I’ve witnessed a disturbing trend lately amongst many entrepreneurs. They want to work the hours of a successful person without yet attaining actual business success. I think all this talk of work-life balance has people a bit confused. It you want to run a business that supports a flexible lifestyle, you can certainly choose working for yourself as an option, but financial success usually requires very hard work especially at the beginning. You can’t enjoy the experience of having climbed the mountain without having done the hard work to climb it in the first place. You can’t be all things to all people including yourself; you must make some tough choices about how you spend your time.
There is a wise old saying that “if you want to get something done, then give it to a busy person.” In my experience this is a pretty accurate depiction of how families, organizations and communities work. They “Type A” person will always assume the most responsibility and be the hub of critical activity. Other people tend to rely on them and their boundless energy for execution. Unfortunately, if you are not careful, this dynamic also ends up becoming somewhat dysfunctional and unhealthy as time goes on.
I have always liked the idea as viewing your time similar to currency. You get to decide how you spend it and what types if investments you make. Sadly, just like with our money, many of us make bad or misinformed decisions. Time is finite. There will be a time when it grows short and then disappears. Our children will only live with us a relatively brief time before they grow up and move away to begin their own lives. People we care about will run out of time and all that will remain will be the memories we made with them while they were still here. Our career will follow a natural arc and eventually our lives will be less about what we do for a living (despite our past accomplishments) and we will need to redefine ourselves. Knowing this, what can and should we do differently. I believe it all starts with priorities.
I’ve often heard it said that if you want to know what a person truly values, pay attention to what they do, not what they say. Actions do speak louder than words. Many of us are hypocrites and don’t even realize it. I have a professional belief that a considerable amount of unhappiness in leadership (and life) is due to individuals living in conflict with their true values and focusing on the wrong priorities. We are either moving closer to or further away from from the person we’d like to be. There is no standing still. The person we become is a direct result of the outcomes we create and how we get there.
If I had to pick one thing that inhibits success the most amongst small business and nonprofit leaders I would say it is a lack of sustained focus. By the very nature of them being entrepreneurs, they tend to be very opportunistic. It is common for them to see a business opportunity around every corner. Their mindset is that every problem has a solution and the only obstacle to progress is a lack of effort. Unfortunately, this is only partially true. Yes, every problem does have a solution, but the effort needs to be put forth by the right people with the right plan. It is not merely a question of resources, attention and willingness to put forth effort. Great leaders and strong businesses focused on the wrong opportunities/problems typically only achieve mediocrity at best. At worst, this distracts their true potential for greatness by limiting their attention on what they should be doing in the first place and creates business vulnerabilities that should never have existed.
Most people live their lives reactively rather than proactively. Instead of controlling their time and schedule they let events control them. If you always choose to just make it up as you go along, don’t be surprised if you are often disappointed with the outcomes you are getting. Create some basic structure to your daily life and you will actually end up feeling liberated to do more of what you want to do because you will have more time to do it in.
Time is limited. We all know this fact, yet how many of us manage our time poorly. Two of the biggest complaints I hear from people is that they are too busy or that there isn’t enough time. I can certainly empathize with this mindset and various times in my life have struggled with these challenges myself. However, I’ve learned that you manage your time or it manages you.
Ideally a person would want to use their time well and be highly productive and effective. They wouldn’t get easily distracted or lose focus. Instead of procrastinating on things they need to get done, they’d be disciplined about accomplishing what’s most important when it should get done with minimal stress. The days would flow smoothly rather than bounce around between shifting priorities and putting our fires. Time should be spent doing your own job not making up for the shortcomings of others. We also need to be smart enough to ask for help when we are in over our heads. If we are being honest with ourselves, we’d own up to the fact that most of the stress in our careers is self-created.
We all get overwhelmed at times. It’s just part of life. Sometimes there is just too much to do and not enough time to do it in. Instead of stressing out when this happens, takes a step back, breathe, and come up with a plan of action. Here are some tactics/ideas that have worked for me:
People are motivated by all types of things and leaders are no different. There are always a few major drivers in an individual’s life that prompt action and focus our activities. Many of these motivators are formed in childhood or young adulthood. They can be good or bad or some degree of both. My personal contention is that living at the far end of any motivational continuum isn’t too healthy. I also believe that what drives you also has a big impact on the formation of your character and your values. We do tend to embody our priorities over time.
As far as we know, there are no “do over’s” in life. We get one chance to live our journey and make things right. While death bed conversions and family reconciliations make good fodder forHollywood, they are rarer then you think. You can’t make up for lost time or misaligned priorities in one final conversation or the last few months of your life – the damage is already done. Personal grudges have an unfortunate way of becoming firmly cemented with time. There is no better time than the present to assess where you stand in terms of your family and personal life and make positive changes. As I’ve stated many times in other blogs, remorse and regret are useless and unnecessarily painful emotions.
There are way too many things competing for our time as adults. It’s easy to get lost in the fog of responsibility and fall behind. If we are honest with ourself, we end up using our time very inefficiently and often make it up as we go along. As a result, there is usually some level of imbalance in our life as we prioritize what is most pressing or convenient. The problem is that gaps unattended only grow with time and at some point the chasm becomes too difficult to navigate. The very thing we value most, our own independence and freedom, becomes victim to the personal stress created by not being disciplined about our decisions, time and activities. Paradoxically, we end up with the outcomes we most wanted to avoid.
I’ve often heard the saying, “if you want something done give it to a busy person.” While I am an advocate of applying the 80/20 principle in most circumstances, I believe the ratio get even greater in organizations and communities when it comes to overall effort and impact – it is more like 90/10 or higher. Some people just seem to be hardwired to take on more responsibility. They just can’t help themselves and have a difficult time saying “no.” When they find a need they feel compelled to address it. Poor performance isn’t an option for them and they work hard even no one else is watching. While it’s great these people exist, I also worry that we expect too much from these individuals and in the end many of them end up suffering from burnout and/or too much stress.
I’ve been in many organizations in my professional career. In each instance, I’ve always come across a leader or management team who has a grand vision of the future and what’s possible. There are no shortage of ideas of what could be done and what should get fixed. I wholeheartedly believe that most people want to do a good job and make a positive contribution. It’s rare when you meet someone in a leadership position who shows up to work each day expecting to fail yet sadly it happens on a regular basis. There is often a disconnect between what people know should happen and what actually gets accomplished. We’ve grown far too accustomed to performance mediocrity and lowering our expectations.
…the ultimate goal of any business should be to have high quality employees who are focused on providing value-added services to a loyal and growing client base in an efficient and profitable manner.
It is impossible to be truly happy and successful in life without a strong sense of priorities. There will no shortage of distractions competing for your attention. It is easy to get out of balance and sidetracked by issues that are comparatively unimportant in the wide scheme of things. Sadly, we often taken for granted people we shouldn’t and have a tendency to lose our perspective when we need it most. Many people I meet struggle with guilt and regret over what they wish they would have done differently in certain areas of their life. More often than not they are unhappy with how they prioritized their time, energy and attention.
There are few things more important than having priorities for what’s important in your life and how you choose to spend your time. We are all the architects of our own existence, at times struggling with the design challenges, however ultimately the adult life we build is our own. Happiness is a choice not just an outcome. It should also be an expectation.
In our very hurried and fast paced world these days it is often very difficult to be “in the moment” of what you are doing at any point and time. Distractions abound as people and responsibilities clamor for your time. There ends up being very few thoughtful focused moments in the course of a day where you can simply concentrate on the person, task or situation at hand.
There are so many distractions on a daily basis it’s hard to stay focused. Since none of us have the capability to actually add hours to our days we need to make the most of the time we have. Whether it is at work or at home we need to be ability to prioritize the urgent over the important and the important over everything else.
Successful people rarely “wing it.” Sure some individuals do win the lottery or get disproportionately lucky, but for the most part, success is the result of focused discipline exhibited in small steps taken each and every day.
There is nothing that can be changed about your actions from 5 minutes ago, let alone last week, month or year. What is done is done. What’s important is that you gain wisdom from these past experiences so that you can perform better in the present and be positioned more effectively for the future. It’s also important there is some sense of balance between the present and future.