Unwrap the Gift of Time


I read recently that the average workweek is now 47 hours.  Based on many of my clients’ experiences, that’s an understatement.  For all the talk about work-life balance, the pressure on business leaders to be available 24×7 does not seem to be dissipating any time soon. And, all the ever-connected technologies at our fingertips don’t help the situation.

Nonetheless, as a leader, your team looks to you to set the pace and to model healthy behavior.  The question is often “where to begin?” or “how can I buck a driven, high performing culture?”

If you find yourself on the wrong side of the 40-hour workweek, perhaps one or two of the following ideas will resonate and buy you a few moments of clear thinking each day.  Beyond the personal benefits, perhaps you’ll inspire others to follow your lead.  Either way, I’d love to hear how these ideas work for you, or what other gifts you’ve discovered for yourself.

  1. Just say “yes, and….” Accept new projects with boundaries and alternatives (the same goes for invitations to meetings or social events).  Practice this sentence when someone asks you to take on another assignment, “Gee, Ryan, I’d love to help, and because I couldn’t possibly give this project its due attention right now, let’s talk about how to structure it over time to ensure the greatest likelihood of success.” Or, if it is your manager making the request, add the following, “What can we take off my (or my team’s) plate to support this new initiative?
  2. Give it a rest. Commit to only one late evening a week. You need sleep and to recharge your batteries.  It’s true that inspiration often strikes when we’re not working, so give yourself time and space for those ideas to surface.
  3. Respect the “end” in weekend. Five full days a week is ample. Stop working on Saturday and Sunday. If you must catch up on email, try not to send anything that requires action or a response over the weekend. It’s a bad habit and sends a message that others need to do the same.
  4. Let go. You do not have to take on every task because you know how to get it done.  Instead, focus your energy on assignments that require your unique talents and gifts, and delegate the rest.  While a task may not get done to your standards initially, letting people grow and learn is a key element of leadership.  Ultimately, learning how to delegate will allow you to lift your head up to steer the ship.
  5. Stop multi-tasking. While the idea of managing many activities simultaneously sounds efficient, it can actually slow you down and detract from the quality of your deliverable. Responding to text messages or sneaking a glance at an email pop-up creates frenetic brain behavior and zaps energy.  There are few things that can’t wait an hour.  If someone needs you badly enough they’ll find you.  Focus on each task at hand and do it well.
  6. Get outside. Breathe some outside air, at least once each day. If you must carry on business-wise, invite someone to join you on a walk around the building to discuss the topic.  Then, of course, you’ve built in a little exercise for the day as well. Bravo!
  7. Book time like a therapist. Schedule meetings for 45-50 minutes, versus an hour.  This leaves you with 10-15 minutes to register commitments, regroup for your next meeting, or take a health break.
  8. Plan and reflect. Carve out 15 minutes, minimum, at the beginning and end of each day to reflect on what’s coming, or on the day’s lessons.  Ask yourself this question when you begin each day: “What is THE most important thing I need to accomplish today?”  At the end of the day ask, “ What did I accomplish, what did I learn, and what should I do differently tomorrow?” Write it down.
  9. Batch email. Devote three 10-15 minute blocks each day to email (morning, mid-day, late afternoon).  That’s 45 minutes each day dedicated to responding to “A” priority emails.  File or delegate the rest.  If you limit email time, you will be more efficient.  Again, anyone who needs a response sooner will track you down.
  10. Set boundaries. Commit to arriving at and leaving the office at a certain time and hold to it.  This is challenging for many people who have developed habits of working until everything is “caught up.”  The sad reality is that rarely are we caught up, and the proverbial treadmill will be there to greet you tomorrow.  If you are accustomed to working late to avoid rush hour, this may be challenging. Try approaching boundary setting as a game.  Leave 15 minutes earlier each day for a week, and then make it 20 minutes earlier the next week. Another strategy is to make rush hour the time for exercise. Hit the gym or take a walk to unwind before heading home.

These ideas are not rocket science, yet changing engrained habits often feels that way.  You might be amazed how another 15 minutes buys you peace of mind, quality of contributions and your ability to lead confidently in the long run.

Give it a go, and let me know how it goes.

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