From Barely Surviving' to Thriving: Top Managers Stress Less When They Delegate More
Whenever the calendar flips over to a new year, I feel that we all fall into a familiar trap. We attempt, and subsequently fail, at following through with those ambitious resolutions we only recently set. One of the most common reasons our resolutions fail is that we’re trying to add even more things to an already full plate.
It’s pretty overwhelming when you commit to hitting the gym seven-days a week and volunteering at least once a week while you’re running a business and taking care of your kids. Don't worry, most everyone falls into the same trap. I tend to fall into it a lot sooner than others.
It's time to make anti-resolutions.
Brad Aeon, a Ph.D. candidate at the John Molson School of Business who studies the psychological impacts of time management theory, suggests that we make “anti-resolutions.”
"When we make a new resolution, we decide to spend more time going to the gym, developing a new skill, developing a new habit and all those things take time," Aeon recently told CBC Montreal's All in a Weekend. "Why not do the exact opposite? Why not disengage from the activities or commitments that we already have? You know, to have more free time or more time that we have just to ourselves."
Although a lot of people complain about not having enough time, Aeon says that work hours haven’t changed over the last century. For men, at least, we have more leisure time then we did in the past.
"I find it amazing that most of the people that I know that complain about working too much impose that overwork on themselves," he said. "And it's the same thing with our leisure. Time pressure is not good because it has huge repercussions on mental health. We impose too much time pressure on ourselves."
So, I want to propose something radical for the new year: stop wearing your workload as a badge of honor. Do less. You read that correctly. I want you to get less done and be less productive.
That may sound like a pipe dream. But, let’s go over the benefits of doing less and how you can achieve that so that you can have a less stressful and more meaningful year.
Related: How to Do More by Doing Less
The benefits of doing less.
So, why would you want to do less? That seems counterproductive, right? The reality is that by doing less, you can reduce stress. In case you aren’t aware, stress is sometimes called “the silent killer” since it can lead to sleep deprivation, mental deterioration and an increased risk for coronary heart disease.
Furthermore, by doing less, you can focus on your priorities instead of frequently switching between tasks. You’ll produce more quality work in less time. You’ll have greater pride creating something that’s worthy of your name, and more time to spend with your family and friends doing the things that you love.
Cutting some things out will give the time to exercise, volunteer, read or learn a new skill that will improve your life and work. Are you ready to start doing less? Here are 10 practical ways that you can start today.
1. Think more like an executive.
According to business coach Lea McLeod, executives “are singularly focused on what they’re accountable for achieving.” McLeod adds, “Every request they make, every question they ask in a presentation, and every email they send out will be focused on those goals.”
McLeod recommends that you start applying that concept to your work. Instead of attending a meeting or conference that doesn’t require your input, focus on the tasks that will help you achieve your specific goals.
2. Eliminate non-essential tasks and commitments.
Evaluate your existing tasks and commitments. Are you doing non-essential duties merely to get them done or are they worth completing? Answer those questions by making sure that your daily, weekly and monthly tasks and commitments are providing value and that you’re suited to complete them. Identifying whether a piece of work is worth the time it takes to do is pretty much the concept in Cal Newport’s book Deep Work.
Work that adds no value needs to be deleted from your schedule. Maybe these were tasks and commitments that provided value in the past but your goals have changed. For example, when you were just starting your business it might have made sense to attend weekly networking events but now that your business is established the events are more nuisance than benefit. Mark this in your calendar so you don't forget.
3. Utilize the talents of others.
Obviously, you can’t delete every task or commitment that you have. But, if the task is not a good use of your skills or time, then it can be delegated or outsourced to someone else.
Just make sure that you’ve clearly explained your expectations and have provided the proper training and materials. Most importantly, empower and encourage these talented individuals by not micromanaging them. While you need to check-in and provide guidelines, there has to be autonomy as well.
4. Put specific tasks on the back-burner.
What if you’re a solopreneur and every task seems worthy of your time? Consider putting the job off until later.
Not jumping right on a job may sound like procrastination to you, but it’s the opposite. Not immediately jumping on a task means it's not urgent enough to be addressed at this very instant, despite feeling essential.
You can determine what’s urgent and what's not using the Eisenhower Matrix. Make a list of your tasks and place each into one of four quadrants labeled do first, schedule, delegate, and don’t do. The items positioned in the first quadrant deserve your attention now, while things listed in the second quadrant can be scheduled when you have availability.
5. Single task and focus.
Multitasking is a myth. Research shows that multitasking can take as much as 40 percent more time than single-tasking. Instead of attempting to juggle several things at once, focus on one task and then move on to the next. This sounds easier than it is. I’ve found blocking out specific chunks of time for specific tasks is the most effective way to single-task. During this block of time, I work on this task and nothing else. To make sure you don’t lose focus, eliminate distractions by turning off your smartphone notifications and working in a quiet workplace.
Schedule in a break every 20-minutes or so to stand-up, stretch or go for a quick walk. We only have so much focus, so we need breaks to help clear out heads and refocus.
6. Practice mindfulness.
According to Dr. Travis Bradberry, “Mindfulness is the simple act of focusing all of your attention on the present. Clear and powerful focus requires you to observe your thoughts and feelings objectively, without judgment, which helps you to awaken your experience and live in the moment.”
Taking a couple of minutes to sit and reflect can calm you down, clear your thoughts and create clarity on what needs to get done right now.
7. Set boundaries.
Boundaries require saying “no” to additional requests for your time, like an employee or a client asking to meet tomorrow at noon when you already have a packed schedule. You need to politely refuse these requests. If not, you’re putting the priorities of other people over your priorities.
The same idea applies to your work schedule. If you say that you’re done work at 5 p.m. so that you can spend time with your family, then make that commitment. Put work aside while you’re with your family. It will still be there when you’re back to your “office hours.”
8. Don’t worry about being imperfect.
Like multitasking, perfection is a myth. It’s all in your head. Even if you’ve made a hundred revisions to an article that you wrote I bet someone will find a minor fault with it. Instead, crank that article out and go back and edit later. Even better, have someone else review it for you.
The point is that whatever you’re working on will never be “perfect.” Do your best but get it done.
9. Make rest a priority.
I know that you have a million things to do and you think there’s no such thing as “rest” but, as Aeon noted, this is self-imposed. Aeon schedules between two and four hours per week just to lay on the couch or look at the window. Research has also found that 20-minute power naps boost your memory, cognitive skills, creativity and energy level.
Make it a priority to get six to eight hours of quality sleep per night.
10. Schedule regular procrastination time.
Finally, follow in the footsteps of leaders like LinkedIn CEO Jeff Weiner and block-out regular procrastination time.
Weiner schedules between 90 minutes and two hours of white space daily. Where does he find this time? He may buffer them between meetings. He suggests using this time “to think big, catch up on the latest industry news, get out from under that pile of unread emails, or just take a walk.”
Most importantly, it gives you a chance to catch your breath.