Learn the surprising reason doing less actually helps you achieve more and get farther in your career.
If you said the biggest thing standing in the way of a company’s success is its competition, you’d be wrong. In fact, it is the daily ‘stuff’ that flies at you, demanding to get done as part of your day job that most stands in the way of success–for your company and for you personally. All the emails in your inbox, fires to put out, customer demands, administrative work, etc.
FranklinCovey, the makers of the eponymous day planners and experts on execution, call this daily challenge “The Whirlwind.”
Aside from wearing you out, the problem with The Whirlwind is that it keeps you from getting to the strategic things you need to do for long-term success.
To understand it, all you have to do is ask yourself how many times you got into work planning to get to that business plan or presentation you knew you needed to work on only to find half your day gone due to all the ‘right now’ demands that kept popping up.
One of the reasons for The Whirlwind from my experience is that we try to do too much. Between being short-staffed, having single-person dependencies and feeling like if we do not personally take on each task, someone will judge us for not pulling our weight. That is, we think our career will suffer if we do any less.
I would argue the opposite is true, and that is a key to FranklinCovey’s message.
Instead of doing too much to achieve more, paradoxically, the answer may be to do lessto achieve more.
So how do you do it?
1. Schedule the Time & Protect it Religiously
This is something I do personally, and recommend to others almost daily. Set a block of time in your calendar for working on the big stuff. Then you have to protect that time religiously. This will likely feel uncomfortable at first, and you may worry about things falling apart or someone seeing your calendar and wondering what you could possibly be doing while The Whirlwind is busing swirling at full force.
Almost every day, I have at least an hour of my calendar blocked out for a specific goal I need to take action on. For example, I needed to work on my function’s strategy for controls and compliance as our regulatory environment changes. I set time for that work specifically, and told some people trying to get time with me that I was not available. I got the work done, ensuring my function can proactively face these changes rather than scrambling last minute or creating problems with our regulators. That obviously would not bode well for my career.
If I do not proactively block my time, I end up scheduled all day long, but by holding at least an hour each day, I am able to ensure I tackle the bigger things I face.
2. Delegate If You Can
You may have people who work for you who can do some of your Whirlwind work. Think it is not possible for them to take something on in its entirety? Then break it into chunks and give them part of it.
For example, could someone do research to find the key info you need to complete a daily report? Could someone else work on scheduling all those meetings you have to setup? Could they do the work you have in draft form, and then give it to you to review and send out if you think they are not quite ready to produce their own outward-facing work?
I have done all of these things and instead of feeling like I am burdening them, I try to find things for them that would grow their skill set and understanding to help them along their development path. I was the main contact for a key vendor, which meant anything that came up with them fell on my plate. I introduced someone from my team to them, and using time I blocked on my calendar, I brought him up to speed on the relationship and the work so that he could then take it over completely. It has helped me, but he is also becoming very good at vendor management (and they’re performing better than when I was trying to manage them with the little time I could put into overseeing their performance).
3. If You Can’t Delegate, Create a Supporting Group
If you cannot delegate some of your work to make time for the bigger things, maybe you can fin another way to share the burden with a group of peers in the same boat. It is not quite a support group in the traditional sense, but rather a group of people supporting each others workload and strategic goals to make sure The Whirlwind is handled and the strategic things happen.
I have connected with a group of fellow authors who are all trying to achieve the same thing with our work. Rather than hiring a staff of people for each of us, we have split up some of the things we all need done, and are helping each other get there, such as researching podcast and radio shows to be on, or finding social media tools to help our books get out into the marketplace. It has reduced the burden on each one of us individually, while helping us all do better overall.
4. Create a Culture that Rewards Pausing from The Whirlwind
According to author and accountability expert Michael Levitt, celebrating wins might be the path to making this more acceptable across the company. He says,
“Organizations do not take enough time to celebrate our accomplishments. We get through our daily 2 to 3 item to-do checklists for the day, and instead of taking a moment to celebrate our accomplishments, we move on to the next item.
We end up hurting ourselves, or missing learning opportunities when we do not take the time to pause and learn from our accomplishments.”
What Levitt is suggesting is to create natural pauses from The Whirlwind to recognize accomplishment. And when it comes to accomplishing something strategic (either directly yourself or indirectly on the part of someone who took some of your Whirlwind so you could achieve the bigger thing), celebrating the win can make it even moreacceptable for people to pause for the big things. The celebration helps to move the culture from being so reactive and frantic.
The Whirlwind will not stop on its own, so these four ideas can help you create room to really achieve more despite doing less.
This post is inspired by my best-selling book, “Do a Day: How to Live a Better Life Every Day” available in print, eBook and audio book formats. It originally appeared in my Inc.com column on January 17th, 2018.