Opinion: Here’s how to work better and smarter – and make room for your career and life goals to succeed
Too many of us live on autopilot, racing from bond to bond. It may seem like the road to success, but without time to think it over, a disturbing possibility looms: what if we optimize for the wrong things? We must give ourselves the opportunity to explore what a successful life means to us.
You can no longer pour anything into an already full glass. If we are to make smart choices about how to spend our time and energy, as I describe in my new book “The long game: how to be a long-term thinker in a short-term worldâ, We have to give ourselves aâ white space â.
Few of us have the option of taking a gap year or even spending hours pondering our future. But luckily, as David Allen, author of the famous âGetting Things Doneâ productivity guide told me, âYou don’t need time to have a good idea. Do you need space. And you can’t think right if you don’t have space in your head. It doesn’t take any time to come up with an innovative idea or to make a decision, but if you don’t have psychic space, these things aren’t necessarily impossible, but they are sub-optimal.
What is needed is the determination to get out of the quagmire of everyday life. Here are three ways to do it:
1. Recognize the hidden benefits of the activity: Of course, we’re all too busy – no secret about that. Studies have shown that average business expenses 28% of their working day by e-mail and assist 62 meetings per month. It’s hard to do a lot of real work in the midst of all of this. But that’s not the whole story. It turns out that there are emotional benefits to being busy that we must face if we are to take the necessary steps to fight back.
The first is that it’s often easier, in a situation where we don’t know what to do (How do I increase sales by 30%? Should I quit my job or stay with the company? Is it a good idea to launch this new line of products?) to continue moving forward on your current path. We may tell ourselves that we are too busy to be strategic, but this can often serve as a form of avoidance.
Additionally, at least in the United States and many Western countries, occupation confers high social status – so we may be dissuaded from giving it up, even if we pretend we would like to have a less hectic schedule. Like Silvia Bellezza of Columbia Business School and her colleagues revealed, âBy telling others that we are busy and working all the time, we are implicitly suggesting that we are wanted, which improves our perceived status. “
2. Choose to change perspective: If we are culturally predisposed to be impressed by âcrazy busyâ professionals, we will probably have to forcefully reorient our point of view. Author and entrepreneur Derek sivers provides a helpful framework: âI have a very negative impression of the exhausted, panicked stereotype: ‘OH MY GOD, I AM TOO BUSY! “Type,” he said. âThey seem out of control – not in control of their lives. But I have met some very successful people who are calm, calm, indifferent and give you their full attention. They seem to have everything under control. So, I prefer to be like that.
Instead of automatically and thoughtlessly equating activity with status, we can instead choose what we admire, like someone who has autonomy over their schedule. When we shift our values ââin the direction of our own aspirations, it is easier to navigate in that direction.
3. Plan according to your priorities: My friend Dave crenshaw, a time management expert, works around 30 hours a week and goes on vacation every July and December with his wife and children. How is it? He didn’t start a frenzied business and then try to turn family time into interstitial moments. Instead, from the start, he built systems and structures around the time he planned to spend with them.
“The average person has mountains of inefficiency in their day, things that they put up with that they don’t even realize, because they’ve given themselves permission to work as long as needed,” he said. âWhen you allow yourself to work long hours, to work non-stop, you allow these little systemic and strategic inefficiencies to pop up all over the place. ”
Conversely, when you start with parameters like âI’ll take the whole month of Julyâ or âI’ll finish work at 6 am every night,â it forces creativity into the systems you develop. You can spot inefficiencies – whether it’s a slow computer or a clunky planning system – because you can’t afford not to. The key is to start asking yourself high-level questions like:
Should I do this task at all?
Could I delegate this work to someone else, or stop doing it altogether?
Where should I focus my efforts in order to get the best return?
If I started from scratch today, would I still choose to invest in this project?
Like a poet deciding to work within the confines of writing a sonnet, you take advantage of the positive constraints to make yourself sharper.
Hardly anyone likes the results of the short-termism we see around us: the relentless frenzy, the endless hamster wheel, the aggressive pursuit of goals that are probably not the right ones.
But it takes force to go against the dominant culture. Internal strength, because we have to face uncomfortable questions about who we are and what we really want. External force, because we are dealing with bosses, colleagues and clients who are still used to measuring productivity in real time and in volume.
We must be prepared to make choices. And at a basic level, we have to believe that change is possible in the first place.
To become a better, sharper, and more strategic thinker, the first step is to eliminate the non-essentials. This is how we create white space and we give ourselves room to play the long game.
Dorie clark is a marketing strategy consultant who teaches at the Fuqua School of Business at Duke University. This play is adapted from his new book, “The long game: how to be a long-term thinker in a short-term world, â(Harvard Business Review Press, 2021). its free Long Game Strategic Thinking Self-Assessment is available at dorieclark.com/thelonggame.
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