Stop “Playing Office” and Increase Your True Hourly Wage Today by Going Home Early

Stop playing office.

One of the best phrases I have come across lately is “stop playing office”. I heard this phrase on a podcast recently and it really struck a cord with me. Essentially, the idea is that very few of us are truly working the entire time we are at the office. We are expected to be (or think we are expected to be) in our seat at work for the full work day. So, we put in our time and make sure we are “playing office” for all the hours of our work day. However, much like “playing house” when we were kids was just pretending to do the real thing, much of our time “playing office” is really just pretending to work.

Is what you’re doing right now high value work?

Of course, I realize that right now you are reading this blog post. My goal is not to shame you into never reading or doing anything other than your greatest work. Reading is one of the best ways to grow and is where we are exposed to new ideas that can change the course of our life. Rather, I just want you to be more aware of what you are doing when you are in work mode. So much of our time (yes, I will definitely be including myself in this) at work is spent on things that are at best trivial, and at worst, a complete waste of life.

What are your go-to distractions that help you “play office”?

I am purposefully first publishing this post in the afternoon (in the US) because this is when our “playing office” skills really begin to show up in all their glory. For me, being a financial planner, it is very easy for me to justify reading many different topics on the internet under the guise of “education”. Interesting article from Investment News…better read that to stay up on the industry. New blog post on the latest travel hacking credit card strategy…definitely finance related…better read that. Breaking article on Marketwatch about the trade wars…obviously need to read that to stay well-informed for my clients, right?

Or, maybe your go-to distraction is cleaning or organizing. “Man, I really think those paperclips would be better suited on the other side of my organization tray.” Or, “I should setup my new Keurig so my new office is complete and clients can be wowed by my amazing generosity of providing them with instant coffee at our meetings.” (Full disclosure, I literally just did the Keurig thing before writing this post. I’m a pro).

Or, maybe you are just really good at doing trivial tasks to pass the time like organizing your email or your to do list. Some things really are work that should get done at some point. However, it may not need to be done today, and it may not be you that should do it.

What are you giving up?

It is very easy for me to write about this because I am quite good and procrastinating and playing office. However, this has also been an area in which I have improved immensely over the years as I realized more and more how much it was obliterating my TRUE hourly wage (see these posts on why you need to know your TRUE hourly wage and how to calculate it). What especially brought this “playing office” issue into perspective for me was the birth of our son. He is now two and a half years old. I have a picture of him in my office and it is a very sobering reminder when I look at that picture and ask myself, “Is what I am doing right now really worth not being with my family?” It’s like a punch of reality straight to the gut when I am reading a pointless article on the internet.

Take action today. Go home 15 minutes earlier today, and every day in the future.

One of the best ways that I have found to increase my true hourly wage and force prioritization of my high value work that really needs to get done, is to limit myself on the time I can be at work. I used to arrive home around 4:30 or 5pm and have now paired that back to where I am home by 3:30pm or earlier every day.

Now, I am not asking you to make any drastic changes like going home an hour and a half earlier every day (unless you really are able to do so). Rather, take a baby step today. Figure out when you usually go home, and go home 15 minutes earlier than that. Simple as that.

And be careful if you find yourself saying, “but Kyle, you don’t understand, I can’t go home 15 minutes early”. You’re telling me that throughout your entire work day you didn’t waste 15 minutes of time “playing office” and doing something that was completely unnecessary? Or, you’re saying that the 15 minutes of work you do at the end of the work day can’t wait until tomorrow? Okay, you’re off the hook then. But for the rest of us HUMANS, especially if you are a salaried employee or self-employed, reducing your work day by 15 minutes should just be the starting point. If you are paid hourly, this may look a little differently. Maybe you take a 45 minute lunch rather than an hour. Or it may require looking for ways to increase your income and reduce the hours you work by acquiring new skills, asking for a raise, changing jobs, etc. Be careful not to fall into the victim mentality of thinking, “well, that’s great this works for other people, but it can’t work for me.”

Don’t lose sight of the goal of high value work.

Please don’t hear me saying here that you should work less and get paid the same or more without providing more value. The goal of this entire blog is to help you to focus on growing the value of your time. By forcing yourself to get the same amount of work done in a reduced amount of time you are automatically producing higher value work in the time you spend working and increasing your TRUE hourly wage. This growth in the value of your time benefits both you and others. It benefits you because it causes you to grow in your own skillset personally. It benefits your employer because they now have an employee that provides greater value in less time. It benefits your clients because they receive greater expertise in the amount of time they spend interacting with you. And it benefits your friends and family as you are able to give them more of the precious gift of your time. Making these small improvements will create an exponential amount of value in nearly all areas of your life.

I wish you all the best as you strive to provide greater value with your limited time.

Kyle Mast, CFP®