The new normal.
Doing more with less.
Logging 15 hours a day in the office.
Never shutting your computer down.
Working through weekends.
Having dinner with your family and then getting back on email.
Eating lunch at your desk.
Trying to figure out the elusive time management.
Do any of these sound familiar?
We are in a race to outdo one another in how busy we are and it’s harmful not only to our mental stability, but to that of our productivity and even our physical well-being.
Society Expects Us to Always Be Working
In some cases it may not be up to you.
When I began my career, I had to bill a minimum of 7.5 hours every day and put another 15-20 hours a week into new business. By the time all the administrative work (traveling, expenses, time entry, meetings) was included, I easily worked 80-100 hours a week.
It was required to get promoted and I didn’t know any differently.
Back then, email was just beginning to infiltrate businesses and you certainly didn’t have the opportunity to work from home.
So, every Saturday, I’d join the rest of my team in the office while we worked on the things we didn’t accomplish during the week.
I have very fond memories of that time with my team. We were all in it together and we had a great time. We played just as hard as we worked…and the play time was always in the office.
Our time management was rewarded based, literally, on the sheer number of hours spent in the office.
Now, when I think back on it, the bubblegum blowing contests and pulling pranks definitely could have gone away in favor of getting our work done during normal business hours.
But that wasn’t the culture and you certainly couldn’t make partner by not being in the office six days a week, even if some of that time was spent screwing around.
It was how I was trained and what I grew accustomed to. So much so, in fact, in the early days of Arment Dietrich, I expected the same of my team.
As it Turns Out, We’re All Busy
Today, of course, we’re dealing with unemployment rates that don’t seem to want to decrease (I read an article last week that said unemployment is finally down simply because people have stopped looking for jobs) and, for those who are employed, having to do the jobs of two or three people as business leaders remain skittish about the economy.
It’s a cycle and it will eventually change, but right now we’re all busy…and we’re not afraid to answer the “how are you?” question with how busy we are.
Clay Morgan sent an article around to our team that talks about this phenomenon.
In “Please Stop Complaining About How Busy You Are,” Meredith Fineman uses the example of preparing to go on a date. The guy who had invited her out said he was “crashing on deadlines” and asked her to make the dinner reservation.
Never mind the fact she should have told that guy where to stick it, that behavior makes it sound like he’s so much more busy than she is and his time is way more valuable. He can’t even make a dinner reservation to impress a girl?
What is the world coming to?
We are all busy. Maybe you have a house full of young kids or you’re launching a start-up or you travel Monday through Thursday or you work for an organization like I did at the beginning of my career.
Whatever it happens to be, we all have 24 hours in our day (until Adam Toporek and I can figure out how to start auctioning off extra hours) and we all have the same amount of time to get things accomplished.
Time Management Challenge
But, here’s the deal: The longer you spend staring at your computer screen, the worse off you are. Our bodies were not built to spend 15 hours a day working.
In fact, we can really only focus on something for about an hour before our bodies and minds need a break.
During that time, we tend to wander over to Facebook or Twitter or visit one of our colleagues, but heaven forbid we go for a walk or go to the gym or even go out for lunch.
Society has become such that that is frowned upon and keeping insane office hours are what’s rewarded.
But I have a time management challenge for you.
This week, tell yourself you do not have the weekends to do any work and that you have to get it all accomplished in a mere five days.
If you’re really serious about it and don’t give yourself that extra two days, I guarantee you will get everything done because you will be focused. You won’t spend an hour on Facebook because you know you can’t make that hour up later.
Or maybe you tell yourself the computer doesn’t open after dinner. Or you’re not staying in the office past 5:30 p.m. Or you’re going to sleep in an extra hour (this is one I could use). Or you’re going to take a lunch break to exercise. Or you do something productive with that 15 minutes you have until your next meeting.
Try it. For one week.
It goes against everything we’ve been taught to believe. Certainly there is no way we can do more in fewer hours.
But not only will you get more accomplished, you’ll be less stressed, less hurried, and less harried.
And then, the next time someone asks you how you are, you can answer with, “refreshed,” or “productive,” or “fantastic.”