A Different Take on Efficiency
While no two entrepreneurs are exactly alike, they do share common traits. In my research into CEOs of the most enduringly successful privately held businesses, several common themes emerged. Among them is a relentless focus on how they spend their time and, perhaps more importantly, what they choose to ignore.
Writing recently in the Wall Street Journal, (“Escaping the Efficiency Trap: And Finding Some Peace of Mind"), author Oliver Burkeman shares the major themes of his newly released book, “Four Thousand Weeks: Time Management for Mortals.” His observations are timely and compelling, and some may run counter to present-day conventional wisdom.
High achievers are driven toward the most efficient way to get things done. This is often a priority so they can take on more. There is an innate desire to be in control irrespective of the uncertainty, newness, or vagueness of the challenge. According to Burkeman, this quest, while understandable and even lauded among organizational leaders, can lead to an enduring sense of frustration and failure.
His research points to the notion that instead of trying to control and seek optimum operating efficiency for everything that comes our way, a far more productive approach may be to prioritize the most high-impact items and move the rest to the low end of our “to-do” list. Often times, the opposite is true. We tend to take on the more routine tasks (some of which may be better handled by someone else) because they seem simple and relatively easy to tackle quickly. But the fleeting surge of satisfaction that comes with busily checking things off, fades as we begin to realize that more important and impactful projects remain stalled.
Some years ago, I determined to create an activity inventory; that is, what I did in a “typical day.” I kept a written time log in a journal and kept to 15-minute increments. Understanding that I had to write down “everything” I did, I found myself deliberately focusing on things that would take at least 15 minutes. I created and refined categories as I moved through this tedious and challenging process (for example, “checking/answering emails” took a significant portion of my time but did not offer sufficient context to be helpful).
After two weeks of doing this, I compared this inventory with my prioritized initiatives. I hadn’t made much progress. I determined to continue this practice (as I still do today) for the balance of the quarter in the hope that the outcome would change. It did not.
The breakthrough came when I began to say no to certain invitations, participate in fewer meetings, leave lower priority emails unanswered and/or unread, and simply ignore those items that had little or no value in the long run. The transition was difficult and required patience and resolve. In the end, many senders of these time and attention drainers found other, more willing targets.
For a checklist of ways you can get a better handle on your time, contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Joseph P. Truncale, Ph.D., CAE, is the Founder and Principal of Alexander Joseph Associates, a privately held consultancy specializing in executive business advisory services with clients throughout the graphic communications industry.
Joe spent 30 years with NAPL, including 11 years as President and CEO. He is an adjunct professor at NYU teaching graduate courses in Executive Leadership; Financial Management and Analysis; Finance for Marketing Decisions; and Leadership: The C Suite Perspective. He may be reached at Joe@ajstrategy.com. Phone or text: (201) 394-8160.