Work Life Happiness, Balance and Time in the Bank

Work, life and balance

Right now, what’s most important to you – more time or more money? (both I hear you say!). The reality is that people have been working longer without necessarily increasing their income. For some it’s the belief that this is the path to success, for others insurance to keep their job or business or a misguided work ethic that actually costs them in other areas of their life.

While people still rate money as their most scarce resource they now rate time as their most precious one. This seems to countermand the law of supply and demand where the thing that is most scarce is valued most highly. Times are changing and I think I know why.

It has to do with marginal returns. For most people money beyond a certain point has diminishing marginal returns. Ten percent more money will not make us ten percent happier. But ten percent more time – through increased personal productivity – can definitely make us happier.

The numbers are simple and compelling. A ten percent personal productivity improvement on a sixty hour week creates a saving of six hours per week and that’s equivalent to 40% more time to spend with your family and friends.

This assumes twelve hours per day for work, eight for sleep and one for travel. This leaves just three hours per working day for a total of fifteen hours during the working week (six hours on fifteen gives us the 40%).

That’s amazing – a productivity improvement of just six minutes per hour will provide a 40% increase in week day leisure time! Sounds great, but how do I achieve that?

Start with a simple approach used in continuous improvement programs used in production businesses the world – ‘Record, Report, Review, Revise’.

There are five simple steps that you can apply to your life. As with most things they are easy to say, harder to do. That requires mental discipline and if you follow these simple rules you will find that extra ten percent. You decide whether it’s worth it.

1. Record where you spend your time: If time is our most valuable resource we need to know where it goes. This is a statement of the obvious, but most people don’t do it and therefore only have a general grasp of where they spend their time. Recording your time spent isn’t a sign of a compulsive personality; it’s the first step to 40% more weekday leisure time.

2. Score your productivity and act on it: Rate the productive value of each activity throughout the day. Was it necessary? Was it useful? Can it be done better, faster, more efficiently? Did you really have to do it at all? Do you have serial time wasters that suck your minutes away?

Time savings from meetings are a quick win. There are very few hour meetings that couldn’t finish six minutes earlier.

3. Set priorities and target times. Compare with what actually happens: The diary reveals real as opposed to espoused priorities. It doesn’t lie. Know how you want to spend your time. Set targets that meet your true priorities.

You’ll save time and spend more time on the important things. I tend to leave the most important things until last when I have a ‘clean desk and clear head’. Never seems to work that way.

4. Focus on the important not the interesting: How many times have you heard that one? Time management 101. I’m often drawn to things that educate and feed my passions and sometimes (often) these aren’t directly related to the specific task at hand. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, as we can’t be work machines (very dull) but we do need to get the balance right.

I treat this time as an investment in my learning and sometimes my sanity. A quick email banter with friends or reading a good blog post can be like hitting your refresh button. In this way time invested here isn’t a self-indulgence, but a conscious and managed choice consistent with an overall professional and personal development plan.

5. Do only those things that only you can do: Senior executives and business owners need to get leverage from the people, structure and processes around them. They must delegate, not suffocate. Identify the things that only the person in your role can do, communicate this and delegate the rest. Work the process. Let others step up. Don’t step down.

As someone said about money, it takes only ‘occasional intelligent interest’ in your personal finances to make a big difference to your net worth. You don’t have to become a zealot. The same is true with time – your most valuable resource.

A simple framework with a healthy dose of mental discipline will increase your leisure time, make you happier and most likely better at your job. Now that’s a great outcome.

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