By: Elizabeth Grace Saunders
How does he find time to meet with 10 customers a week and make his yearly quota in the first quarter?, a salesman wonders about his top producing coworker. I can barely find time to have five appointments a week and get all my paperwork done correctly and turned in on time.
How does she manage to champion strategic initiatives, network with executives, and only work 40 hours a week?, a manager ponders about his colleague on the corporate fast track. After a day full of project meetings, the best I can do is reactively respond to e-mail at night instead of proactively developing my department.
Here’s the secret: Your colleagues that zoom ahead of you with seemingly less effort have learned to recognize and excel in what really counts — and to aim for less than perfect in everything else.
Most likely the highest producing salesman on your team spends less than half the amount of time that you do on filling out paperwork. Yes, it may be sloppy, but no one really cares because he’s skyrocketing the revenue numbers. The manager who has caught the eye of upper management may send e-mails with imperfect grammatical structure and decline invites to tactical meetings. But when a project or meeting really matters, she outshines everyone.
If you’re shocked and feel like this seems completely unfair, I’m guessing that you probably performed very well in school where perfectionism is encouraged.
I know. I was a straight-A student from sixth grade through college graduation who did whatever it took to produce work at a level that would please my professors. Admittedly, this strategy paid off as a student. My perfect GPA signified an exceptional level of achievement, and I was fortunate that in my case, it was rewarded with scholarships and job offers.
The rules changed when I started my own business over seven years ago. I realized that doing A-work in everything limited my success. At that point I realized that I needed to focus more on my strengths. As Tom Rath wisely explains in his StrengthsFinder books, you can achieve more success by fully leveraging your strengths instead of constantly trying to shore up your weaknesses. Realizing the importance of purposely deciding where I will invest more time and energy to produce stellar quality work and where less-than-perfect execution has a bigger payoff has had a profound impact on my own approach to success and my ability to empower clients who feel overwhelmed.
As I talk with time coaching clients struggling with overwhelm whether they be professors, executives, or lawyers, a common theme comes up — they can’t find time to do everything. And, they’re right: no one has time for everything. Given the pace of work and the level of input in modern society, time management is dead. You can no longer fit everything in — no matter how efficient you become. (This conundrum is what inspired me to write a book on time investment).
In my time investment philosophy, I encourage individuals to see time as the limited resource it is and to allocate it in alignment with their personal definition of success. That leads to a number of practical ramifications:
- Decide where you will not spend time: Given that you have a limited time budget, you will not have the ability to do everything you would like to do regardless of your efficiency. The moment you embrace that truth, you instantly reduce your stress and feelings of inadequacy. For example, professionally this could look like reducing your involvement in committees, and personally this could look like hiring someone else to do lawn maintenance or finish up a house project.
- Strategically allocate your time: Boundaries on how and when you invest time in work and in your personal life help to ensure that you have the proper investment in each category. As a time coach, I see one of the most compelling reasons for not working extremely long hours is that this investment of time resources leaves you with insufficient funds for activities like exercise, sleep, and relationships.
- Set up automatic time investment: Just like you set up automatic financial investment to mutual funds in your retirement account, your daily and weekly routines should make your time investment close to automatic. For example, at work you could have a recurring appointment with yourself two afternoons a week to move forward on key projects, and outside of work you could sign up for a fitness boot camp where you would feel bad if you didn’t show up and sweat three times a week.
- Aim for a consistently balanced time budget: Given the ebbs and flows of life, you can’t expect that you will have a constantly balanced time budget but you can aim for having a consistently balanced one. Over the course of a one- to two-week period, your time investment should reflect your priorities.
Once you have allocated your time properly, you also need to approach the work within each category differently. As I explained above, trying to “get As in everything” keeps you from investing the maximum amount of time in what will bring the highest return on your investment.
Elizabeth Grace Saunders is author of The 3 Secrets to Effective Time Investment: How to Achieve More Success With Less Stress, a time coach, the founder of Real Life E Time Coaching & Training, and the author of The 3 Secrets to Effective Time Investment: How to Achieve More Success With Less Stress. Find out more at www.ScheduleMakeover.com.