Each day we get up and go about our daily work, but are we really focused on the “right” things. Or, those things that truly need to be done. As leaders, we need to be focused on those “right” things and help our colleagues and employees focus on them as well. But, do we really know what those things are?
Recently, there was a New York Times piece about “Why you hate work“. This piece documented the results of a 2013 survey of white collar workers about what they felt was lacking in the workplace. And, the results may surprise you at first but not when you stop and think for a moment.
If you follow the leadership and self help literature, you are likely to say that finding work-life balance, being able to disengage from work, and how to be successful would be right at the top of the list. But, they aren’t. In fact, the are close to the bottom of the list. To be sure, these are still key concerns with over a 40% response rate, and we have to be aware of them.
The top concern listed was a lack of regular time for creative and strategic thinking. This was closely followed by the ability to focus on one thing at a time. Again, with a bit of reflection, these should not surprise. What is this telling us as leaders?
I think it is telling us two very important things. One, we feel that we are so busy and we are so focused on getting the tasks done, we don’t have the time to sit and think. And, two, we aren’t focused on the right things because we don’t know what they are.
It is critical for leaders to take time to think, reflect, plan, and analyze. You hear this in your leadership course under the terms: “Big Rocks” (Covey), set your daily priorities (most time management courses), develop a vision, etc. But, even then it gets glossed over because most leadership courses are a day or two at most, because we “can’t afford the time away from work.” Only when you take a longer program, those one to three week courses, do you really hear. It is important to block out time each day for reflection and you need to have a two to three hour block each week that is yours. One company referred to it as 10% time, ten percent time of your time should be focused on developing ideas and directions.
Through my career, I saw this 10% time get eroded and ultimately disappear. Yet, it is probably the most critical time of the week. You need that time to discern what the right things are. Leaders have to be able to develop that strategy or direction. Leaders have to be able to assess what is working and what is not. With out this time, work doesn’t work.
I believe as leaders, it is time for us to fight to bring back the 10% time. We have to guard it. We have to build it in to everyone schedules. This will allow people a chance to focus on key tasks. It will allow individuals the ability not to have to multitask. And, it will probably give people a chance to improve how work gets done. (Have you ever noticed we use inefficient tools because we don’t have the time to learn how to use a new tool that will help us?)
By bringing back the 10% time, I believe that we won’t feel so harried. And, that some of the other things on the list will also be addressed like: having the opportunity to do what is most enjoyed, having a level of meaning and significance, and having a connection to the company’s mission.
So, here is my recommendation, schedule an appointment with yourself. And, don’t schedule it in your office. Schedule a conference room, go to the library, or a guest office. (If you stay in your office you are likely to get distracted and not use the time you have given yourself.) And, ask yourself, if I had a magic wand what would I change about how I perform my work?
You will probably discover that while you can’t change it instantly, you now have plan to change. You can build action plans. You can put words to what needs to be discussed. Then next week, schedule that same appointment and reflect on what changed this past week and what needs to be done to continue the change. Do it again. I think you will find that after three or four weeks you will see a change and you will be focusing on the “right” things because you know what they are.