Is it me or has time apparently speeded up in the last few years? OK so I’m a 40 something and I guess this is the time in my life where time does move more quickly. However in the world of work, time has become our enemy: we battle impossible timescales; we try and beat time by coming in early and coming home late. We try to be efficient, we try to get everything done, but the sad fact is that for most of us leaders out there, there just aren’t enough hours in the day to get everything done.
Time is not our enemy, it’s our friend. Our very lack of it suggests that we’re just not paying it enough attention. It slips through our fingers because we’re trying to desperately hold onto it, but time is ethereal, there’s nothing to hold onto, so as it slips through our fingers again, isn’t it time to admit we’ve got a problem with time?
We live in a fast paced society: everything is needed NOW; everything is urgent; everything is (allegedly) important. We need it today, not tomorrow, this quarter not next. As we have embraced the immediate delivery systems of technology – be that through our Amazon account, Facebook account or even our emails – so we have begun to expect that our own human thoughts, reactions and decisions will be almost as immediate. We fire off an email and expect a quick response, we leave someone a message and we are disappointed if they have not got back to us that day. We have a two-hour meeting to make decisions that may shape a whole year’s business plan.
We are not the technology we use. It’s designed to be beyond human capabilities. Its processing power and speed are exactly what differentiates it from its human users. Computers and search engines aren’t there to be emulated; they’re there to be used, intelligently by the more thoughtful, slower and brilliant minds of their users. They are a tool, used by an evolved being – just as fire was for the first human beings. Technology should add to our world, a servant tool to enable us to live in this world better, not a master dictating the speed at which we should live our lives.
There is no doubt that in the last 10 years we’ve all hit the fast forward button on our own internal remote controls. We try to get too much done in too little time, we try to achieve it all, but all too often we are trying to achieve the impossible. This isn’t just in the workplace but at home too! It’s time to take stock and evaluate what we are doing.
It’s time for us to admit that we’ve got a problem with time.
Time is precious. We all know that we’ve tried our best to make everything we have to do fit into the extended timetable for work we give ourselves, and yet consistently we feel as if we’re running behind time, that’s there’s just not enough time to get everything done that needs to be done!
We need to stop thinking of time as our enemy and start conserving time like any other precious resource we need to conserve. We need to get serious about time, and serious about what takes our time.
There are many time-hungry things out there in the world, and the question is, with the finite resource of time you have (no matter what you do, there can never be much more than 24 hours in any one given day) – how do you use it?
Stop what you’re doing, right now. Go on. Stop. Hear that? That’s the sound of nothing happening. When was the last time you heard that? We don’t stop nearly enough, we move from one task to the next. We don’t stop, take stock, check in with ourselves and see what’s actually going on with us. Stopping is one of the most important ways of keeping check of time. If you stop, you can re-schedule, re-arrange, re-prioritise – if you don’t stop, you’ll just plough through and often times be inefficient by doing so.
- ANALYSE WHERE YOUR TIME GOES
It sounds daft, but how many of us have actually analysed our own working practices. We think that we’re always busy (because we haven’t stopped) but actually ARE WE? What DO you spend your time on? Both at work AND at home? Be honest with yourself and you’ll probably be shocked at just how much time is spent preparing for or being in meetings, and how much time you spend sending emails or surfing the internet/being on social media. I find analysing a two-week period should give you a pretty accurate reflection of your average working patterns.
- ASK YOURSELF WHAT’S REALLY IMPORTANT TO YOU AS A LEADER
NB – from this principle on, we’re going to focus in on you as a leader, but you can also use these principles for your home life too. We’re not just workers, we’re human beings with families that need more of our time too, so I’d strongly suggest that this is something equally as valuable for your home-life as well as your work-life.
Now before you launch into the next stage of saving time, it’s important to stop and think what you WANT to be spending your time on as a leader. You’ll probably have found that much of what you are doing isn’t actually at the right level in keeping with your level within your organisation, and that many of the leadership things you should be doing (planning, strategy, team development, personal development etc) are squeezed out of your busy diaries in favour of the more immediate demands from the business.
By looking through the lens of what you SHOULD be doing, you can then identify what’s the most important things for you to be doing with your time. Give them a ranking from 10 (most important) to 1 (something I really shouldn’t be doing) – this will give you a good starting point for re-prioritising your time going forward.
- RUTHLESSLY RE-PRIORITISE
Once you’ve decided what’s important for you to do as a leader, it’s time to get ruthless both with your task-list and what you assign time to. If there are things that are not worth your time, take them out. If there are things that take up too much time, then see what you can do to cut them back. Too many leaders are at the beck and call of their online diaries, rather than being in control of them. As a leader of certain seniority within your organisation you really do have more influence than you think. Take meetings for example: maybe it’s time you took a lead and starting pruning back the amount of meetings back to something more manageable.
- MAKE BREAKS NON-NEGOTIABLE
At Meta we’ve been researching into how to work smarter not harder and have been doing do for the past 18 years of being in business. As a leader it’s so important to take your breaks if you are to be effective and work smarter. Fuel is a fundamental to your success – even the computers and smart phones we spend our lives on need fuel (in their case, electricity). They don’t last long if we unplug them from their power source do they? So let’s make sure we stay plugged in and topped up too!
‘But Jo, surely that’s time that I could be doing work. That’s what, nearly an hour everyday that I could be using?’
This is perhaps the most common misconception in modern business. Thinking that working through your breaks and working more hours means you get more done is just plain WRONG. There is ZERO research out there that says it is true. Take your breaks and you recharge and refuel your brain and body that enables it to work at a higher performance level, which means you get more done, not less.
- USE YOUR DIARY TO DIARY IN TIME FOR EVERYTHING!
Part of the problem with online (and accessible) diaries is that we don’t put in the things that actually are on our leadership to-do lists. If we did, the likelihood is that people wouldn’t be so keen to fill our diaries fuller. You don’t need to put everything in your diary, but you do need to assign and diary time for things that you have deemed important (in principle 4). Have you diarised IN time for planning? Have you made sure you have thinking and preparation time ahead of that important stakeholder meeting? If you don’t diary in the time to develop your strategy and team development plan, when will it get done? Excellent leaders understand that it’s important to make time for thinking and reflection – that’s where inspiration and creativity comes in, in those downtimes.
7. DON’T BE AFRAID TO SAY NO
Let me re-introduce you to a word in the English language that is woefully underused right now within organisations – NO. It’s time as leaders to say NO more often, not in a negative sense but so that those above you can understand what IS and what ISN’T possible. You will need to be brave, admittedly, but a polite no, with reasoning/explanation as to why, can help to at least make those in power stop and think before launching into the big what next.
- SAVE TIME – GO TALK TO PEOPLE
Since the advent of emails, communication in organisations has got worse not better. Spend one week analysing how much time on average you spend composing and writing emails and you’ll quickly realise that it’s one of the top drains on your precious time.
Go talk to people! Not only will you spend less time doing that, but you’ll also be building the relationships that will enable you to have a short-hand with those that you need to work with to get stuff done. A workplace is a social-network, it’s a living system – so be a positive ripple and get out there and be social!
- USE YOUR PEAK & DEAD WORKING TIMES
We are human beings, and as such we have peaks and troughs in any given day. However research has shown that actually we have pretty consistent PEAK and DEAD working times. In the 3-hour PEAK working time your brain is functioning at its absolute best and it’s a great time to put all the more complex tasks and tasks that require that bit more brain processing power. Your DEAD working time is when your brain is flagging. This is the time in your day to be doing the more menial and less challenging tasks from your leadership to-do lists. What is fascinating is that research shows you can get up to twice the amount done in your PEAK working time as in the whole rest of your day – so make sure you’re maximising your effectiveness by building your diary and task lists around them.
- MEETINGS WITH M.E
In your new smarter working week, the most important meetings you will have will be with M.E (me). These are the meetings that give you breathing space in your work diary, the 2 x 1 hour windows in any given week that can be used for whatever emergency that week throws up that put extra demands on your time. It means there’s time for the unexpected, should you need it, and if not? Then there’s time that can be utilised to do those things that you’ve never quite got around to doing. It’s quality time, for you to use the way you see fit.
It’s important to state here, that I’m not encouraging you to go rogue, to be the maverick leader who’s always saying NO, but to start showing those that matter in your organisation that by following these simple principles actually you can deliver more at a higher level by working smarter not harder. Follow these principles and your organisation will see the benefit, because you will feel more in control and be using your time for that which matters most – to LEAD.
At Meta we want to challenge what has become ‘normal business practice’. We want to ask the questions, provoke thought and reflection. Yes! AND we want to provide the tools that can help leaders like you to work smarter not harder and be the amazing leaders that the world needs right now.
We are on a mission to change the world of work. It’s a grand mission, but one we take very seriously. We want to support leaders like you to shape and create the workplaces of the future. We want to help organisations like yours to be the example for others to emulate and follow. We help to develop evolved working practices for the modern world. There is a revolution coming in the form of the next generations. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we became the example, the role models, to our children, and our children’s children?
At Meta we want to share our research, our tools and our learning with leaders and organisations that want to excel. If you’re one of those leaders or one of those organisations that want to lead the world, why don’t you get in touch? We’d love to hear from you.
Jo Clarkson – META CEO