“I’m just so busy and I don’t have time to get anything else done.” Ever said that? Or heard someone say that? Of course you have. We are a very busy society and there is always something else to do. Leadership literature is replete with suggestions on how to better manage your time, and a leader must be conscious of where they are spending their time. Whether it is attempting to maintain a work/life balance, the time spent on continuous learning, or fighting hard to meet a deadline, a leader must be conscious of their time. Here’s something that might help – stop doing some things.
“What?? Such blasphemy! You just don’t understand how busy I am!!” Actually I do. We all do. We are all busy. Here’s a key, however. The sustained leader never confuses activity with progress. Everyone is familiar with the classic “To Do” list and many people take great pleasure in crossing items off such a list. My suggestion is quite different. Make a “Stop Doing” list. As Aristotle has reminded us, “What lies in our power to do lies in our power not to do.” Stop doing things that do not enhance your leadership.
Acting in Support of your Goals
Let’s consider your vision. Certainly you have a vision for your life – what you want to achieve, how you want to be remembered. And from that vision you have developed a strategy to get there. To implement that strategy you have put together a list of goals, and to achieve those goals you have put some tactics to use. And every day you perform some task or tasks to fulfill those tactics that move you toward achievement of your goals that support your strategy to move you closer to achieving your vision. If you haven’t laid out your plans in this fashion, what’s keeping you? Oh! Right. You’re too busy.
We all have our favorite time wasting activities. Procrastination affects us all. And of course we are entitled to our “down time” and our time dedicated to self-care. All of those activities must be balanced for optimum health and energy, along with getting enough sleep, getting enough exercise, eating healthy meals, and playing with the kids or pets. This is NOT a suggestion to simply stop doing any of these important things. What we will discuss are the things you truly should stop doing, the things that need a different time allotment, and a few things that might deserve a greater time allotment.
Gather Your Data. Surprise Yourself.
If you are unaware of where your time goes, get yourself a good online timeclock. There are many available, some free, others at nominal cost. If you are free-lancing you need accurate time keeping for your clients any way. But do not limit your entries to billable hours. Do you read a lot? Do you have family members who need your assistance? Do you watch a lot of TV? Do you spend a lot of time making healthy meals or taking care of house, home, and family? None of that makes money, but it takes your time. Keep track of EVERYTHING and don’t cheat. Do this for a week or two. Then assess – what are you really spending your time doing? Do you spend a lot of time on Facebook or Twitter? Do you play solitaire or are you into gaming? Is StumbleUpon one of your favorite sites? How much time do you spend reading blogs or listening to Podcasts? Again – this is not to judge any of these activities. It is solely to give you the facts you need to make a decision. Attentive readers know that a sustained leader is always fact-based. (Element 18.104.22.168).
With your data set you can now start to put your many activities in some priority order. Client work is always first (in the work category). Other obligations, whether family commitments, physical health or mental health, must also be given high priority. Those are the easy ones. Let’s look more closely at the other stuff you do.
How much TV do you watch? Really? Honestly? When you get bored or stuck doing work, what do you find yourself defaulting to? Solitaire, StumbleUpon, blogs, podcasts, video games? We all have our vices. Don’t pretend that you don’t. You are just lying to yourself. This is where you need to take a very serious look. Kenny would get tired and pop up solitaire to “decompress.” Several hours later he would wake up sitting in front of his computer having lost several hours of work time, and several hours of comfortable, and necessary, REM sleep. He would have been much better served by shutting things down and going to bed before opening solitaire.
Others, (should we say, “Name changed to protect the innocent”?) have a different issue. In 2016 the world watched 300,000,000 hours more porn than in 2015. Almost 92 BILLION videos were viewed accounting for 5,246 CENTURIES of time wasted. Imagine if all of those were billable hours of productive work.
The point is simply that we all find ways to waste time. And your life will not be deprived if you simply stop doing things that truly waste your time. Let’s suggest a different approach.
Some Diversions Are Healthy
There are some things that you genuinely enjoy. Perhaps a favorite TV show, video game, or diversion like fishing or playing golf. What would happen if you cut back on those activities? Maybe 80% or 50% or even just 10%. How much time would that save you? What if….. you decided to convert some of those activities into rewards? Once you have read or written 200 pages you get to play nine holes. You are not giving up golf, you are reprioritizing it. And knowing you get the reward, you are more likely to focus on getting those 200 pages done.
Here’s another thought. Whether it is a new year’s resolution, a lent commitment, or just a ”start today” initiative, what if you gave up one of your time wasters for 30 days? Nothing permanent. Just a trial run. Next month you can remove your second greatest time waster – for 30 days. Ben Franklin did something similar to reduce his bad habits. If you haven’t yet read his Autobiography, you should. It is absolutely NOT a waste of time.
But let’s take a harder look at that Stop Doing List. Here are some common entries on the list:
Eating fast food
Drinking at all
Drinking and driving
Eating a whole package of cookies in one sitting
Eating a whole half-gallon of ice cream in one sitting
Stalling on making that phone call that needs to be made
Twitter, Facebook, Snapchat, Instagram, or your other social media choice de jour
Putting things on your to-do list you know you are never going to do
Taking that second plate of food
Taking that second desert
Taking the first desert
Making excuses for not visiting your mom, reading the bible, spending more time in prayer/meditation, going to church … etc.
At the risk of abuse from my grammarian friends, there’s a bunch of things you should stop not doing.
Not wearing a seat belt (correct – stop not doing this)
Not using turn signals
Not getting a deposit from clients
Not keeping better track of your time
Not getting enough sleep
Not paying more attention to your spouse or kids
Not writing that thank you note
Not reaching out to two potential clients every day
This last group are things to stop not doing. Isn’t that the same as putting it on your to do list? No, actually. You think differently when you think about stopping something then when you think about doing something. It is easier to think about stopping your avoidance mechanisms than when you think about accomplishing a specific task.
This Isn’t New
Lest you think this idea is new, Jim Collins addressed this in Good to Great. “Most of us lead busy but undisciplined lives. We have ever expanding ‘to do’ lists, trying to build momentum by doing, doing, doing—and doing more. And it rarely works. Those who built the good-to-great companies, however, made as much use of ‘stop-doing’ lists as the ‘to do’ lists. They displayed a remarkable discipline to unplug all sorts of extraneous junk … They displayed remarkable courage to channel their resources into only one of a few arenas.”
Periodically you need to regain your focus and tend to the important tasks that further your goals. Stop partaking of time wasters. Remember, however, that planned recreation and breaks are not time wasters. They are an important part of maintaining good physical and mental health.
It becomes the responsibility of the sustained leader to focus on the priorities and eliminate the unnecessary activities. This makes us more productive and frees up a great deal of time that was wasted. The sustained leader never confuses activity with progress. If you allocate your time more appropriately you will find that you produce more, enjoy it more, and free up time. This might be a good time to strengthen your ability to delegate.
Mark Twain said, “The secret of getting ahead is getting started. The secret of getting started is breaking your complex overwhelming tasks into small manageable tasks, and then starting on the first one.” And very often, the starting point has to be deciding what you won’t do to free up the time for the things that must get done. Be as methodical, if not more so, about deciding what you will not do as you are about what you will do.
 http://observer.com/2017/01/pornhub-stats-data-2016/ Accessed 02/17/18
 Jim Collins, Good to Great (New York: HarperCollins, 2001), 139-40.