When was the last time you pleaded on an online call-- “guys, give me just five minutes. I will wrap up my lunch and join right back!”? Or is it a regular phenomenon? If you must literally beg for ‘your’ time to have lunch, isn’t there something fundamentally wrong with the way you manage your life? Who is running your life – you or the situation? Are you willingly paying a real cost for a notional benefit?
The lure of a raise, a better package, and a more visible role, while knowingly ignoring the real cost of lost health, compromised self and family time, and an opportunity to add dimensions to your life. Of the several things that COVID-19 instructed us, the most vital is that the work goes on even though life is fragile. A lesson which is fast fading as if the pandemic were a bad dream or a scary fiction. Here is the time to reclaim our lives, one meeting at a time.
Below are three practical tips on how you may bring more life to your work and put work where it belongs:
Put a premium on your time
It all starts with knowing what’s the best utilisation of your time. As Jeff Bezos puts it, “as a senior leader you get paid to make a small number of high-quality decisions”. It’s important to think like your boss’s boss and focus on decisions that you and only you can take and that will have a lasting impact. For everything else, you have others or, better still, technology. Putting a premium on your time calls for an ability to prioritise incessantly and to let go of routine decision-making. As a heuristic, any decision in which you don’t apply thinking is a good candidate to be delegated. And you will be surprised to find that quite many of your daily decisions may be under this category. You can then put your scant attention on ‘High Leverage Activities’, those that offer a significant and lasting impact for the investment done. Such as writing a blog, reading and reviewing a book, visiting a new place, or even taking a power nap.
Life has no default. Perhaps the only default is death. Rest all is amicable to be relooked at, experimented with and learned from. Even the eight hours a day, five days a week phenomenon is less than a century old, yet we assume that to be a de facto of corporate machinery. Countries like Germany already have a shorter working week and scores of companies are throwing caution to the wind. The key is to take a micro-risk with your job. Saying no to a meeting after 6 pm is a micro-risk. Declining a meeting that you don’t add much value to or get benefited from is a micro-risk. Maybe someday, moonlighting with a startup idea is a micro-risk. You need to take it to explore the limits of possibilities and push the system around you.
Shrink your ‘Zone of Concern’ and expand your ‘Zone of Influence’
Everyone has these two zones – the Zone of Concern comprises all those thoughts and deeds that bother you and the ‘Zone of Influence includes those finite elements you can do something about. Your Zone of Concern is always wider than your Zone of Influence, for you remain anxious about a far greater number of events than you can meaningfully address. The wise step to leading a less stressful and more productive life is to radically shrink your Zone of Concern and you do it by ignoring, delegating, or outrightly eliminating work or thoughts. With this freed-up time and mental space, you can now expand your influence onto things that really matter. But first, free up your plate.
Here's a bonus one. For most of us, a pause or a gap is deeply unsettling. One of the core reasons that we subconsciously gravitate to our phones given every single opportunity is to fill that scary silence. We need to constantly engage our mind in some activity, even if it’s mindless. What’s the maximum you have sat on office work or even personal chores before getting interrupted by a call or a WhatsApp message or the like? And these are the moments where the real stuff happens, the creativity flows, and often history gets created. For that, you need to learn to take a pause, be comfortable with inaction and learn not to seek gratification from your phones or other devices. A good practice is to keep your phone in a drawer and look at it only once in 90 min for 5 min. You will be surprised how less you have missed, or you are being missed, and how much you can achieve.
These simple tips can possibly help you get a perspective in life for what you work for and what life really is.