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Week 42: Work Smarter, Not Harder

I've never really been a 9 to 5 employee; more often than not, I'm the first one in to the office (or on line) and the last one to leave. Truth be told, this isn't something I'm proud of as over the years, the amount of hours I've worked are the largest contributor to my lack of work/life balance. The way I look at it; if you allow your schedule to control you, that is exactly what's going to happen. Work days have a tendency to become quickly filled with meetings and activities that suddenly start to be prioritized based purely on when they're scheduled as opposed to based on importance or outcome.

This week, the boys were in separate camps with totally different schedules in totally different locations. In an attempt to make myself available to help with driving, I decided it was a perfect opportunity to take control of my schedule and look for ways to work smarter rather than harder. It was time to look beyond the number of hours worked and consider other performance driven metrics such as team moral, customer feedback, operational KPIs, and sales and revenue.

To get started, the first thing I did was mentally let go of the old school notion that 9am to 5pm is for work only and anything outside of that window is for non-work activities. Allowing myself to get comfortable with the idea of taking time out in the middle of the workday for a non-work activity was definitely the hardest part, but once I got my head around the concept, I started to realize not only was it OK, but it was actually healthy and extremely productive. It's quite amazing how something so silly can have such a profound impact; as long as you get the work done in a timely manner and to the best of your ability, does it really matter when it's done?

After coming to this realization, I figured out the time I needed to be available and then visibly blocked it out in my calendar. While this may seem trivial, I've found it's a lot easier to hold myself accountable when it's prominently displayed for me to see. Next, I went through the entire week asking myself two simple questions:

1. Can a specific task be done without me?

2. Can this task be pushed to a later date?

If the answer to either of these questions was yes, I either declined, delegated, or rescheduled the meeting for a later time. This exercise was highly effective and organically created an atmosphere of prioritization in terms of how I spent my day. I found myself more focused and less distracted as each meeting and activity had a clear purpose and objective.

The final piece of the puzzle was to make sure I kept to the schedule and made the most of the time I had each morning. The biggest thing for me was to not allow myself to get sucked into a big task like reviewing a large document in the thirty minutes leading up to my departure time for camp drop-off but to also remain open minded and flexible, such as taking a call in the car if needed.

Overall, the outcome of this week was extremely satisfying and may actually be one of the biggest benefits to come out of COVID and working remotely. Either way, I would definitely encourage you to work smarter as opposed to longer, regardless of whether it’s restructuring your day so the most important tasks get done first, or like me, simply going through and reevaluating what meetings you attend versus the ones you don't. If you still aren't sold, go ahead and run a quick google search of productive work hours; you're sure to find copious articles and studies stating how the average employee is only productive three hours per day, or an average of 12.5 hours per week. Based on this knowledge, give yourself permission to take control of your day and find innovative ways to maximize productivity and remember don't be afraid to let go of the 9-5 mantra every now and then.

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