Kristen Carroll, Founder and Chair of The LMC Groups
It recently occurred to me that I travel more by plane than car. In fairness, I live downtown and walk to my office, as well as to restaurants, shops, and the like . . . so I spend less time in a car than most. Still, I do spend quite a bit of time with my head in and above the clouds, a la Delta. I arrived at the airport this morning, and as I was checking my luggage (shoes, you get it), the gentleman behind the counter asked where I was headed. I had no idea. A week ago when I was asked the same question, I replied with the completely wrong answer, certain I was right. I was not.
I’m not a million miler or one of the true air travel warriors who take multiple flights every week. I just travel more than the average bear, and in my travels, I have met plenty a stranger who has engaged me in conversation. During a flight from LAX to ATL last week, I was seated next to a 70-year-old man who is a partner in a VC firm. His background was labor law, and he eventually switched gears in an attempt to have some kind of balance in his life. When he was in his early 60s, his wife passed away unexpectedly and it occurred to him that while he was busy working 80 hours a week, his life had passed him by. That’s the risk we all are aware of, but don’t always fight against as actively as we should, right? He told me that in the span of 30 years, he never even took time for a vacation, other than a long weekend here and there. He has had great success, in the eyes of those who value money and influence over all, and he hasn’t had the chance to enjoy any of it.
We often talk about Gen Z and younger Millennials lacking the work ethic we Gen Xers and the Booomers had, because they prioritize their lives over their jobs. They have no desire to work 80 hours a week to get ahead, and since nearly all of them embrace this philosophy, they are also in no risk of falling behind. While I want to resent them for it, I admire them. I’m glad our obsession with work and career is dissipating. Little good comes of it.
For whatever reason, many of us feel more vital and successful if we are brimming with work and never have the chance to catch our breath. I remember when I got my first Blackberry for work. I didn’t know anyone my age that was nearly important enough to need one (ha!), and I loved that I was now able to answer all emails in real time, 24/7. I always wanted to be the most responsive professional anyone worked with, and my Blackberry brought that notion to a new level. At the same time, I was provided with VPN access into my company’s network, so I could fully work from home as well. Hurray! I never had to stop working!
I don’t remember most of my 20s, because I worked ALL THE TIME during those years. I had achieved a nice level of success very early in my career, and I just wanted to keep climbing . . . and I did. I loved how hard I worked; it was a badge of honor for me. I ended my 20s incredibly unhealthy, in a relationship I should have ended after a month but kept going for nearly 6 years because who had the time to deal with a break up?!, and well poised to continue on my ever thriving career path. I spent all of my 30s undoing the damage I had done to my health, but the upside to that is that as I have grown older, I’ve grown healthier, so it’s created a kind of Benjamin Button situation, minus the reverse aging in my appearance! 😊 I don’t regret my hard work. I learned so much in those years, and I’m happy where I have landed now. I was on a dangerous path, however, and thankfully I corrected my course (at least largely) before I too was 70 and realizing my obsession with work was how I spent my life.
Why do some people tie self-worth to being busy with work? Why are we so obsessed with the grind and the hustle? I know they don’t add to our overall wellness as humans, but I don’t even think that kind of outlook helps with work. I have coached many CEOs and executives, and it is not uncommon for many of them to want to fill their meeting and travel schedules as much as possible, because they gain their sense of importance from having busy days and running themselves into the ground. Why work smarter when you can work harder? 😉
With money, most of us have found that we manage to spend as much as we make. I’m not talking about living paycheck to paycheck; I’m talking about how our lifestyles get more and more expensive, the more money we make. I think we are the same way with our time. If we have an average of 16 waking hours in a day, those of us who can be obsessed with work like to find a way to use most of those hours for work. We even tell ourselves it’s necessary. That’s how important we are, after all. If we only had 4 hours of work to do each day, we would be some kind of failure…right?
It’s silly when we think of it like that. Needing to only work 4 hours a day is WINNING, not losing.
You’d be surprised how much of your day you spend doing things you don’t need to do, all in the name of filling your day to the brim and looking busy. In fact, if this article describes you, I want to challenge you to an experiment for just one week. Let’s call it the half-time challenge, shall we? For one week (starting this next week), I want to challenge you to work half of the hours you normally work. If you put in 12 hours a day, put in 6. If you put in 8, put in 4. The math is very complex, but I think you follow. 😉 My hypothesis is that if you are disciplined enough to restrict your hours in half, for just one week, you will approach your work in a more efficient way than you ever have.
You will finally delegate all of the things you do that you don’t need to be doing. When I get busy, I ask myself what do I have to do that anyone else on my team could do, and then I delegate all of it. I like the way I do things, and I’m faster than most. However, that’s a concept that creates a bottleneck, and worse than that, it can make my company small and weak if the leader is spending time doing things other than running the company.
You will stop doing things that don’t matter. Rather than letting a meeting carry on for an hour, maybe you send an email . . . or maybe you schedule a 15-minute meeting and insist you start and end on time. Either way, most meetings are the dry rot of productivity. Instead of helping the rot to spread, eliminate the source and rebuild. Ultimately, if you are questioning everything you are doing in the day, you’ll find you’re doing plenty of work that doesn’t matter or that creates inefficiencies.
Another benefit of the half-time challenge is going to come from challenging all your many inefficiencies. These may come in the form of systems your company has followed for years, because that’s always how you’ve done things, or perhaps even just your own personal habits that prevent optimum productivity. I have found a lot of ways to cut my time waste at work, including having a member of my team read overly lengthy emails I receive and sending me a few sentence synopsis of the high points. I also have to remind myself every day to not allow perfection to be the enemy of progress. That is one of my greatest challenges, but I’m aware of it, so I can police my behaviors that spring from these inclinations:
I don’t answer my phone unless I have a call scheduled.
My ringer is never on, and my phone is always turned upside down on my desk.
My voicemail message instructs the caller to email me, rather than leave a message. Everyone who needs to reach me knows that email is the fastest way to reply to me.
I also limit my points of access. I let my clients and employees know that they can text me or FB message me or DM me on any number of social platforms, and they can call me if they really want to roll the dice on reaching me . . . but that email is the only medium I am committed to responding to always. There are just too many access points for us now, and if we try to maintain all of them, we will constantly be on defense with no hope of switching to offense, and ultimately getting no where.
Get To Know Yourself
One of the greatest things I ever did was listen to my staff and allow our team to go through the Myers Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI). I always loathed these types of tests, as I’d seen them used in pre-employment situations where test takers naturally try to answer the way they think the employer wants them too. I also knew that people like me don’t interpret standard test questions the way test designers intend. I didn’t realize these tests weren’t intended for the purpose they had been used, and that there is actually supposed to be a 2-step process where the test is taken, and then a certified practitioner interviews you to either confirm or modify the results of the test and discuss the results. Heck, I didn’t know there WERE certified practitioners in this type of thing.
One of our team members went through the MBTI training and became a certified practitioner, scoring at the top of her class even! She assessed every member of our team, and the most illuminating part of the process for me was probably a tie between gaining an understanding that people who don’t think like me aren’t defective in some way, they are just different from me (mind=blown LOL), and also that there are just some things my personality type is good at and other things I’m not. I can work on those areas, and I do, daily . . . however, that gave me permission to stop doing the things I wasn’t good at, and reassign those things to members of my team who were good at them. It sounds like a basic concept, but it was transformative for me.
As it turns out, my personality type hates dealing with details. I’m great with seeing into the future and solving massive and complex problems immediately, but once I have the solution, I need to hand it over to a detail-inclined person who can make these grand solutions actually happen. Not only is that efficient, it’s great news for me because I HATE dealing with the details…and yet, I’m well aware that without them, nothing will happen.
So with that said, I encourage you to also get to know yourself a bit more. Find out what your strengths are, and play to those. Find out what you’re not so great at, and stop trying to do it. I have told so many of my clients that just because they started their company, doesn’t mean they are the right ones to run it. They may be best at sales and business development. They may be best at the technological aspects of their work. The only role you shouldn’t take in your organization is one you’re not the best person to take. Other than that, if you do the work you are best at, you’ll have the greatest impact while getting the most satisfaction out of your work. It’s a win/win!
Grinding and hustling are things people do when they don’t have the discipline of laser-sharp focus. Stop trying to look busy and start trying to be effective…and at the same time, ensuring you are actually living your life in a way that will bring you the most joy, fulfillment, and meaning.
Thinking of taking the half-time challenge? I want to hear from you! Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org and I will give you one free coaching session if you commit to the half-time challenge for one week. And if you are ready to get your accurate MBTI type, email email@example.com.
Ready? Set? Live!