There’s on common denominator I discovered while listening to loads of leadership podcasts over the last few months. Each and every single person, no matter how devoted to their career, their passions, their family – they all spent each morning tuning into their own needs. Each and every single person woke up extra early to get in a few extra hours of “me” time. Now whether that time was used working out, answering emails, or even collecting their thoughts for the day… they used it as an opportunity to do something that mattered to them – none of which was billable.
Is this how leaders really get more done? Perhaps. It shows they’re not shackled to billable hours, that they keenly aware of their time, and that they make the most of the time they have – rather than taking the most time to do what they have to.
Leaders have another thing in common. They’re always complaining of not having enough time. Perhaps it’s an inherent characteristic in our genetic make up, a drive to do more be more that leaves us always lacking the most precious commodity. So how exactly can we make the most of our time?
From experience, I can say that you should first learn to cap your good ideas. I’m cursed with brilliant ideas and moreover I’m cursed with the drive to fulfill them all. At some point though, you’ve just got to cut yourself off and so no more. No more projects. No more helping people flocking to me looking for more free help. No more of any of it. Say, “I’m going to stick to these 2 or 3 projects and see them through.” Learn to tell people no…practice it. Come up with excuses before hand and cut yourself off emotionally from their reaction.
That’s step one.
Step two is getting more done with the time you’ve got. The April issue of Inc. Magazine took an interesting scientific approach to tackling this problem. They talked with the world’s leading neuroscientists, psychologists, and behavioral economists, who all had this to say…
- Optimize Your Space. The issue labeled distractions as the biggest time killer. Weather one one culprit with Francesca Gino, a Harvard Business School associate professor chiming in with agreement. The better the weather, the less you want to stay indoors and work. As for me, it’s great weather right now, so I have my blinds drawn so I’m not distracted by it.
The article also emphasizes décor. However, while they used a University of Virginia study to showcase how cute images help with focus and fine motor skills, I would argue the opposite. For me, cute images are a distraction. This is why were are no cute images anywhere near my workspace. No desktop wall papers of faraway sun and sand, no pictures of my adorable little two year old…nothing except a bouquet of flowers and a desktop wall paper of Scottish Highlands. The first doesn’t make me feel like I’m working in a slave galley when I rake in a ten hour day, and the second is a sort of meditative space that helps me focus when I see it.
- Factoring in Failure. The article highlights a key fact, that “your employees will work harder to avoid a loss than seek a gain.” This doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t offer incentives. Offering incentives is highly motivating, but sticking to the consequences of not meeting them is more important. It’s really no different than how you’d treat a child. If you don’t have a team to treat like children, you should at least deter yourself. Set up a reward system. As a freelancer, I don’t have a boss telling me what to do. I have it worse – I have myself and a rigid reward and punishment system. If I want to do something, buy something, go somewhere, I first tell myself I have to meet my work goals. Working for yourself requires more discipline and forces you to make the most to make the most of your time.
- Multitasking. On that note, multitasking is my arch nemesis. I know our culture rewards the hair-brained antics and spaz-like effects of rampant multi-taskers. I’m not one of them. In fact, I couldn’t have a conversation with you while working on something else. I can’t think about one thing and do another. That’s just how I function. If you’re the same way, you’re better off realizing that sooner rather than later. Anytime, I compromise this rule, one or both multitasked things are felt worse for wear. Something always fails. Inc’s article on “Get More Done” would pat me on my back and agree enthusiastically. They argue that the human mind isn’t meant to multi task, adding that “research shows that multitasking can have long-term harmful effects on brain function.” Their tip is to spend about 20 minutes flip flopping from task if needed and they warn heavily against email, noting that “the average professional spends about 23 percent of the daily emailing.” Leadership podcasts have told me the same thing, which is why top industry leaders will usually spend a max of one to two hours in the morning getting to emails, with each of them noting what a time vacuum email tends to be.
With email being a consensus among leaders, what other time vacuums do you come across in your daily business life and how do you deal with them?