As parents, our time is valuable. The only way to “find more time” is to make better use of the time we have; and that can be hard when you’re juggling family life and professional life. Spending more time with the kids, working out consistently, or finding time to cook healthier simply isn’t compatible with an 80 hour work week. One of the best things we parents can do is discipline ourselves to work smarter, not longer. Our work expands to fill the time we allow it. So, although it goes against our instinct, perhaps one of the best ways to work more productively is to actually work less.
Just because you’re busy doesn’t mean your being productive. Mobile email, social media, and cell communication mean that we can always be working if we want to. But when you work constantly it’s easy to lose sight of the things that have to get done now –vs- the items that can wait. By working less but working smarter, you force yourself to be more thoughtful in your planning and to focus on what really needs to get done, as opposed to what you feel like getting done. You simply don’t have time to be inefficient.
Make a choice to work less and work smarter. Devote more time to your family. Devote more time for yourself. By working less and working smarter you’ll actually find yourself being more productive than you have been. Crazy, right? Here are 4 quick tips to get you started:
EMAIL ISN’T WORK: Email keeps you busy, but it’s not necessarily the same as getting work done. Email makes us feel busy, but it usually doesn’t get the project completed. And, ironically, the more emails we send, the more we get in return, the less we get done and… the more emails we have to send out again to push everything back. It’s a vicious cycle. That said, email is a great tool if used properly. Use it for general updates. Use it to share information consistently with a dispersed group. But use it sparingly; it’s often a distraction from real work, so shut it off unless you’re actually using it. In fact, check it twice a day maximum and square away any and every piece that can be taken care of then and there. Many professionals have trouble with this approach saying, “I have an important job and people have to be able to reach me!” But the reality is that most things can wait a day. If people need to get a hold of you, they have your phone number. If you really are that important, people will wait for your reply.
FACE TIME IS ALWAYS BETTER: Picking up the phone to convey something (or, better yet, popping by someone’s office) is always preferable to email. Why? Because in this day and age of electronic communication, face time is rare. And face time always trumps every other form of communication. It’s classy. It’s memorable. Plus, it gets you brownie points, and, once the conversation has been had, it’s done and squared away! No more follow-up emails and “reply to all” nightmares wasting your time.
SCHEDULE FOLLOW-UP TIME: It’s funny how we schedule meetings on our calendars knowing they’ll take time, but rarely schedule time to do the follow-up work. We’re great at getting things started, but we’re running around so much that we never slow down enough to finish them. Solution? Block off follow-up time. If you’re heading up a project and have a 1 hour team meeting that you know will require follow-up work, then schedule an additional hour right after that meeting so that you can get the follow-up work done immediately. Otherwise it becomes yet another “to-do” added to the pile.
TRACK LIFE IN ONE PLACE: Whether you track it electronically or on paper, schedule your life in one place. One central to-do list. One central calendar. One central place for notes. When you start maintaining separate info for work, home, play, etc., it gets confusing and, invariably, critical details get lost in the shuffle. You forget the kid’s soccer game. You forget the round of golf with the guys. You forget the board meeting. Keep it all in one central place you can access at any time.
What’s the best way to put these to work? Just dive in. You’ll screw up. You’ll make a mess of it, and you’ll still have infuriatingly busy days here and there. But bad habits are hard to break, and the more you discipline yourself to live this way, the easier it will get. Try it again and again. After awhile it will stick because you’ll find yourself getting more done while working less.
This is the latest installment (for the week of 5/19/2013) of my weekly syndicated column “THE PARENT ATHLETE” – a Health & Wellness Column for Busy Parents – published in over 20 print and online locations, reaching over 270,000+ readers each week. If you are interested in carrying my column in your own paper or website, please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Image by Hello Turkey Toe, Flickr. Used by Permission Under Creative Commons License.