Is It Really Possible To Leave the Office at 5 O’Clock?

Way back when TT was a Lt. Col. U.S. Army Action Officer in the Pentagon, he was criticized by his superior for leaving work everyday at 5 o’clock (as Gen. Westmoreland had “ordered” them to do at the time), while everyone else stayed until 7 or 8. “Your problem,” he told the colonel “is that you have only one inbox on your desk.” TT then retrieved two more inboxes and told him to sort everything in his inbox according to (1) necessary to respond to, (2) probably necessary to respond but not immediately, (3) may never respond, but wait till you get a tickler that prompts you to, and (4) “take every damn piece of paper that you think will never come back to haunt you and throw it into the circular file right now!”

“By the time the colonel finished his sorting,” TT tells us, “half the stuff was in the trash and the rest was easily manageable during his new eight-hour day. If the first inbox emptied, he could start on the second, and so on.

“I kept going home at 5 o’clock, and he started to do likewise. The simple problem he had failed to see was that each day he was going through ALL of the papers in his only inbox, wasting his time by repeatedly assessing each item.”

MMF: “TT’s system for sorting input is a good one. It sharpens your focus, limits unproductive activity, and simplifies your day — which, in turn, reduces stress. I’m a big advocate of such systems.

“I don’t agree with him about the hours, though. When you are trying to build a career or build a business, your work is unlimited. The more high-quality work you do, the faster you will move and the higher you will climb.

“Every successful person I know works more than eight hours a day.

“I know plenty of happy people who limit their work. And if happiness is your main goal, then I would advise you to consider the eight-hour day. But if you want to write a great book or open a great restaurant or develop a great business or become wealthy … you are almost certainly going to have to work harder than all the average people who are working eight hours a day toward the same objective.”