How Would You Like To Be Remembered?

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For many of us writing is not a full time job – yet. We can dream. Until the day we are ‘discovered’ w e have to pay the Government, feed the kids and help pay many, many, many other peoples’ mortgages.  I suspect you find, like me, there is never enough time to write. Life is taken up with all those ‘things that get in the way’. Writing is shoved in between  cleaning the bathroom and mending the brakes on the car. You wonder where the time went as you look back on most days and realise that you’ve achieved nothing. Maybe it’s time to see if  you can manage your time a little more effectively. I know. I know. Time management is usually so boring with activity logs, time sheets time logs, Time Tac, Toggl and Time Tiger. This is different – it’s free. It’s about you and determining what is important to you.

Try this exercise. Imagine it’s ten years in the future. You find yourself in a church at your own funeral. One by one people you know get up and talk about you and your contribution to the world. What are they going to say ? What will your partner, your kids, your colleagues say ? I can bet all the money in my pocket they won’t be like Mr Burns  when he thought he was dying announcing, “I just wish I’d spent more time at the office.”

Ask yourself this question – “How would I like to be remembered ?” What would you like those who care about you, and you care about, to say ? What would you want to leave behind you? You need time to think about this. Once you’ve really got this big picture sorted you can move on.

The next step is an exercise from Stephen Covey. It’s known as ‘Stephen Covey’s Big Rocks’-

Imagine a bucket. Put three or four big rocks in.

“Is the bucket full ? ” I ask.

“No” you reply.

“Of course not” I say and put some smaller rocks in it to fill in the gaps.

“Full now ? ”

“No”. I put in some sand. Then I add some water. It’s full.

So, what’s the learning here ? It’s to do with the order. What would happen if I’d reversed the order ? What if I’d put the water in first, then the sand, then the small rocks. There would be no room for the big rocks. These big rocks are the important things in your life. You need to schedule them first, not try to squeeze them in after arranging the water ( writing pointless reports ), sand ( unnecessary travel ) or small rocks ( staff meetings where no-one listens and everyone looks at the clock ).

What are the big rocks in your life ? For many it’s things like family, time to watch the children grow up, time to finish that novel, time for themselves, time to make a difference. You decide. You identify 3 or 4 things you believe are important. The 3 or 4 things that will make a difference at your funeral.

When you’ve decided what they are then schedule them. Schedule time for yourself, time to take that creative writing class, time to spend a week with the children at half term. Once these times are scheduled, fit the rest of your work around them.

It’s not big and it’s not clever to work more than forty hours a week. I repeat, it’s not big and it’s not clever. So stop it. Stop that ‘poor me, look how many hours I work’ nonsense. Work as little as you can. Do as much as you can in the time agreed, but once you’ve done – run away – go home. The surprise will be how little people miss you. It may be hard at first to realise the world of work can carry on without you but give it time. This feeling will be replaced by one of immense joy. “I’m dispensable !” This will give you enormous freedom.

But never forget the big picture. Why save 30 minutes by delegating some work when ‘re only going to spend it playing online poker. (Well, that’s the theory, but maybe becoming an online poker millionaire is one of your big rocks?).

Remember you can’t save time – you’ve only got so much. You know that. So, what do you want to be remembered for ?

 You can read the opening chapter of ‘Mynydd Eimon: Private Hell’ here, or you can get the book on Amazon and Kindle here

 You can get the ‘Essential Management Skills’ Kindle book here    

Work Life Balance

First appeared in ‘Fitness Life’ (N.Z.)

“We are too busy mopping the floor to turn off the faucet.” – Anon.

I bet you wish you had more time. I guess there’s been at least one occasion in the past week where you wish you had more time to go to the gym, spend time with someone you really wanted to, read a book, write that novel. What I’m hoping to do in this article is to encourage you to think again about the way you spend your time. I’ll try to explain why we often unconsciously make the decisions we do and give you a few ideas on how to take a little more control of your time.

There has been a phrase that has crept into the language in recent years that people listen to, nod sagely and then dismiss – “work-life balance”. People know it’s a good idea – it’s sensible and people will agree that it would be a brilliant idea – yet still find it incredibly difficult to implement any changes.

OK. I know we need to earn money to live. We need money to spend on those nice things we do when we’re not in work. However, I’m not convinced that people think about this carefully enough. I know a lot of individuals who work far too many hours than they’re paid for. I also have some ideas why they find it incredibly difficult to change.

A recent study looked at people who had undergone bypass heart surgery. By changing their lifestyle after the surgery the patients could avoid pain and the risk of further surgery or even death. The study found that only 1 in 10 people changed their lifestyle for more than 2 years. So, it’s apparent that change is incredibly difficult to implement. Changing the behaviour of people is the biggest challenge facing the health industry, business and life in general today. Time management is a key example of this.

As a management consultant I frequently work with teams that have ‘time management issues’. I ask them to solve a problem. Invariably they will all be working away on their own scribbling circles, lines, formulae and getting quite frustrated and not performing particularly well. I ask them what would be the most effective way of solving this problem? Eventually I get the answer that if they all worked together as a team they would get a better answer. I ask them why they didn’t.

This usually produces an interesting response. After blaming me, others and themselves the discussion invariably comes down to conditioning. For twenty, thirty, forty years they’ve been rewarded for individual effort. In fact we’re frequently punished for co-operating, or cheating, as it was known in my school. This behaviour becomes part of us and we find it very difficult to change. When the discussion reaches this point I ask them to continue working as a group. They always have far more energy at this point and usually come up with the answer.

For me this is the essential element in changing your life and achieving a better time – life balance. You need to accept that change is difficult. Often it’s difficult because you’ve had years and years of conditioning. The first step is to acknowledge and identify as many barriers as you can that will stop you. A great many of these barriers are imprinted in your formative years.

For example as a child brought up in Wales in the 60s I was never allowed to miss a day’s school (even if I were really ill and infected everyone else). I always ate all my food or else I couldn’t have sweet. I was told to ‘work hard – play hard’ (with the emphasise on work first), plus another few hundred conditioning behaviours I’m not aware of that I guess are still affecting me.

This conditioning process can be overcome and if you know the reason it will be a lot easier. A simple illustration of this would be ‘tea drinking’. For a long time I would drink tea and leave half an inch of liquid at the bottom of my cup. It was only after someone pointed this out to me that I started thinking about this. When I was young I used to leave a little tea in my cup because there were always the dregs and tealeaves at the bottom and it would taste horrible. When teabags came along I continued that practice without realising.

There are similar thoughts about work being good and having to be completed fully before you’re allowed to enjoy any leisure time. Perhaps it’s part of the protestant work ethic or catholic guilt but I found it difficult to enjoy a day off work in the week. This came to the fore when I worked in a betting office every Saturday and had a weekday off. No doubt there was a barrier somewhere in my head stopping me enjoying my leisure time on a ‘school day’. Having identified this obstruction it became so much easier to enjoy myself.

To help identify your own barriers the first thing you need to do is to work out what really is important in your life. To do this you can borrow a technique from Stephen Covey called ‘big rocks’. You need to imagine your life as a bucket. Now work out the 3 or 4 things that are the fundamental parts of your life. These will be the things you care deeply about – these often, but not always, tend to be related with people – partners, children, yourself, friends. Having identified these ‘big rocks’ imagine the bucket. Imagine putting these rocks in. Then adding small stones. Then add some sand and finally some water until the bucket is full.

Still with me? OK. Now imagine putting all these elements into the bucket in a different order – water first, then sand, stones, then finally your big rocks. What would happen is that the bucket would overflow and there wouldn’t be any room for your big rocks to fit comfortably.

So, the learning is about the order of things. Deal with the most important aspects first – manage your ‘big rocks’. This means make time for the important things in your life. The other aspects of your life – stones, sand, water will fit around them.

Having completed this exercise a number of years ago I sat down and scheduled the coming month in a different way. I scheduled my big rocks first – My daughter was 2 years old at the time and I booked time to be with her, made time and arrangements to take my partner out and found a few days for myself. I then scheduled my work around these. It really helped that I was aware of some of the barriers that would get in the way. I made a conscious effort to accept that I had to change my way of thinking. I realised that it would be difficult initially to walk away from the office with tasks not completed. However I felt it was important enough to go through that initial uncomfortable feeling. At the time I was a management trainer in the Civil Service and frequently used to work 50 hours a week. I scheduled my 38 hours around my big rocks and sat back to wait for the fallout. No-one noticed. The office didn’t fall apart. The only people who noticed were friends who said that I looked happier, more enthusiastic.

It helped that I had a supportive manager and some degree of autonomy in my actions but having worked with many people over the years the vast majority of them have done something. For a few there really has been a life change. Try it. Who knows you may find that time to write that novel you’ve always promised yourself.

So They Think It’s All Overtime..?

First appeared in ‘Public Servant’ (U.K.)

Working smarter to eliminate a long-hours culture is an essential in the modern workplace. Some managers have yet to gasp that a work-life balance policy means little without practice

Senior managers encourage colleagues and staff to work more effectively (work smarter, not harder) and spend more time at home with their family, pets or hobbies. Yet their actions scream out just the opposite.

People are looked upon favourably at work for being available 80 hours a week. Managers are promoted for showing such dedication and dropping family plans to meet work commitments. Of course, it only seems right that these people are rewarded.

It follows that the others – the nine to fivers – who come in, do a good job and go home, will not get the same rewards. It is only when you stop and think about this that you realise what an unusual situation this is, and what messages are being sent.

People have a contract and are paid to do a job, for a set period. However they are frequently at a disadvantage if they do only that. They are expected to do more. This is not written anywhere – it is just assumed. It is part of the business culture. Imagine if this happened in sport.

In the World Cup, at the end of a 90-minute football match you would see one member of the team still out there playing – and expecting to be paid more. In the same way that 1,500-metres runners could not sustain the pace for an extra lap when they had trained for four laps of the track, people who are geared to working eight hours and then put in an extra two cannot sustain the quality of output.

Occasionally people can produce extra. Some who work long hours do so day after day. They do however become tired and prone to making mistakes. The workplace becomes the only place they know and they can lose perspective. They often come under pressure from home demands and become stressed.

This is well-documented but ignored. There is a short-term mindset that needs such dedicated staff to tackle the latest crisis. Managers believe they will address the problems eventually, but not just yet.

The key to breaking out of this cycle is the behaviour of senior managers. They must set the example. It is not enough to sign an email produced by the HR department urging staff to look at work-life balance, when you are still working 100 hours yourself.

But why are leaders so driven to work ridiculous hours? If you ask them what they want out of life they invariably admit they would like more time with family or for other interests. Somehow they feel they cannot. It is to do with trust and control. There is also a feeling of being indispensable and exceptional. I suggest there is also a macho element to coping with pressure.

This behaviour reinforces the work-life messages to staff. People respond to actions rather than words. Those actions are usually set out in some form of performance management system. In most systems outputs or goals are measured as well as a range of competencies.

The outputs are fairly standard and well defined and will have been set for someone working a standard day and to a particular level of quantity and quality. If you cannot produce in the agreed time to the agreed quality you would fail to meet your objective.

The behaviour required, however, tends to highlight the differences in what is written and what is expected. Most sensible behaviour measures look at how effective people are at producing the outputs. Do they work as part of a team? Or do they steal all the nice work? Other measures have scope for reporting on the way people work – their level of commitment, their willingness to go above and beyond.

Frequently this is seen through the person’s willingness to work outside office hours. Sometimes this can be directly opposed to policy.

It is a nightmare trying to reconcile this and invariably policy is ignored as staff who work late are rewarded. What of the staff who cannot do this, because they have children to collect, parents to care for? Part-time staff tend to suffer a similar fate. They may be disadvantaged, not from any lack of commitment on their part, but from a lack of opportunity.

If people want to work longer hours – so be it. They need not necessarily be rewarded financially. If they enjoy putting in the long hours then work itself may be their reward. If managers want to encourage part-time staff, the first step is to ask what they need. They will have far more practical and creative ideas on how they can demonstrate their effectiveness.

Senior managers need to be role models and to mark out commitment by rewarding staff who do an excellent job in the time available.

Real Time Management or how would you like to be remembered

First appeared in ‘Business Plus’ (Ireland)

Time management training is awful. Time logging, hints for dealing with telephone calls, email tips – nothing seems to work. You can’t even begin to look at taking anything away from a time management course until you’ve considered your own mortality.

Try this exercise. It’s ten years in the future. You find yourself in a church at your own funeral. One by one people you know get up and talk about you and your contribution to the world. What are they going to say? What will your partner, your kids, your colleagues say? I can bet all the money in my pocket they won’t be wishing you’d spent just a few more hours in work at your desk.

So, having come to terms with your mortality what next? Next you look at the scenario slightly differently. How would you like to be remembered? What would you like those who care about you, and you care about, to say? That’ll be your starter. Once you’ve really got this big picture sorted you can move on.

The next exercise comes from Stephen Covey. It’s linked to the previous exercise and known as ‘Stephen Covey’s Big Rocks’. Imagine a bucket. Put three or four big rocks in. “Is the bucket full?” “No” you reply. “Of course not” I say and put some smaller rocks in it to fill in the gaps. “Full now? “, “No”. I put in some sand, then some water. It’s full.

So, what’s the learning here? It’s to do with the order. What would happen if you’d reversed the order? Put the water in first, then the sand, the small rocks. There would be no room for the big rocks. These big rocks are the important things in your life. You need to schedule them first, not try to squeeze them in after arranging the water (writing pointless reports), sand (unnecessary travel) or small rocks (staff meetings where no-one listens and everyone looks at the clock). What are the big rocks in your life? For many it’s things like family, time to watch the children grow up, time to write that novel, time for themselves, time to back a difference. You decide. You identify 3 or 4 things you believe are important. The 3 or 4 things that will make a difference at your funeral. When you’ve decided what they are then schedule them. Schedule time for yourself, time to take that French class, time to spend a week with the children at half term. Once these times are scheduled fit the rest of your work around them. Try it – it works.

It’s not big and it’s not clever to work more than forty hours a week. I repeat, it’s not big and it’s not clever. So stop it. Stop that ‘poor me, look how many hours I work’ nonsense. Work as little as you can. Do as much as you can in the time agreed, but once you’ve done – run away – go home. The surprise will be how little people miss you. It may be hard at first to realise the world of work can carry on without you but give it time. This feeling will be replaced by one of immense joy. “I’m dispensable!” This will give you enormous freedom.

There are ways of accelerating this process; get a team of happy people to work for you. Build a group of people who appreciate and trust you. One of the great ways of building up this trust and appreciation turns old time management theory on its head. When you arrive at work don’t get straight to your desk and start wading through emails. When you arrive at work talk to each member of your team, properly. Ask about their family, their son’s football match, the health of their car, their cat or whatever is important to them. Invest the time in people – it really pays dividends in the long run.

Once you’ve got all this sorted time management is a doddle. There are useful little tips about only opening emails twice a day that you can totally ignore. Why? Because you’re a human being and incredibly curious. Tips you can use in many ways – the Pareto principle. This states that 20% of effort gives you 80% of the result. This is excellent. Unless there is a dire need to complete everything (carrying out a heart transplant would fit into this category), ask yourself if you could live with getting 80%. If you can – perfect. You can then do something else and get the 80% of that from 20% of the effort.

There are lots of hints and tips about time logs, to do lists, telephones, meetings, emails, mails, procrastination, “time stealers” (a philosophically difficult concept for me to get my head around), paperwork and working from home. Have a look at each one. Then discount 80% of them. If you’ve heard of them but still not doing them my guess is you never will. If they are new and sound interesting – try them.

But never forget the big picture. Why save 10 minutes in handling paperwork if you’re only going to spend it trawling through useless emails. Remember you can’t save time – you’ve only got so much. You know that. So now, what do you want to be remembered for?

It’s About Time or How Would You Like to be Remembered?

First appeared in ‘Family Business’ (U.S.A.)

As a family business owner, you’re usually pressed for time. More often than not, the problems stem from the very reason you decided to set up the business in the first place — to work with your family.

Even though you own the company, you never have time for anything you really want to do. You spend your working hours surrounded by family, but there’s no quality in it — you never seem to talk about anything significant. When you see your children, it’s only to take them somewhere or bring them back.

What can you do about this? In my view, time management training is not the solution. The books are generally dry as dust — suggestions for time logging, impractical hints for dealing with telephone calls, e-mail tips that assume you’re about 12 years old. None of them seem to work.

Instead, try this exercise. Imagine that you’re a guest at your own funeral. One by one, people you love get up and talk about you and your contribution to the world. What do they say? I can bet all the money in my pocket they won’t be wishing you’d spent more time at your desk.

Next, look at the scenario slightly differently. How would you like to be remembered? That’s your starter. Don’t worry if you haven’t got all the answers (or any of them) yet. As long as you’ve started to think about it, you’re on the right track.

The key exercise comes from Stephen Covey. Imagine a bucket. Put three or four big rocks in. Is the bucket full? “No,” you reply. Put some smaller rocks in to fill the gaps. Is it full now? “Not yet.” So add some sand, then some water. Now it’s full.

So what’s the lesson here? It has to do with the order. What would happen if you’d reversed it? Put the water in first, then the sand, then the small rocks. There would be no room for the big rocks. These big rocks are the important things in your life. You must schedule them first. Don’t try to squeeze them in after arranging the water (pointless meetings), sand (unnecessary travel) or small rocks (meetings that take three times as long as needed because no one is properly prepared). Once these things are scheduled, fit the rest of your work around them.

There are lots of hints about time logs, to-do lists, phone calls, meetings, e-mails and paperwork. Have a look at each one — then discount 80% of them. If you’ve heard of them but are still not following them, my guess is you never will. If they are new and intriguing, try them.

But never forget the big picture. Why save ten minutes handling paperwork if you’re only going to spend it trawling through useless e-mails? Remember: You can’t save time; you have only so much of it. You know that. So now, what do you want to be remembered for?