Time in exchange for time

A friend of mine is working in a temporary job. Her temporary boss needs someone just to “be there” at the front desk. There are very little other expectations; she was told she could “bring a book.”

What if, in this situation, all you did was sit there? Not even a book to read? Then you could wrap up your current use of time in this statement: “I sit at a desk at the command of another person from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. every day in order to pay for how I use my time after 5 p.m. on those days and on Saturday and Sunday.”

My friend does more than just sit there. But there are people who view their time in jobs as “jail time” that must be spent in order to use their “free time” as they want, with the means to do so, meaning surviving (food, housing, medical care) and beyond (travel, movies, material goods, education, philanthropy, etc.).

What makes a job more than just “jail time?” Does paying a person by the hour exacerbate the effects of this mentality? What is the difference between working in a role where you feel “job satisfaction” versus working in a role that you consider your life’s calling?

We see that our “job time” is spent to support our “free time,” but it is also the other way around. We check our work email when we leave work. We stress about a meeting, distracting our full attention from a conversation with a loved one. We work on projects on the weekends. We show up late to a dinner party because work went late. We spend a lot of “free time” currency on supporting our careers… and sometimes buy on metaphorical “credit.”

Where is the balance, and when do you know you are spending your time fully in every moment, so that you never feel you are trading “time in exchange for time”?

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Ways to Say No

My mentor sent me an article called “22 Ways to Say No” in which the author lists ways to say no to adding a task that would not be in line with your priorities.

  • Encouragement. Saying “I feel you can do this on your own.” You encourage the person to do something they think they need you to do by showing confidence in their ability to find the answer or finish the project.
  • Principles. If the task is not in line with your values, you can say so as a matter of principle. “According to my experience, doing that will not be worth the investment of time.” Or, “I don’t do that sort of thing as a matter of principle” (if it is a moral issue).
  • Priorities. You can let people know, “I can’t take on new commitments right now, otherwise my existing priorities will suffer.” It shows you want to perform well at what you do, and that person cannot ask you to sacrifice your job or project for theirs.
  • Meet half way. As a rejection, offer a “cheap alternative,” such as “Frank, I’m terribly sorry I can’t assist you during that meeting. However, I could review your presentation slides in advance.”

If you want to know more ways to say no, read the rest of Evomend’s article here.

Bloated Workload

Rosabeth Moss Kanter says, “Adding new items without subtracting old ones is how closets get cluttered, bureaucracies expand, workloads grow out of control, national budgets go into deficit, and people get fat. It takes discipline to cut or consolidate some things for every one added. Too often that discipline is missing” (“Five Self-Defeating Behaviors that Ruin Companies and Careers,” Harvard Business Review).

I acknowledge the many responsibilities I and others have added to my plate – even as a result of my own enthusiasm – and I acknowledge that I must maintain a balance between what I take on myself and what I delegate or remove from my responsibilities.

Happiness

In my most recent meeting with my mentor (over a delicious cup pumpkin-spice-flavored steamed milk), I realized my vision as a thought leader was missing one important element: happiness. I should make sure that in all of this striving to “be” who I want to be, that I be happy.

I believe my idea of balance is a reactionary goal based on stress, the stress that reduces happiness if not experienced in appropriate doses (like healthy deadlines vs. debilitating inhumane levels of work to be done).

Balance: Vision and Confidence

Two weeks ago my mentor and I discussed balance. A few tactics to keeping balance:

  • Check in with yourself
  • Have a system
  • Once balance is gained, maintain it
  • Delegate
  • Say no
  • Don’t fill up the schedule again after cleaning it out
  • Take some things off the list once the list is created

What is the bigger picture? Being a thought leader. What does that mean for the work I do? Who am I aiming to be? I cannot move each grain of sand (if sand = things to do), so what is more important than the grains? The emphasis, from my mentor: “You can’t keep trying to complete all the details in your list or you’re going to make yourself sick.”

Balance and Vision

I learned I need to refocus on the strategy and ask myself:

  • Where am I trying to go?
  • What would a thought leader do?
  • What is the best use of my time and energy?

Confidence

My mentor said something very important that stuck with me. He said self-confidence leads to being balanced. Confidence is a common element for the characteristics of my vision.

  • Respectful and respected: how can people respect a person who doesn’t respect his or herself?
  • Enabling and vulnerable: I am willing to share my failures for teaching purposes if I am confident that those failures do not make me “a failure.”
  • Relaxed with harnessed passion: A self-confident person can relax because they believe in themselves. My anxiety peaks when I’m not sure of myself.

My List of Behaviors

Nearly every diligent person, who is passionate about the work they do, struggles with balance. I have at different points in my career felt more balanced than at other times. I keep a list of “tasks” I need to do – behaviors I have focused on cultivating. The list is different from other task lists, however, because I do not check off any as completed. That’s why I want to call it my list of behaviors. It is a reminder to me that the process is ongoing. My list includes:

Declutter • Focus on one task at once • Allow myself to edit commitments to what I can do • Eliminate all but essentials • Don’t do everything at once • Declutter my mind • Do nothing for a moment • Eat more slowly • Have a purpose for each day • Focus on the big rocks, not the sand • Clear out the inbox • Clear off my desk • Be an early riser • Be motivated • Decompress after high stress situations • Cultivate more compassion • Escape materialism • Live the Golden Rule • Accept criticism with grace and appreciation • Have faith in humanity • Boost my self-confidence and respect my expertise • Live my life mindfully and more aware

I have been focusing on these behaviors for a long time now. There is still progress to be made, but I feel that I’ve come a long way. There are some behaviors listed above that I have improved and others with which I still struggle. However, awareness is the first critical step, as my mentor would say!

A Lack of Balance

My mentor followed up with me on my vision:

Respectful and Respected • Balanced and Effective • Enabling and Vulnerable • Boundless with Knowledge, yet Succinct • Relaxed, with Harnessed Passion

I mentioned that I struggled most with balance this past month. I usually work too hard, don’t get out for lunch, and experience anxiety over every detail, relationship, project, and collaboration. My mentor then drew for me a wheel. I think some people call it a “wheel of life” or a “life balance wheel”. He didn’t draw the typical wheel (where each section represents one of family, career, health, education, spirituality, etc.), but rather my mentor created one out of the parts of the vision I have for myself (respectful and respected, enabling and vulnerable, etc.).

I marked where I felt I was with each part of my vision. Balanced and effective are the characteristics where I marked myself lowest. My goal in the next two weeks is to work on this part of who I am and who I want to be. My balance affects my effectiveness, which I feel affects the other parts of the wheel.

Each section of the wheel requires a certain “value”. I expressed to my mentor that I feel I only have a certain aggregate value and if I spend more value (time, effort, energy) on one part of the wheel, something else will fall short. However, he assured me that the wheel doesn’t necessarily work that way. I realize that the wheel itself reflects balance between all these sections – balance itself is needed for the entire vision to work.

Actions and Decisions Outside of Work

From my mentor:

“On the weekends I read your mentoring blog.

Suggestion: Going forward capture actions/decisions you make that might be outside your usual as they relate to your goals and future self. Example, the decision not to travel so that you remain true to your goals and your balance (despite what family/friends or others might prefer).

It is your blog so of course your decision…

Your favorite mentor”

Anxiety and Passion

You have credibility; don’t lose it.

My mentor and I talked about my presentation skills again (I was on a panel discussion recently and asked him to watch the video and give me feedback). I repeated myself too many times. So the goal is to be succinct and concise. The audience will only give me a small amount of time, space, and attention. I repeat myself for two reasons:

  • Anxiety: There are two types of anxiety: situational (it’s scary to be a on a panel – who knows what they’ll ask you and if you’ll be prepared?) and internal (am I good enough, smart enough, fast enough, eloquent enough to be on this or any panel?).
  • Passion: I am excited about the subject matter and reiterate points I find to be important. My mentor said, “people repeat themselves because they want to drive the point home.”

The anxiety can be overcome with the result of a calm and deliberate presentation. I will have to prepare more, relax more, think more, give myself time, and eat lunch regularly. My mentor said,

“We’re not going for 100% stress free. If we did, we would die. You need stress to stay on your toes. You want managed stress.

According to my mentor, the passion I have for my field of expertise is a benefit. I have such a high degree of energy and passion that it’s contagious. Don’t stop it. He said,

“Harness the passion so it becomes more powerful.”

This applies to presentations because in addition to not repeating myself, I will want to stop where the passion is greatest. Once I’ve given a great presentation, I should stop there and “put a period at the end of the sentence.” I shouldn’t go on, eventually losing the once-piqued interest of my audience. The expert has credibility, but he or she can lose credibility if anxiety and unharnessed passion get in the way.