When you care deeply about your career and receive a great deal of satisfaction from what you do, this phrase can become the mantra for your life: When in doubt, work.
Woke up early? Work. Just arrived home? Work! Free Saturday afternoon? Work.
In and of itself loving your work and being eager to get things done is a great quality. Ambition and a desire for excellence can take you far. But problems ensue when this mindset creates an overall sense of stress that you have never done enough and guilt whenever you engage in activities other than work.
According to a Polaris Marketing Research Poll, 42 percent of 18- to 34-year-olds reported feeling very stressed, and 49 percent of female participants said their stress levels had increased in the last five years. That's a problem.
During my first few years of owning a business, I struggled with this work-whenever-I-can mindset and overcame it. This led to me found Real Life E Time Coaching & Training to help others accomplish more with peace and confidence. Through these experiences, I've discovered some key strategies for investing your time wisely so you succeed both on and off the job.
Here are some of my key tips for success.
Diversify Your Time Investments
Wanting to devote a significant amount of time and energy to your professional life makes sense when you have your eyes set on making a significant impact in your field. But if you don't intentionally diversify your time investments, you may end up with an unnecessarily high-risk portfolio.
For example, I begin putting together my clients' ideal schedule by blocking in time for sleep, exercise, and relationships. Often these activities get relegated to the "time left over once all my work is done." However given the pace of work and life, this typically means they get entirely squeezed out or reduced to an inadequate number of hours.
Getting proper sleep and exercise not only makes you feel better, but can literally add productive years to your life. According to a study published in the European Heart Journal, participants who slept less than six hours per night had a 48 percent greater chance of developing or dying from heart disease and a 15 percent greater chance of developing or dying from stroke.
Also, I'll never forget when I sat in outplacement classes as a 21-year-old after having gotten laid off from my first job. All around me, people who had worked for their companies for 10... 20... 30... years lamented how they had sacrificed their health, their family, and their friends for the sake of their jobs and then been let go when they were no longer necessary. At that point, I vowed to make sure to invest in my relationships outside of work so that no matter what happened, I would have a safe place to land.
Bottom Line: Determine your top life priorities and make sure you allocate the proper time investment to all of them.
Invest Wisely & Deeply
A key element of making space in our life for both quality work and a healthy life outside the office is setting realistic expectations for ourselves and others. You have a better chance of leveraging the impact of your time when you put the most effort into your most important professional activities. Try these practical strategies for making this happen:
- Determine the activities that will have the greatest impact on bringing you toward your goals, raising your professional profile, and advancing your career. Block in time for those on your schedule first.
- Take note of what activities you do on a regular basis that don't align with your goals and aren't leading to any substantial results. If possible, stop doing them, delegate them, or spend less time on them so you can increase your investment in other activities. (If this involves committee work, try to cultivate a replacement or ask your boss about potential ways you could gracefully exit.)
- Before accepting new responsibilities, evaluate them against what you currently have on your schedule. If they have a higher return on investment, consider accepting them but decreasing or eliminating your involvement in another task. If they don't have a higher return on investment and you have a choice of whether to participate, thank the people who made the request for the offer but let them know that unfortunately you don't have the time to fully invest yourself in this new project right now.
Although it may feel tempting to think that you're a "slacker" for not saying, "Yes," to every opportunity that comes your way, you'll almost always end up more productive for focusing on what matters most. I don't believe that everyone needs to limit themselves to a 40-hour workweek as a recent Inc Magazine article, "Why Working More Than 40 Hours a Week is Useless," advocates. But I do believe that consistently putting in long hours dramatically decreases your productivity and motivation to make progress on what's most important.
Bottom Line: Focus on your most important professional activities and evaluate the return on investment before taking on new commitments.
Set Up Automatic Time Investment
Once you've consciously decided to diversify your time investments and to focus on what's most important, how do you actually stick to your plan when you face the temptation to stay just a few minutes longer or check your e-mail just one more time before bed?
As author Tony Schwartz explains in a Harvard Business Review article entitled "Why You Need to Make Your Life More Automatic," we have a very limited amount of willpower. These type of automatic time investment strategies provide the structure and motivation to keep you on track in the heat of the moment:
- Make commitments to others that give you a reason to stop one activity and start something new. As Sheryl Sandberg, the COO of Facebook, shares in her recent Inc interview, she leaves work at 5:30 p.m. so she can be at family dinner at 6 p.m. You could set up a similar type of system by making dinner commitments to family, friends, or your significant other.
- Sign yourself up for healthy activities that keep you accountable. Purchasing a gym membership can give you some motivation to go work out, but signing up for a Zumba class at a specific time or meeting with a personal trainer on a regular basis is even better. These sorts of items make wellness a set part of your schedule.
- Use technology to your advantage by installing a program on your computer that will start automatic shut-down at the time you designate so that you're less tempted to get more screen time instead of going to bed.
Bottom Line: Make commitments that reinforce your ideal time investments when your willpower is high so that you'll follow through when your willpower is low.
With these time investment strategies, you should have an easier time of creating a well-balanced and successful life. As with any sort of investment, be sure to rebalance on a regular basis, such as every three to six months so that you keep your life on track for the greatest success.
About Real Life E®
Elizabeth Grace Saunders is the founder and CEO of Real Life E® a time coaching and training company that empowers individuals who feel guilty, overwhelmed and frustrated to feel peaceful, confident and accomplished through an exclusive Schedule Makeover™ . She is an expert on achieving more success with less stress. Real Life E® also increases employee productivity, satisfaction and work/life balance through custom training programs.
McGraw Hill published her first book, The 3 Secrets to Effective Time Investment: How to Achieve More Success With Less Stress. Elizabeth contributes to blogs like Lifehacker, Harvard Business Review, Forbes, and the 99U blog on productivity for creative professionals. She was selected as one of the Top 25 Amazing Women of the Year by Stiletto Woman.