“More” might power our economy, but “more” can be a lousy way to lead your career. More appointments, more meetings, more calls, more emails, more people to manage, more people posting pictures of their dog on your social media stream…will drive you crazy. It all adds up to a life that resembles a hamster on his exercise wheel.
Over time, I’ve learned six ways to reduce the nonsense in my life and focus on what’s important.
1. Take The Repeat Test
Here is a way to potentially save hours of your time each week; you will need to invest about five minutes a day in extra effort.
First thing in the morning, take a piece of paper and write a column of numbers representing each hour from the time you wake up until you go to sleep. Mine starts like this:
For each day, at the top of every hour stop for ten seconds and consider how happy you are with the way you spent your time. Did you invest it wisely? If the answer is yes, do not write anything.
But if you would not repeat the way you spent the past hour, next to the number representing that hour write a few words that describes what you did. On one of my lists, for example, at 2 p.m. I wrote “listened to Simon pontificate,” meaning that it was a waste of my time to meet with him.
Stick with this exercise all day; it takes very little time, just the discipline to stop every hour for a few seconds. But at the end of the day, youʼll have a list of activities you wish you avoided. If the list has more than one or two items, you might want to continue the practice for a few more days or weeks.
If you make this timesaving practice a habit, youʼll soon start to spot patterns. It will be easier to recognize ways in which you are wasting time and eﬀort, and youʼll do a better job of avoiding these.
2. Start A Don’t Do List
Now that you have some sense of what not to do, try tossing out your To Do list and replacing it with a Don’t Do list. Simply making this change is a highly effective timesaving tactic.
Make a list of the things you, your family, or your company should no longer do.
Here are a couple of work and personal examples, to give you the idea…
- At work, make a list of actions you will no longer take, such as meeting with anyone from ____ department, or attending a meeting with more than five people in it.
- At home, decide which TV shows you can turn oﬀ. Find ways to avoid extra trips to the grocery store or dry cleaners. Steer clear of the same energy-wasting arguments you have had ten times before.
3. Practice “Instead Of…”
Ever notice that you have a fresh perspective at work right after you come back from a vacation? Sometimes, to solve challenging problems you need to change your perspective. It often doesn’t matter what you change, but rather is more important that you change something, anything.
To remove objectionable and meaningless obstacles from your path, you often need to find a fresh perspective. To make that easier, here are some possibilities…
- Instead of frowning at an interruption… smile
- Instead of talking… listen
- Instead of making assumptions… observe details
- Instead of obsessing with one solution… list ten possible solutions
- Instead of working alone… work with others
- Instead of filling every moment…. sit still for 20 minutes
4. Less What?
Fill in the blank:
I want less __________.
Here are some possible answers…
- demands on my time
- financial pressures
- people to manage
- things to read
Once you have your answer, write it in BIG letters on your wall or screen. Refer to it every day. Banish this item from your life.
5. Take Responsibility For Changing Your Career (And Life)
When I was in college, one of my less traditional courses was called simply “Management.” I say less traditional because we spent much time sitting on the floor, out in the woods, or watching one or more classmates literally run from the room in tears or anger.
On the last day of class, the professor was asking for our comments on the course, trying to discover what, if anything, we had learned during the semester.
When my turn came, I spoke about the time we spent hours engaged in an imaginary community. During this “exercise,” the professor would occasionally appear to change the rules of the community. My comment was that I wished the rules had changed more often, that we got stuck for too long in unproductive situations.
The professor started jumping up and down, and shouting, “Yes, yes, yes!” He slapped his hands on my desk and sort of hugged me. I was just as confused as the rest of the class, but by this point we knew to be patient and wait for his explanation.
Eventually he settled down and said, “This is one of the greatest lessons you can learn. People always look elsewhere for change. They want someone else to change the rules. But in the vast majority of cases, nothing is stopping them from changing things themselves.”
We talked about this for a while. When things got stuck, could I have changed the rules myself? Could I have convinced others it was time for a change? Or could I have done something dramatic that would have changed the flow of the activity?
I didn’t do this simply because I expected change to come from the outside. Ever since this moment, which is the only time my actions caused a fully grown professor at a well-respected university to jump around like a monkey, I have taken this lesson to heart.
You have a much greater power to instigate change than you might think. The only real question is how much you are willing to pay to produce the change you desire. “Payment” is usually due in terms of time, effort and risk… not in monetary form.
If you don’t like some aspect of your career or life, invest the necessary time and effort, and get rid of it.
6. When All Else Fails, Give Up
Something’s not quite right. Maybe you are slightly ill-at-ease, or you are frustrated without knowing exactly why.
Try giving up something out of the many things that crowd your life. Here are some ideas:
- Give up one or more obligations.
- Clean out your office or study.
- Figure out which reports/publications you can ignore, and cancel them.
- Look at your schedule and figure out whether you really need to get together with all the people on it.
- Go through your budget – if you have one – and decide whether there’s room to cut out some expenses. If you don’t have one, scribble down some numbers on the back of an envelope. (It’s a start.)
- Take an hour to consider how you go about your business, and see if you can simplify some of the steps you go through to get things done.
Less won’t solve all your problems, just many of them.
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This article was written by Bruce Kasanoff from Forbes and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.