Make Time Work For You
By Dan Coughlin
39-year-old executive in a large corporation, told me she
desperately wanted to improve her work/life balance and her results
at work. She had two children at home, and her husband worked an
equally time consuming job. She was constantly working or taking
care of her family. However, her business results were not
improving, her career was stalling, and she wanted to see her
“Julie, you need to do some things just for yourself to recharge
your batteries. If you don’t, you may very well burn out and that
won’t help your company, your career, or your family.”
looked at me and said, “And exactly when am I going to have time to
do that?” Does any of this sound familiar? Here are seven Actions
to Improve Your Most Important Business Outcomes, Accelerate Your
Career, and Have a Life
the business upside of down time: People oftentimes say they get
their best ideas while in the shower. That’s because they stop doing
activities for a moment and give their brains a chance to relax. By
going on vacations, getting home early, and watching your kids play
soccer, you can actually gain ideas on how to improve your business
results. Seems paradoxical, but when you buy into this concept you
will stop doing so many activities and achieve even better business
Schedule thinking time: Since ideas come to you when you get
away from work activities, schedule one hour a week just to think.
Find a space away from your home, office, employees, and customers.
Go there for one hour a week. Take out a blank sheet of paper, write
down the most important desired business outcome for your
organization, and turn that outcome into an open-ended question. If
the goal is to increase sales by 10%, the question might be, “How
can we increase sales to our current clients by 10%?” Then answer
that question with as many ideas as you can think of for 45 minutes.
Finally, select your best idea and spend the last 15 minutes
building your action plan. That one hour can make the rest of your
working hours far more productive. It can allow you to work a lot
less while achieving a lot more.
“No”: One of my all-time favorite ads is a BMW ad that simply
said, “No” in large letters. In the small print it basically said
BMW says no to a lot of good ideas so it can say yes to a few great
ideas. That is tremendous advice!
good ideas are you acting on? Notice I didn’t say, “How many good
ideas are you considering?” It’s healthy to consider a lot of ideas.
It’s like sifting through sand to find gold. You do have to go
through a lot of sand to find the gold, but you don’t run to the
marketplace with sand in your hand and get all excited. You keep
sifting until you find the gold. Keep generating ideas and keep
sifting through them until you find the one to three great ideas you
will act on.
try to do more than three great ideas because before you know it
you’ve turned gold into sand. Trying to do too many ideas at once is
a sure-fire way to generate mediocre results.
doing the wrong things: The key to Toyota’s greatness can be
summarized in a single word, “Stop.” On the manufacturing floor any
Toyota employee can simply see something that is wrong with an
automobile and say, “Stop.” Then the assembly process comes to a
halt until the problem is fixed. That is in essence the key to
making the highest quality automobiles in the world.
your projects. Is there anything that’s going wrong? If so, stop the
process and fix the problem right away. One of the biggest time
wasters is redoing work you’ve already done.
yesterday: Here’s one more secret to Toyota’s success. It’s not
that they are just saying stop. With each step in everything they
do, they sincerely try to get better. They call this “kaizen,” which
basically means, “How can we make today better than yesterday, and
tomorrow better than today?”
around your business. When do you need to say “no” and “stop”?
Instead of doing a lot of good ideas, focus on doing a few great
ideas. But it’s not enough just to do fewer things. Do those few
things with such focus and attention and with such a desire to
improve that you do them better than you’ve ever done them before.
the 1-3-6 Rule: Here’s the rule:
-Write down the single most important business outcome you want to
improve in your organization.
-Then write down the three things you can do that would have the
greatest positive impact on improving this business outcome.
- Then, and here’s the hardest step, write down the six things
you are going to stop doing so you will have the time and the energy
to do the three things that matter the most.
invariably say everything they’re doing is important, and they can’t
stop anything. While it may be true that everything they’re doing is
important, not everything they’re doing is as important as
everything else they’re doing. Some important things will have a
greater impact on improving their desired outcome than other
keep doing everything you’re currently doing, how are you ever going
to have the time and the energy to do really well the three things
that matter the most? As you let go of activities and focus your
energy, your most important results will improve. Remember, you’re
not paid to do activities; you’re paid to improve results.
one of my favorite quotes from Apple’s Jonathan Ive, the leader of
the design team for the iPod (Fortune magazine September 2006):
“We don’t make very much
stuff. That’s a very important part of our approach to what we do,
which is to not do a lot of unnecessary stuff but just to focus and
really try very sincerely to care so much about the few things that
Sacrifice to accelerate: In summary, look around you and decide
what you can let go. What meetings, projects, customer visits, and
processes can you stop doing? Find the fewest activities that will
have the greatest positive impact on improving your most important
business outcome. Then do those two or three activities to the very
best of your ability within a reasonable time frame. And then go
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