A Zen master once told me, “Do the opposite of what I tell you.”
So I didn’t.
In a world full of noise; fast-paced entertainment; and can’t-fail, must-be-done-right-now missions, we must keep calm and, well, carry on.
Our business here at Engility is no exception. Many long-term employees tell me things have never been busier.
“I need another two or three hours in the day,” a colleague told me recently. She’s one of the most organized and productive people I know, so it’s hard to imagine her working any harder. Alas, we only get 24 every day. That’s finite. The competition isn’t slowing down any, and our customers’ missions aren’t shrinking or getting easier, so staying busy is really the “new normal.”
So what to do? I think the answer lies in getting perspective. The four tips below can help with that.
- 1. Make Time.
The other day I looked at a vice president’s calendar. Literally every minute of every day was taken up with some meeting, review, or activity. The VP didn’t have time to do any work or even eat lunch.
I asked, “When do you get any work done?”
He replied, “That’s what weekends are for.”
If you don’t respect your own time, no one else will, either. Take control by blocking out some time every week to do work. To reflect. To network. To read up on some professional development. To have a decent lunch with a colleague.
Of course we have to be flexible. I have time blocked on my calendar to actually do work, but if my boss or her boss or one of the other executives I support puts an item in there, I get to it. But I find a way to make that time up by moving something else around.
And I find I can get a little time on the weekends.
- 2. Exercise.
Sir Richard Branson starts every day with a light workout. He’s worth about $5.1 billion right now. I figure there’s a correlation.
Branson also knows what more and more people are understanding: Our human bodies evolved to support a hunter-gatherer lifestyle. Studies on extant hunter-gatherers indicate they walk anywhere from 7 to 15 miles every day. And that’s just walking—these people are also chopping wood, lifting and moving heavy objects, and carrying children or supplies. We are built for an active way of life—not to sit at desks, staring at glowing screens for 8 hours a day.
Listen to your body and get up and moving. You’ll be amazed at how a little exercise can increase your productivity, reduce stress, and improve your overall health.
- 3. Laugh.
Langston Hughes wrote, “Like a welcome summer rain, humor may suddenly cleanse and cool the earth, the air, and you.”
Don’t get me wrong; what we do at Engility is in many cases deadly serious. We put people into space; we send our employees to some of the most dangerous places on earth; and lives literally depend on our work.
Like summer rains, though, humor can reset heat and humidity, clear the air, and bring a fresh breeze to an otherwise stuffy situation. Read the room—humor must be proportional, and the timing is very important. In my experience, even life-threatening situations can become more tolerable by laughing in the midst of them, and more importantly, by laughing at them.
- 4. Focus on what's really important.
Everyone wants your attention. We have commitments at work, with our families, in our communities, friends, hobbies, etc., all vying for time and focus.
Prioritizing keeps things in perspective.
A mentor of mine once put it this way: In order to focus on priorities at work, ask these questions:
- What’s got your boss’ attention?
- What needs to happen now to keep the business moving?
- What do your subordinates need to be successful?
Remember, we only have this one life to live.
Five-thousand years ago, in what’s now Iraq, a Sumerian poet named Sin-liqe-unninni wrote down the epic of Gilgamesh. In it, a demigoddess named Siduri advises the hero to:
“…fill your belly with good things;
day and night, night and day, dance and be merry,
feast and rejoice.
Let your clothes be fresh,
bathe yourself in water,
cherish the little child that holds your hand…”
Those old Sumerians weren’t dummies.
Working harder isn’t the answer. Like the Zen master noted above, working smarter requires some counterintuitive behavior from you. Make time for yourself, get up and move away from your desk, laugh, and, most importantly, keep the important stuff in front of you. You’ll become more effective, more productive, and more fulfilled.