None of my clients tell me they have too much time on their hands, and they just don't know what to do with it. They all seem to be chasing their tails. When I ask how they are, the most common response is “flat out”. They seem to all have the same singular ambition. How do I cram as much activity into my working day so I don’t drown?
They all feel as if they have too much to do and therefore by optimising every minute of every day, they believe they will get on top of the mountain of deliverables and ultimately succeed. But I think they are doomed to failure.
Firstly, when you are running at such a speed, having back-to-back meetings and are driven to deliver more every day; you are constantly in survival mode.
This mode means that you are flushed with adrenaline and cortisol and are primed to react subconsciously to any dangers you encounter with fight flight freeze. Not a groovy, energetic, state for collaborating with your people and thinking creatively about the future.
In this condition negativity-bias dominates and therefore we are prone to only see the problems. We are more agitated. More aggressive. More emotionally fragile. More stupid. And way more stressed.
And this is the danger of us trying to deliver what business wants rather than prioritising what we need as human beings. To think of our 8 hour days as equal segments of 60 minutes is nuts. My 8 AM is nothing like my 4:00 PM. Instead of optimising our time we should be learning how to surf the waves of our energy. But to do this we need to be more aware.
Firstly we need to be aware of ourselves and what we need to be in tip top condition. Since we only have between 90 - 120 minutes of deep focus per day, it's vital that we know when that is and then we can protect it for the stuff that counts. Additionally, we need to know what our most important thing is that day; what I call my “big thing”. It's the one thing I do so that when I go home at night it will make me feel like the day was worthwhile because it's created a significant impact.
It may be an email I need to write, an action against a project, a conversation I need to have, some task that amplifies impact…. When I know what that is I can then stick it into the ‘sweet spot’ of my day and make sure that it happens beautifully. Then everything else is just gravy.
We need to schedule time and space for rest and recovery in our day.
We can only work in bursts of up to 90 minutes before needing 20 full minutes of recovery. And that recovery isn't going to be another meeting or clearing emails.
That recovery needs proper rest. The traditional mentality would see that as wasted time, but the best leaders know that taking a 20 minutes break will mean that the next 90 minutes will no longer be average and a slog; they will be legend. When it comes to managing energy to deliver better; less is most definitely more. Once we have the awareness of what's important to us and how we should deliver those key tasks we then need to have the faith and the bravery to say no to all those other things clamouring for our attention.
We will never be able to deliver everything.
Be brutal about what you say yes to and then give that thing your full heart and soul.
Do less and achieve more.