Your alarm goes off at 6:30 a.m.; you wake up and check your mail—40 new emails since 6 p.m. the previous evening from your colleagues, boss, spam and other urgent matters that need escalation and the day has just begun. Welcome to an average day in 2013!
How did we arrive here? When email technology was first introduced into the corporate world, way back in the late ’80s, it was designed to be a simple messaging system, something you would read and delete. Not the critical source of all your work in progress, important information with multiple attachments, discussions, urgent escalations, contractual terms and request for decisions.
So, here we are, in the second decade of the 21st century battling all these multiple sources of stress-producing requests, not to mention all the emails that are CC’d to you to keep you in the loop as well as for other reasons such as “perception management” and the all too familiar “cover their back maneuver.” The net result is that many need to work 50 to 55 hours a week to simply keep their jobs!
When laptops were invented in the ’90s the goal was “Computing Any Time Any Where,” except now a lot of the information is stuck at work in shared drives and corporate emails. How many can relate to sending a plan or a document for review to colleagues via email and then receiving back another three copies of the document with comments? Now you have to collate the information and create a new version of the document. Then there are hours spent manually updating PowerPoint slides and Excel sheets for reporting purposes each week or month. Not to mention ad-hoc requests for information or analysis that can turn an average day upside down.
Here is the irony, when it comes to finding any new information externally—whether a fancy restaurant in a new city, booking a flight, hotel, what our friends are up to, or the latest trend in our industry—we have that information at our finger tips thanks to the digital age of Google, Facebook and Twitter. And yet, when it comes to internal company information, a critical piece of information or something you need from your colleagues, you could spend hours looking for that info or chasing down your colleagues to get it.
Let us not overlook the other major contributing factor to workload: “Corporate restructure” a euphemism for reducing head count and the implicit expectation that those that are lucky enough to hold their jobs will be grateful and take on the additional workload. So, like a game of musical chairs, with every restructure those who are left behind have the double edged sword of having a job and additional workload.
So what is the answer? How does one stay on top of work, avoid stress and make time for fun and quality time with the family? How does one avoid that uneasy feeling that wakes you up in the middle of night as you find yourself thinking about that deadline or action you missed due to other urgent matters.
There are five ways to achieve this:
1. Technology can come to your aid to help you work smarter: There are alternate ways to collaborate with your colleagues and minimize the time spent collating information manually or searching for important information like looking for a needle in a haystack.
Cloud-based software systems can help you collaborate with your colleagues so that we are all looking at one version of the truth, minimize the time spent in manual reporting through auto-generated reports and serve as your personal assistant by providing you with all the actions that you need to accomplish for your projects each day or week.
2. Prioritize your work: By prioritizing your work using the “80-20” rule, you will find that important results can be achieved without the long hours. A guide to prioritizing your work is to look at your goals for the quarter and ask yourself: “How does this task directly or indirectly relate to achieving my goals?” You will find that a lot of the work is doing business with each other across the corridor to manage perceptions and does not really add value to the business.
3. Prioritize your personal calendar: While you cannot be everywhere at the same time, it is paramount that you make time for activities or events that are important to you. Lock those events in your calendar. From an anniversary or your child graduating from middle school, these events are important to you and you will regret missing them if you let work get in the way. Plan and make time for them.
4. Avoid Fire Drills: Every workplace has bad days or weeks where you are forced into a “Fire Drill” but don’t make it a standard way of operating—it is not good for you or the business.
5. Look at the big picture: Everything in life is a trade-off. For every situation that presents itself, there are many choices open to you. If working 80 hours a week pleases you then by all means do it. If, however, you want to make time for other things that are important to you, then choose a career that allows you to have that balance. Sometimes it is too easy to get stuck in a groove and lose sight of the big picture.