Before I tell you what it is, try these questions:
• Do you have all the energy you want, every day?
• Do you get all your work done smoothly and efficiently every day?
• Is your work/life balance exactly as you desire?
Typically, most people will answer 'no'. Instead, life seems to get busier, work/life balance becomes a distant dream, and energy levels fluctuate considerably.
Who's in charge of your regular commitments? Of course, if you're working for an employer you're rightly expected to deliver the results they need. But is it only the boss (you might be the boss!) that overloads the schedule? Are we doing it to ourselves and then playing 'martyr'? Or trying to keep up with the schedule of those around us?
Here's the answer ....
Don't dodge this bullet! It's ..... Do Less.
It sounds counter-intuitive, doesn't it. But let's dissect this a bit.
Good time management is really energy management. As soon as you start to feel stressed and pressured your adrenal glands go under stress, your body tenses, mistakes are more likely to happen — and there will be little or no room for error, delays by other parties, breakdowns or system malfunctioning of any sort. (This could include external issues such as accidents, traffic snarls, computer breakdowns, weather incidents, or illness.)
Of course we must be efficient and effective with the use of our time. I'm not saying it's fine to sit and twiddle our thumbs just so we can feel calm and relaxed. Most businesses will go broke if we all did that! When we're in work mode let's be as fast and effective as possible.
But — are we trying to cram in too much? Are we taking enough breaks? We need both small (micro) 10-15 minute gaps every couple of hours through the day as well as longer (macro) breaks about every 6-8 weeks of at least a full weekend to completely switch off.
If we work as effectively as we can yet also allow a good margin for unforeseen incidents, it feels as though we've got more time. Everything flows more smoothly and our work (and private undertakings) become more enjoyable.
You may be reading this and think, 'That's nonsense. I can't do less.'
Here are a few suggestions:
1. Play the 'I'm really sick' game.
Imagine that you've been told you've got a serious illness. You will recover but it's essential that you slow down for six months. Ask yourself questions such as the following:
• What is really essential?
• What can be stripped away, delegated, turned down?
• What can I say 'No' to?
• What are the consequences of letting some things go, and can I live with the results?
• How can I do things differently so that the wheels won't fall off while I slow down?
• What support or other resources will I need?
2. Imagine that you plan to take a sabbatical/extended long holiday in another year or two. What would you need to put in place to help your various interests flow without you?
For example, a number of my friends have walked the 5-6 week Camino from the French Pyrenees to Santiago de Compostela in Spain. A participant in one of the CEO groups I worked with last year in the UK shared that walking the Camino significantly changed his business — for the better. Over the two preceding years he put company structures in place so he and his wife could be away without worrying about work. It spread the responsibility, empowered other staff and future-proofed the business. He returned to a business in great shape.
3. Watch your language.
Whatever we speak is what we'll get. When someone says, 'How's it all going?' or 'How's work going?' how often do we answer, 'Flat out', 'Really busy' or 'It's crazy round here'?
I confess — I used to say those kinds of things. These days, if I notice I'm falling into the old patterns I now stop in mid-sentence and reframe it with: 'It's great. I'm as busy as I want to be.' The curious thing is, as the language changes, so do the feelings of stress and pressure. The body feels calmer.
4. Do a self-audit on your family and personal commitments.
• How many commitments do you and your family have after work and on the weekends?
• How many balls are you keeping up in the air?
• What time are you getting to bed?
• How many hours of TV or screen time do you have in the evenings?
• How much exercise are you getting? Did you know that you don't have to spend hours at the gym to lose weight and increase fitness? Check out Lauren Parsons' Get Fit Feel Fabulous system.
5. When you accept a meeting, allow more time before the next one.
I've been amazed at my increased calmness when deliberately allowing more time between meetings. Especially if you work in a congested city as Central Auckland has become, trying to squeeze in too many meetings in a day is a recipe for stress. Take extra work with you in case you're waiting. Or you can always whack out a few emails on your phone if you choose to receive email that way.
We're not machines. Pushing more and more tasks into your calendar is just a recipe for burnout and ineffectiveness.