Raise your hand if you feel you have too much time on your hands.

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:::::::crickets chirping :::::::::::

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Didn’t think so.

The title of the post is admittedly a smidge more clickbaity than what I tend to put out there. What’s more, I might actually be doing the clickbait enthusiasts a disservice because this isn’t your usual listicle that many out there have come to enjoy. Nope, no 6 am workouts, no brain boosting concoctions to drink when you start to fade mid-afternoon, no meetingless Fridays.

As I tend to do with some of my articles, I take a giant step back and seek to audit and wire the brain as a needed process before we jump into tactical maneuvers. I’m going to suggest that for many things we have an idea of what to do; the missing piece is knowing if we are in the right frame of mind to effect change in our lives.

And time management (hate the term but there it is) is a massive domain that in our personal and work lives is ripe for innovation. No I don’t mean tweaks — add this, subtract that — I mean blow it up and do it differently.  At work especially, it seems the only lever we know to pull when there is any kind of problem or opportunity is to throw more effort or time into it. That has (kinda) worked over the last 40-50 years but as a result we are a society that is overwhelmed. What’s worse, we cannot focus because there are no longer clean lines between the different domains of our life, including work, family, relationships, vacation etc. Everything has encroached on the other such that our daily lives are reduced to a 24/7 juggling act full of decisions on who today we have to disappoint.

I’m not telling you anything you don’t know. But what I do want to determine is if change is possible. Meaningful change. And for us to import more time into our work day (with spillover learning benefit to the rest of our lives), we have to in these ways check ourselves….before we wreck ourselves:

You actually want to free up time.

Sounds like a pedestrian way to start, but it’s a legitimate discussion point.

Being busy is a badge of honor born out of many inner thoughts including our unmet needs for approval; as a result, busyness is not a condition that many can let go of. To some, filling up the day = fulfillment.

But the tide is gradually starting to change. We are slowly starting to become more vocal about how uncool it is to be busy; or worse, we are associating busyness with a form of laziness or a lack of control in one’s life – it’s not about being a master juggler. I myself have gone bigger picture on this very issue and contend that we are on the verge of a societal shift, where we begin to embrace that for many things less is more.  A tougher economy will incite this sort of sentiment, while the natural perspectives of Millennials will add the necessary fuel as they mature and take charge.

Dealing with alcoholism necessitates that we first declare ourselves to be an alcoholic. Same for busyness. We must first sit ourselves down and admit that it may not be right for us.

You don’t fill every gap.

I did some stage acting in my younger years. Aside from singing (which I sucked at), comedy was the toughest part. Great comedy is about delivery and timing…and while I won a peer award for a two-person show I did, I never did master the art of sitting on a great line and letting the audience soak it in. Empty air is dead space, one of the more anxiety-inducing of benign phenomena out there. When there’s an opening before us, we close it. It’s reflex.

For many of us this tendency stretches into so many other aspects of our life. We buy a house and then we fill it, creating an ensuing belief that we need a bigger house. We have idle money in our bank account so we spend it. We have a free evening so we book something. And we fail to not only take note of this habit but also we choose not to reflect on how we fill gaps with senselessness – stuff that generates poor ROI on our time investment.

Even more scary is the fact that we do this subconsciously at work. We schedule 1 hour meetings and then we talk until the time is up. Often times, we could complete critical tasks by 2 pm and probably get out, but because we feel management roles require ten hour days (or more) we find many more things to do in a day to keep us there until sundown.

As one startup CEO has appropriately said, you must be – or become – a hard core minimalist.

doing-nothingYou have other things you’d rather be doing.

And nothing would be a valid one, and thankfully we’re learning to take mental breaks. Baby steps, though, because we currently frame ‘doing nothing’ as an activity – meditation – to feel better about it….and then we insert it into our calendar or onto our to-do list. Soon, we will embrace that just vegetating is a vital part of maintaining our health and boosting creativity. It’s not just for stoners, so lighten up on those who do it.

But there are important other things we should be caring about…and actually doing. People routinely die with regret over not taking better care of themselves or tending to important relationships or fun hobbies.

One of my company presidents back in the day said “everyone should have a baby”; what he meant was not that everyone should bear children, but rather that everyone should have important things in their life other than work. If that’s the case, you become more productive on the job to get of there to engage in other things you enjoy. And this sort of balance even back then in the early 2000s was seen at my company to be a positive. Still is.

You know there are workplace benefits.

Do you know the core reason why leaders don’t innovate how work is done? Because they can’t measure the benefit (and quickly enough)…and so it falls to the bottom of the pile in terms of priorities.

The exception is where time is money and is most likely a part of cost of goods. But for those of us who work in an office, nuh-uh.

See, corporate big-wigs, when looking for efficiencies, typically are looking for a better looking P&L. They don’t quite see the linear relationship between a productive workforce or agile company and the bottom line, so they don’t focus on that. Instead, they, uh….just cut 10% of the workforce and convince themselves the work will be seamlessly redistributed with no measurable impact. Twenty years ago that style of thinking wasn’t so bad when companies were in fact rather bloated. Not so today.

Because work has become an omnipresent phenomenon with our 24/7 engagement tool we call a smartphone, the wear and tear on our productivity – not to mention nervous system – is skyrocketing. Also, because of technology, the pace and intensity of competition has heightened; that means, more opportunities, more crises, more drama, more of our attention required in multiple areas. (Yet we wonder why we can’t focus well anymore…..sheesh).

As a leader in the 21st century, you have to just get that time isn’t an infinite resource for you to draw upon. You have to just sense that productive employees cause better outcomes. And you have to just know that your organization needs to be infinitely more agile to keep pace in a hyper-competitive world.

Luckily, our lack of productivity is starting to be metricked. I just love seeing articles such as this are attaching dollars to our waste. I hoping more work will be done in this area to add some empirical weight to what great and rare leaders already know.

You see so many things that need to be fixed…

You know the punch list of processes you want to revolutionize. Mine would include:

  • Meetings
  • Emails
  • Information management
  • Ideating
  • Teams
  • …and more, but these would be a great start because there are so many sub plots

If you fail to recognize the opportunity areas, you will forever marinate in a state of dissatisfaction, leading to bitterness. Not a great place to be.

…and you know the root causes.

This is about insight.

Let’s take meetings. We say things like “meetings are too long”, or “we have too many meetings”. But these aren’t the core issues; they are byproducts of the core issues. If we frame the problem as simply this, we won’t implement effective change.

Some people think simply reducing opportunity for meetings is a great approach. Many recommend ideas like “meetingless Fridays” like it’s a new idea. Guess what, this idea has been circulating since the 90s. It never works because not only are you not solving root problems but you are in addition causing a new stress from pent-up demand for meetings that is unsatisfied. Invariably, and soon after the initiative starts, the dam breaks.

What we have to do is remove the need for meetings. I personally feel that meetings to orally transfer information – known as presentingshould be almost eliminated. Think about it – we’re still in 2017 reading to people…and I might argue it’s one of the most inefficient ways to disseminate information.

I like Ann Latham and how she tweets her distaste for ‘treadmill’ verbs. Updating, discussing and reporting are three. Stop using meetings for such things. Use them to decide in the way LinkedIn execs do.

Aside from the problem of how we use meetings, we continue to permit poor planning and chairing of meetings. We throw people together in a room and try to make sense of why we are here. Horrific use of time. I know it feels all corporatey because we like to just come together and ‘collab’ but meeting discipline must be in place. The meeting chair at all times must simply be on it. Kicking off with why we are here, what decisions are we making, what does success look like and then following through by driving to these outcomes. Anything less must not be tolerated, or else you are on a deliberate path to being crushed under the weight of your own bureaucracy once you scale up.

Lastly, we have to take a step back from our social instincts. We think larger teams deliver more productivity when in fact the opposite is true. Teams should ideally be 2-4 people. We also need to develop better instincts for when working independently is more effective (and preferred) than co-working. We have these unproductive habits to gather whenever something’s going on like huskies banding together to shield each other from the winter’s cold. Sometimes we can truly be stronger and more effective apart.

You are in position to influence an action plan.

All of us have ideas and a vision of what we’d like to see done better. Yet nothing happens.

I believe startups and SMEs are in a much better position to drive change because processes and practices are essentially culture issues, and cultures are hard to change in large companies. That’s why I’m working toward a C-level role in a startup that sees this opportunity, so I can dang well just implement a new way of working and then show it to the world in how it plays out in company agility and employee motivation #bucketlist

If you are at a lower level and in a bigger company, I say harness all that b*tching that happens at corporate happy hour. Exercise your change management skills and influence transformation from the bottom up; consider it a part of your leadership development. Better than any course you might take.


Your mind needs to be in the right place to effect or influence wholesale transformation, which is what organizations large and small desperately need. Once you’re set, you’ll be ready take the work process part of org culture into the 21st century by perhaps installing some thinking that I have laid out in another post, or thoughts of your own.

Don’t be a poor-man’s leader by sending out an email or doing one big presentation on ‘the new way’ and then pat yourself on the back for a job well done as you return to your desk. Change takes planning, launch and reinforcement, likely months for each phase. Charting and sailing in new directions takes time and energy; I assure you, though, that if you make that investment, you will see returns in employee happiness, productivity and corporate agility to an extent you never imagined.