Downshift: how to

Why is it important?

The concept of downshifting has emerged in recent years as a way of improving work-life balance or bringing about fundamental changes that improve your quality of life. At its most extreme, it can mean giving up your job, moving house and doing something completely different – such as running a smallholding.

However, it can also mean simply reducing your hours as retirement approaches, working more flexibly, or shedding responsibility. Downshifting is often voluntary but can also be prompted by a change in circumstances, such as redundancy, that lead you to reassess priorities. Whatever the driver, the professional, financial and social considerations must be thought through if the change is to live up to your expectations.

Where do I start?

Contemplate your reasons and motivation for downshifting. It may be a culmination of events, or just one trigger episode that has forced you to think differently about your job.

Be certain you are not acting on impulse or simply reacting to a situation or set of circumstances that may be temporary.

“You should be asking yourself what you are moving away from and what you want to achieve, so you can plan a route to get there,” says Jane Turner, associate dean, executive development portfolio at Newcastle Business School in Northumbria University.

“What motivations, thoughts and feelings are influencing your actions? Make sure you’re not running away from a situation but walking towards a future that you have visualised and planned for.”

Opt for a slower lane

There are three main ways to downshift: by reducing working hours, stopping work completely or changing career.

If the better lifestyle you are pursuing can be achieved by lessening your workload and changing your role or responsibilities, consider whether your organisation would be receptive to this. It could be in the form of job sharing, term-time working, flexi-time, voluntary reduced hours, or even working from home several days a week.

Coping strategies

Write down the implications for all areas of your life – professional, financial, social – and talk them through with your partner, family and friends. Successful downshifting relies on recognising your core values and being able to connect with them.

Turner recommends finding a coach who can work through the process objectively and help you make sense of your thoughts and feelings. “For example, if achievement and recognition are important to you, how are you going to make sense of taking a position with less money?” she says. “The coach can help you visualise a future that is authentic to you.”

The money equation

Downshifting experts say that one of the biggest mistakes people make is to continue to believe that they are earning the same money. It is easy to get so carried away with the idea of downshifting that you overlook the harsh realities. It is vital to know your outgoings and to be realistic about your income.

Do a dummy run while you are still working to see how you can cope on your projected new earnings.

If possible, try to set aside enough money to keep yourself and your family for six months to take the pressure off the early days.

If you only do 5 things

  1. Clarify the outcome you want from downshifting.
  2. Discuss the shift with close family and friends.
  3. Identify clear goals.
  4. Get help to mentally prepare.
  5. Calculate the amount you need to survive.

For more info


Downshifting: The Guide to Happier, Simpler Living
Polly Ghazi, Judy Jones, Hodder & Stoughton,
ISBN 0340834021

Downshifting: How to Work Less and Enjoy Life More
John D Drake, Berrett-Koehler,
ISBN 1576751163


Expert’s view on successfully downshifting

What personal characteristics make for good downshifters?

All personality types can successfully downshift with the right planning and support. The key is to be honest with yourself in relation to the motivation behind the change and the impact it will have on you and those around you. Those who thrive on stress and pressure may find the change more challenging to adjust to. This goes back to careful thought around the future and what you hope to attain through the downshift. A CEO I know downshifted for a better work-life balance, felt a complete sense of loss and ended up taking on a number of smaller roles to compensate for the loss. The end result was an even more stressful life while trying to balance a number of roles simultaneously.

Is it important to have a structured approach?

Yes, but you may not have the opportunity to do so if the reason you have downshifted has been a trigger event outside of your control, such as redundancy. In these scenarios, a coach can support you to work through your reactions, frustrations, thoughts and feelings. If you are able to take a planned, considerate approach then identifying clear goals and the steps required to achieve them will help.

What is often overlooked in the process?

The actual reality of the change can be overlooked. Downshifters are often so caught up in the idea of downshifting that they fail to think of longer-term implications and ramifications.

What can you do to mentally prepare for the shift?

I would recommend a coach to help you prepare mentally and emotionally. They will also help you think through the effect of your downshifting on the thoughts and feelings of those that surround you. You need to prepare for change in many of your closest relationships.

Top three tips:

  1. Find an experienced, qualified coach.
  2. Work with your coach to envision your desired future and the steps needed to get there
  3. Talk it through with significant others and be really clear in your motivation for change, so you do not end up in a more stressful place.

Jane Turner
Associate dean,
Executive development portfolio,
Newcastle Business School

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