A recent survey by Right Management reported that just one in five employees take an actual lunch break. The rest eat at their desk or skip lunch completely. This came as no surprise, especially considering how busy all of the executives with whom I speak say they and their employees are.
For those who fall into that 80 percent, consistently putting heads down and plowing through the mountains of work, client meetings and financial analysis that require constant attention, few songs put it better than Pink Floyd’s “Time.”
“And then one day you find
10 years have got behind you
No one told you when to run
You missed the starting gun”
Time, as the song and the Right Management survey infers, is truly our main enemy. Everything else can be overcome. You can always work harder and longer to make more money, but you can’t recapture lost time. And it seems that even when you clear your workload in hopes of tackling some of those “important-but-not-critical” projects, something critical instantly appears to fill the space.
Over a recent dinner with a few clients, the topic of conversation turned to balancing parenthood, marriage and business leadership. Each participant chimed in with nearly the same opinion: As business gets more and more competitive, it’s imperative to fight the urge to focus solely on business at the expense of burning yourself or your team members out. You can win without killing yourself.
The consensus that evening was that no matter how quickly you move work off of your “to do” list and into the “completed” category, new work fills the void almost immediately. So why work at a breakneck pace to just get more of the same?
To me, at least, it seems time’s often unspoken value is suddenly gaining a voice. Work-life balance used to be a platitude for most entrepreneurs and executives, but the more people I speak with the more I realize it is becoming something of a sanity check.
Getting a better handle on how each of us spends our valuable time is critical to not just our ability to have successful businesses but also successful personal lives.
I’ve said it several times this year and it’s worth repeating again — the dynamics of the business world have changed. We are all doing more with less and growing our respective businesses through innovation, ingenuity and sweat equity rather than simply throwing money at expanded resources. This is our new business paradigm. And sadly, it doesn’t include more time.
Dustin Klein is publisher and vice president of operations for Smart Business Network Inc.
It seems like our attention spans are getting shorter. We are bombarded with so much information today that it’s hard to concentrate.
Brian Tracy, whose books I think are great, such as “The Power of Self Discipline,” said, “To start anything new, you must stop doing something old. Getting in means getting out.”
Need to get more done in less time?
Analyze your time and have the courage to stop doing things that are no longer as important for you:
What do you do every day habitually, that you don’t need to do anymore?
Can you delegate it?
Which activities could you discontinue to free up more time for higher value work?
Compare your daily activities against your annual income. Would you pay someone else your equivalent salary to do the same thing? If not, stop doing those activities and pass them onto others.
You can only gain control of your life to the degree to which you stop doing things that are no longer as valuable or as important to you as other things you could be doing.
Working over capacity
Today’s average person works at 110 percent of capacity, and that’s with multitasking. So how do you fit more in? Change your priorities. The things that were important may no longer be as important as you age, your family evolves and your work changes.
To stay at peak efficiency you have to continually ask yourself, “What can I cut back on, delegate or discontinue to free up more time?” Make this thinking your top priority each quarter.
Think about a mini-project, something that you can do in an hour or less that will either move you forward or help you catch up.
I keep a list of these handy, jotting down new ideas as they occur to me while working on larger projects.
Schedule work on a mini-project at least once a week. I usually jump on a mini-project that appeals to me to fill time that’s suddenly free — for instance when an appointment is canceled at the last moment.
The idea is to keep your list short. When the list gets up to about six projects, start scheduling time to complete a few. You’ll like crossing them off your list, and if you’re at all like me, you’ll relish the time spent on something invigorating, spontaneous and off-the-beaten path.
Drive your day — don’t let it drive you
Don’t you hate it when you have a full schedule planned, and by mid-afternoon you’re basically in the same place you were first thing in the morning? Stuff comes up that needs attention. And it’s never-ending.
Instead of letting your day drive you, drive your day. Don’t rob yourself of control over your most important asset: time.
Divide your days into three sections. Make your contacts (phone calls, e-mails, meetings) in the morning when you are fresh and you are most likely to catch people in. Do your large scale, important work in the afternoon (thinking and problem-solving) when you are likely to have more information at hand and the office is quieter.
Lastly, plan in the evening so you’ll be ready to roll the next morning. This will clear your head and help you sleep better. But, for those times you lie in bed thinking about what you have to do the next day, keep a pad of paper on the nightstand. There are even devices called “Nite Note” which hold 3-by-5-inch cards. When you take the pen out of the device it lights up. Your head is a bucket for holding information. The more information you get out of your head, the more free it is to think creatively.
These are routines that work. See how they change your productivity.
David Harding is president and CEO of HardingPoorman Group, a locally owned and operated graphic communications firm in Indianapolis consisting of several integrated companies all under one roof. The company has been voted as one of the “Best Places to Work” in Indiana by the Indiana Chamber of Commerce. Harding can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. For more information, go to www.hardingpoorman.com