Tuesday 6 April 2010

Sinking or Swimming?

One of the most common things I hear from corporate clients is that they are swamped at work. The email never stops (and most of it's crud), the interruptions never cease, there are so many things wrong that everything's inefficient.

If this is you, you're in fire fighting mode. Low efficiency, high stress, high misery. And it's a trap because you're too busy fighting fires to install sprinklers. Chances are it bleeds out into your home life too - because you'll come home stressed miserable and exhausted with no energy to enjoy what little time you have.

If you haven't already done it, it's well worth completing my online Happy At Work? Survey. The report you'll get contains a lot of useful ideas.

But today I wanted to give you some of the biggies; the ones that help almost every corporate coaching client I have to such an extent that there lives really do change. I've seen them work for people in very diverse situations - including form my recent client list: a consultant surgeon, a school head master, a teacher, a nurse and a builder.

There is a catch. They are SIMPLE (easily described) but not easy (difficult to accomplish). That's why the coaching component is often essential, but if you're not ready for the investment, then by all means try them on your own.


Improve your awareness of what you do by keeping a diary for a week. Arrange for something to go BEEP ay you every 30 minutes and when it does, record what you have done since the last beep. Perhaps you can use your computer alarms and your keyboard. Maybe it's your mobile phone and its voice recorder. Could even be a little book. People often sigh when I propose this because (a) they think it's a lot of work and (b) they feel it's pointless because they already know where their time goes. But this is not a deep reflective diary, it's a bare-bones record of activities. Entries might be a single word ("audit" or "Monday meeting"). And I guarantee you that your diary will surprise you - because your perception of how you spend your time will be horribly mistaken. At the end of your week, take a look at the facts you collected. When you really know what you really do - it's time for step 2.

Simple, huh? Ahh, I love this job. £80 please. But seriously, this IS the next step. If you're going to be less busy you have to do less stuff. The trick, of course, is to do that without getting fired. There are usually three options - think of them as your three magic wishes: Decimate, Automate and Delegate.

Decimate (strictly "divide into ten parts") means, for our purposes - to destroy. To somehow remove the need for that task to ever be done again. If any task has too little benefit to justify the cost of doing it, then switch it off. Make it go away. Forever. For example - if you keep getting email which you then have to delete - arrange to stop receiving it. Un-subscribe. If necessary, desert your email account and make a new one. If you keep going to regular meetings which serve no purpose, see if you can stop going. Go through your diary and for each task, ask if it really needs doing. If it doesn't, decimate it - if it does, move to automation.

Automation has characterised the growth of humankind for the last thousand years or so. We've developed increasingly sophisticated ways to get the job done with less personal doing. Machines do that for us - whether they are cars (get there without doing the walking thing) or computers (general purpose doers of things). You probably have a computer - what can you arrange for it to do for you? Other ways to automate include paying for everything by credit card so that your monthly spending is captured for you, paying everything by direct debit - no more cheque writing/posting queuing etc. Sometimes automation is not easy, but if it removes a task from your life permanently - then it has a lot to offer which may justify a huge investment. But if you can't automate it, you've got one of you three wishes left. Delegation.

Delegation just means give it to someone else to do. Often the tasks we find allocated to us at work are ours for very poor reasons. Perhaps the bloke who should do it is an idiot or lazy. Perhaps you got it because at the time you were new and defenceless. Re-assess. Ask yourself if you're the right person for the job - and if you're not - give it to its rightful (though doubtless ungrateful) owner. Fraught with difficulties, I'm sure - but you must expect it to get worse before it gets better. Embrace the challenge.

Well, those are the magic three. The magic is really in the doing, and that's where most people get defeated. Why not leave a comment or question and I'll address it here for you.

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