Next time your boss throws that extra assignment at you, think through before you accept it
Schedule all your activities in a calendar. Without becoming mechanical, block time for everything and stick to it
I was very intrigued by the question “What’s your most important resource?”
What would have been your answer to the above? Here is a range of answers that I received in a spot quiz in a team meeting this morning! Computer, internet, my brain, money, books, somebody said my spouse, my company….
But one person hit the nail on the head by saying – “Time that’s mine”! I couldn’t agree more – you could have all the computers, books, money and the smartest brain but if you didn’t have the time to apply it, use it, spend it – what is the point?
Time is like the air we breathe that we don’t realize until it smells foul or becomes scarce! The ability to manage this resource is one of the most critical skills for us to achieve personal and professional success. Mastering this skill is the most difficult.
For starters, this is also one of the most egalitarian of all resources at our disposal. We all have the same number of hours and minutes available to us. So how is it that some of us manage to accomplish more and more while some of us are perennially out of time, rushed, stressed and wishing there were more hours in a day?
After closely watching several professionals and personal friends, I believe it all boils down to our ability to do a few things right repeatedly.
Note to self 1: Prioritize and get out of the activity trap
Answering ‘what will you do’ is very important. Most of us tend to allow our emails and situations to dictate our daily schedules. Instead if we took a step back and looked at why we are doing what we are doing, we would be surprised at how much time we have in our hands. Personally, I had an AHA! moment a few years ago when I requested my assistant to correlate my schedule with the goals I was being measured on! I spent less than 10 per cent of my weekly time on my goals, but spent most of my time in meetings, mails and issues that seemed to keep me busy. I made a conscious decision then to get out of the activity trap and allow my goals to prioritize what I did. The same applies to personal life; if your family is a priority, you have to make time not to flop in front of the television but to do something with the family, even if it is household laundry.
Note to self 2: Short-term rewards versus looking at the bigger picture
We all want to be everywhere, do everything, be with everyone and accomplish all that we can. Unless you have found a way to clone yourself, this is impossible. Remember this, “Every time you say yes to somebody else, you are saying no to your time for something else”.
Next time your boss throws that extra assignment at you, think through before you accept it. Don’t do what a colleague of mine did to her detriment by saying ‘Yes’ because she was worried that the boss will pass that assignment to her peer who was her competitor. She made a hasty decision despite knowing the fact that her plate was already overflowing.
Sure, saying no may mean some short-term rewards don’t come your way. Think through it and accept this reality. It helps manage this perceived loss better, if you can see this in the frame of bigger goals like health, quality of work, family… whatever the bigger picture is for you.
Note to self 3: Delegate or Outsource
Most smart people can’t do this. They believe they have to do everything themselves because only they can do it as well. Or the time taken in teaching somebody else to do this is better spent doing it themselves. I am sure most of us have been here and felt this way right?
I loved the way a colleague of mine explained this to me succinctly. “I outsource doing the dishes, laundry and cooking to the help at home. Agreed the help may not be as good a job as me, but it has to be done because I can now use the same time to do other things like read to my child, finish up the novel or simply have a quiet dinner every evening with the family. The salary I pay and the drama I put up with the help is allowing me to spend time where I want and with whom. Likewise, helping my child do his homework, can I do it? Of course I can, but if my parents who live with me are willing to do so, I will gladly delegate. They didn’t do too bad a job with me. I can always use that time to finish up on the extra project I took up, which in turn will help me get a better bonus, and hopefully a good family holiday using the bonus.”
I was amazed at the simple thinking: No egos and only focus on outcomes and who is the best person to get it done. How many of us can do that? At our homes and in our workplace? It takes a very detached, outcome based and yet a very simple approach to look at where we can best spend our time.
Note to self 4: Depth and Expertise
Some people are experts at what they do. What takes others three hours to do, they will do it in an hour. They were not always this way – they got there by just doing this so many times that it is a part of muscle memory. And when they did not know how to do something, they spent a lot of time figuring out and mastering how to do it. They, however, tried and stayed as close to their core so they did not spread themselves thin. Many of them did this without thinking it and it just seems to be a part of their DNA. Prioritizing relentlessly, Learning to Say No, Delegating or Outsourcing and being an expert seemed to be ingrained in their muscle memory.
I asked these experts for some tips for lesser mortals who have not coded this in their muscle memory as yet. Here is what I heard:
Scheduling is everything: Schedule everything in a calendar. Without becoming mechanical block time for everything on the calendar and the tricky part - stick to it!
Creativity is key: Make creative use of your time. Case in point- you have a long commute, use that time to watch the serial on your phone, listen to your podcast or make those calls. Got to go for a PTA meeting during the week? Convert that to a lunch date with the spouse.
Establish routine: Build a weekly routine. Five days a week build a routine, get up at this time, get out of home at this time, and be back by this time! Weekends just let go and allow the time to take over!
Create a support network: Build a network of support be it friends, family, professional colleagues mentors. It takes a lot of give before you take. Initially, it can be very counter intuitive if you are busy and have to make compromises, but it does pay off in the long run. You may not always like to work with a certain colleague but if they are the expert, swallow your preference and get along. The chances of you finishing it and doing so faster are much better.
Zoom out: Step out of the race every now and then. There will be times like marriage, childbirth, sickness, elder care… slow down and make some of the compromises at work, lower your expectations. Don’t try to do everything and make a mess of it.
Say yes: Say yes when you can. Work 100-hour weeks, travel like crazy, volunteer to help, sacrifice those weekends to babysit your nephews. It could be when you are young, when everything is going okay or you have great help at home. Make use of this golden period to build equity, networks, capability and favors.
Most importantly learn to take things on your chin and focus on the big things.
Let me end with a favourite pithy saying: Don’t major in the minor things of life
Hopefully the valuable time you spent reading this article gives you many useful pointers in the long run.
Good luck managing one of your most important resources on your way to professional and personal success!