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”?

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.

“Doing” vs. “Being” a Good Leader

My mentor sent me an article on the subject of leadership. I found it helpful as I think of myself as a leader. An individual can be a leader without being a manager. The article talks about asking yourself:

  • 5-7-10: where was I when I was 5 years old? What was I doing 7 years ago? Where do I want to be in 10 years?
  • What do you want to be in ten years? Be ≠ president of the company, retired, spending more time with activity X.

Once you realize that “being” a good leader is different from “doing” your job well, live by the following principles:

  • understand yourself
  • understand your context
  • be fully present with a person and understand their needs and concerns; put away your smartphone and turn away from your computer when you meet with others

Leadership is a lot about the other person, but it’s also about yourself. It’s neither one nor the other alone. It makes sense: the title “leader” is a relational term. You can’t be a leader if you’re not leading anyone.

For example, I always catered to everyone’s “needs,” saying yes to every request and burning myself out. I was focused on the people I was leading and their needs, but I had left out the leadership part of my role (me and the cohesive identity of “being” I want for myself), so I was just being thrown about by the many voiced needs of my colleagues. What I needed to do was clearly define how I want to be as a leader and how that helps people most, and then control my own schedule for achieving that.

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.

How Do I Balance Respect for Self and Respect for Others When the Two Seem to Conflict?

This month I failed at balance. I said yes to too many meetings, but all of them seemed essential. I receive an average of 100 emails a day, many that require responses. I have projects that require constant care and attention. I take on just as much volunteer work, social engagements, and so on. My life is filled with so much “duty” that I lack quiet, meditative peace and even time to take care of mortal essentials such as eating meals and sleeping enough. So today I recommitted myself.

I sat in a meeting that went 15 minutes over its allotted time. To put it frankly, the person in charge was inconsiderate of the time of the individuals in the meeting and was inconsiderate of those who had scheduled the room next. I was appalled at such disrespectful behavior. However, a friend of mine, who sat several rows back, told me she just left at the hour it was supposed to end. She didn’t walk out in rage, but she had another commitment and slipped out the back. Sometimes I wonder what to do in these situations. Out of what I think is respect, I stay the extra 15 minutes. After all, it’s a prisoner’s dilemma. If we all were to decide to leave early from the long meeting, we’d all be walking out the door at the same time. An individual who wants to leave on time from a meeting that goes long depends on those who stick it out and stay so he or she can slip out the back somewhat unnoticed. I am curious to see what my mentor will say. He is much wiser than me about the concept of respect.

The theme I notice in this, though, is that I am allowing others to dictate how I spend my time. A hundred people, through a mix of email, phone calls, and walk-ins, are controlling my schedule. The meeting that went long controlled more of my schedule than I thought it would. There is value in being flexible, but when do I need to be firm – and how do I do it? How can I change my behaviors to say no and not feel guilty for doing so?

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”