying, healthier, less work-focused lifestyle. John Drake, himself a former high-level executive who chose to downshift, details a wide range of realistic, doable alternatives to a work-dominated life. He guides readers through all they need to know and do to make a good living, yet find more free time for themselves and those they care most about. Organized by level of risk-from such low-risk steps as simply changing work style to bold actions, such as flextime, lateral or downward moves, and shortened work weeks-this book is the first to really show how to put specific downshifting options into action. Using real-life stories of people who have successfully downshifted, Drake reveals how to get past the wistful dreaming and hand-wringing stages to taking decisive, thoughtful steps for implementing real change in your work-life. Step by step, the author walks the potential downshifter through all the stages of preparation, from examining personal fears and psychological readiness for change to analyzing the impact on loved ones and personal finances. And for those ready to initiate downshifting changes, he provides practical strategies and specific guidelines for selling downshifting plans to the organization, including vital information for determining the approach, timing, and presentation of a downshift proposal. Should the organization reject your downshifting plan, Drake shows how to leave bridges unburned, regroup, and wisely assess your alternatives. For readers just beginning to contemplate a work-life change or those eager to downshift, Downshifting provides the guidance, tools, encouragement, and proof needed to create a more balanced, relaxed, and fulfilling life.

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CHAPTER 1

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There’s more to life than work.

OLD ADAGE

“I should have left an hour ago.” “Between my job and my family, I haven’t got a minute for myself.” “The money is great, but there’s got to be more to life than this.” Do these statements have a familiar ring? Maybe you’ve uttered the same words yourself. If so, you’re not alone. U.S. News and World Report1 found that 49 percent of Americans say our society puts too much emphasis on work and not enough on leisure. For many, the idea of leisure is a joke. Gates McKibbin, a former organization effectiveness consultant with McKinsey & Company, put it this way:

The prevailing work ethic in the United States right now demands that people succumb to absurdly escalated expectations of the time and energy that one must invest in work-related activities. The fast pace and pressure to be plugged-in at all times, made possible by the omnipresent cell phones, voicemail, e-mail, laptops, and faxes, fuel the expectation that employees should quite literally be available to deal with work issues 24 hours a day—wherever they are, whatever they are doing.22

 

CHAPTER 2

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Young executives experience a high as they begin their first job. The title, the secretary, lunches with the “big boys,” the sense of power, the heady feeling of associating with the affluent—there is something seductive and quickly addicting about all of this.

BARRIE GREIFF AND PRESTON MUNTER, TRADEOFFS: EXECUTIVE, FAMILY AND ORGANIZATIONAL LIFE1

In the last chapter we saw how workplace pressures often make downshifting attractive and desirable. However, to borrow from the vernacular, cutting back “ain’t gonna be easy.” If you are like most individuals contemplating reducing your work time, anxiety over potentially reduced income is right in the forefront. It’s like cutting back on desserts—it may be the healthy thing to do, but you know that you’re going to miss the goodies.

Even if income isn’t of great concern, the potential for losing some of the positive aspects of your job also tugs at you. Will you have to give up those activities and social interactions that bring satisfaction and fulfillment?

 

CHAPTER 3

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They conquer who believe they can. One has not learned the lesson of life who does not each day surmount a fear.

RALPH WALDO EMERSON1

Quite often, we are ourselves the real roadblocks to working less. We postpone downshifting, not only because of external pressures (presented in the last chapter) but also by our own internally generated worries. We’re fearful because we’re contemplating a change; we’re trading something we know for something that is less certain. We also realize that risks are involved, and risks are scary. It would be unnatural not to have at least a few concerns about downshifting.

Psychologists tell us that the best way to cope with fears is to confront them. This chapter is designed to help you do just that and to provide ways to surmount them. What follows is a description of concerns that are likely to emerge as you contemplate downshifting. As you read, try to identify those that trouble you the most. Along with each fear, I have provided for your consideration an On the other hand. It presents thoughts that may ameliorate some of your concerns. Later in the chapter, I’ll discuss additional options to help reduce anxiety about cutting back.

 

CHAPTER 4

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Not to decide is to decide.

LAURENCE J. PETERS, PETER’S QUOTATIONS1

“John, I’d love to downshift, but I haven’t got the time even to think about it!” For many, finding time is a formidable obstacle to changing their lifestyle. Working twelve-hour days and six-day weeks doesn’t leave much time for making an important decision about cutting back, much less the necessary time for planning.

If you are trying to decide about downshifting but are so stressed out or time-pressured that getting to it seems impossible, this chapter is for you. We’ll describe steps that have worked for others in similar circumstances; I hope they will enable you to make the right decision.

If you’ve already made your decision, you can skip ahead to Chapter 5. There you will find a variety of low-risk downshifting options.

The first significant step to make downshifting a reality is to carve out sufficient time for thinking about it.

Let’s accept the fact that the time needed for deciding about downshifting is not going to be handed to you. Rather, you will need to create space to think about this life-changing step. Among the items to be considered are:

 

CHAPTER 5

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What if we put in shorter hours and got the work done anyway? Don’t laugh. Some people are doing it.

AMY SALTZMAN1

It has been said that the time we make available for work is infinite and the time for everything else is finite. True, isn’t it? We almost always make time for the job: we change schedules, postpone vacations, work late, or bring the work home. Somehow the job gets done, while the time for self or family is pushed aside or postponed.

If you are reading this chapter, I’ll assume you’ve decided to do something about work’s incursion on your personal life. From a broad perspective, you can take three different approaches to provide more time for yourself and family. They are:

This chapter discusses the first option.

For many people, the burden of work is so consuming and fatiguing that little or no energy is left for life off the job. Sometimes, by creating more time for self during the workday, you can reduce fatigue and address personal needs more fully. This chapter provides ten suggestions, many of which are relatively easy to implement. However, as with all job changes, there are inherent risks. I’ll suggest some steps to help you keep them to a minimum.

 

CHAPTER 6

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I love coaching, but anybody can coach. My wife has just one husband and my children have just one father. Some of you may think I’m jumping ship. I don’t believe I’m jumping ship. I’m diving overboard to save my family.

DANNY AINGE (PRESS CONFERENCE ANNOUNCING HIS RESIGNATION AS HEAD COACH OF THE PHOENIX SUNS)1

The last chapter presented downshifting options that focused on how you manage your workday. Here are eight new ideas for restructuring your job so that less time is spent at work.

You will find that these downshifting ideas are riskier, because they represent substantial changes in work patterns and reduce your physical presence onsite. As you can imagine, they are also more difficult to sell. The upside is that they have the potential to yield significantly greater leisure time than the options described earlier.

The possibilities we are going to explore are listed on the following page. They are all designed to help you find more leisure time. We will begin with a look at flextime.

 

CHAPTER 7

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Control your destiny or someone else will.

JACK WELCH,1 CEO, GENERAL ELECTRIC

Before you begin this chapter, please allow me to slip in a quick “Congratulations!” The greeting is in order because, if you are reading this chapter, you have no doubt made a psychological turn. You’ve made a decision to do something about bettering your life—a desire many dream about, but few act upon.

Successful salespersons tell us that the key to making a sale is to win your customer’s trust and confidence. The same is true for downshifting. In this case, the customer is your organization, and in particular, your boss. While you may work in a company that supports some downshifting activities (such as flextime or telecommuting), to win company approval for your particular plan will require effort on your part.

This chapter presents guidelines for gaining organizational support for your downshifting plan. All of the suggestions embrace sound marketing principles, but, of course, may not fit every circumstance. Your judicious application of these recommendations will significantly enhance the likelihood of “making the sale.” Let’s look at them.

 

CHAPTER 8

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Don’t ever slam a door; you might want to go back.

DON HEROLD1

If you are reading this chapter, you may be anticipating difficulty in selling your plan to downshift or perhaps it has already been shot down. So now you’re facing a critical decision—what to do next. For most of us, three options are available:

We’ll discuss each of these alternatives to help you arrive at a decision. However, even though we review the pros and cons of each alternative, the overriding consideration for you is “How important is it to me that I change my lifestyle?” We’ll talk more about this. Now let’s turn to your first option.

As you can imagine, there are some potent negatives to this option. One downside of staying put is the possibility of a psychological setback. As with any loss, you may experience a diminishment of enthusiasm or self-confidence. After all, staying put represents giving up, at least temporarily, your hopes for a better life for you and your loved ones.

Another problem with staying put is that once again you are placing yourself in the hands of others. Instead of taking charge of your life, you will be adopting a passive role. How does that sit with you? If you do nothing (stay put), you may temporarily experience reduced discomfort because what is familiar seems safe, but later on regret and depression are likely. In any event, staying put means that you will not enjoy the exhilarating feeling that accompanies taking control of your life.

 

CHAPTER 9

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Take away love and our earth is a tomb.

ROBERT BROWNING1

If your downshifting process is underway, great! But have you thought about the best ways to make use of your newfound time? Even if you already have an agenda, reading this chapter can help you avoid false starts and steer you in the best directions. It might be interesting, as well, to compare the results of current psychological research on personal satisfaction with your own life experiences.

Some selected findings about happiness will be described here. Even if you never downshift, acting on these findings has the potential to bring greater happiness into your life. We begin by pointing out action steps you might be tempted to take, but which do not lead to increased happiness.

It is true, of course, that getting rid of things that cause us unhappiness can reduce our level of discontent. Getting out of a painful relationship, for example, can significantly reduce your discomfort, but it won’t make you happy. If you want happiness, you’ll have to take some positive steps. You might, for example, become more actively involved in church or community activities or begin establishing a new relationship.

 

CHAPTER 10

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I made a living, but I never really lived.

(THE SINGLE MOST COMMON REGRET OF THE TERMINALLY ILL, ACCORDING TO ELISABETH KUBLER-ROSS1)

Even though we have now come to the end of our journey together, a new, potentially exciting, one is beginning for you. In the preceding chapters we have shown you how to be less controlled by work so that you can find more time for yourself and your loved ones. I hope you have gained the necessary confidence to take further steps toward working less and enjoying life more. From here on, it’s up to you.

If you are saying to yourself, “One of these days I’m going to do something about the way my job controls my life,” realize that such thinking leads nowhere. It is important to take some action step now, even if it’s simply to establish a timetable or to talk with a loved one about your plans. Only you can determine which actions are appropriate. Only you can make the changes that will give you more time to “smell the roses.”

If you are at all hesitant about working less, it might be helpful to recall that nobody ever said, while dying, “I wish I had spent more time at work.” We’ve heard that so often, it may no longer have its original power. Take a moment to reflect on it now. For most of us, the comment touches sensitive nerves. We sense the statement’s validity; perhaps we experience some uneasiness. We wonder if, on our own deathbed, we might regret the way we allocated our time.

 

APPENDIX GROUP DISCUSSION GUIDE: A FIVE-SESSION PROGRAM

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