Q: My first child was born last year, and I’m finding it difficult to maintain a work-life balance. As a father yourself, how have you managed? – Daniel
Congratulations on becoming a father! Raising a child is the most wonderful experience you can have, and also the most important responsibility. Over three decades of fatherhood I have tried to put everything toward being a good dad – I value this over and above any professional success.
When my two children, Holly and Sam, were growing up, my wife, Joan, focused her time mostly on raising the kids, and I worked from home – at first from our houseboat, which we moored on a canal in London’s Little Venice neighbourhood, and now from my hammock on Necker Island in the Caribbean.
I also took my family along on work trips whenever possible, so I was often on the spot to deal with minor mishaps. We shared many joyous moments.
If you share in your kids’ lives and give them a chance to take part in yours, you will have a much better relationship with them, and you will waste far less energy worrying about what they are doing. One of the great things I learned from my children was that I was a better parent when I was also their friend.
When they needed guidance or discipline, I’d recall my own youthful misadventures and explain how I resolved those problems and what I learned from them. I carried over that sort of sharing, understanding and energy to my work life, and I believe that it made me a better manager.
If you are struggling to juggle your home life with your career commitments, both can suffer. Part of the solution may be to treat time with your family as a priority. When you’re facing an avalanche of appointments, book time to spend with your family – put it in your work diary.
You will also need to prepare your colleagues for those times when an emergency will come up at home and you’ll need to drop everything to deal with it, because this is almost certain to happen.
But rather than thinking of these two aspects of your life as antagonistic, why not combine them? As I’ve often said, I don’t divide work and play: It’s all living.
For the first 10 years or more, you may need to work different hours or perhaps you simply won’t be able to commute to the office quite as often, but these days, that’s not an obstacle. Flexible hours enabled by technology can allow parents to perform well at their jobs and take care of young children at the same time.
If you’re an employee, talk with your boss about how working from home could boost your productivity, remembering to share some specific examples of how your work will improve.
If you run a business, consider investing in technology that will allow you and your staff to work flexible hours – your investment will pay dividends in the long run. You will all be less stressed by long commutes and less discouraged about missing those special moments, from first steps to first words, so you will have more space to think creatively.
We have recently introduced a new solution at Virgin that allows people to access their desktop computers on any device, from any location. You may even find that it saves you money because fewer people are in the office and can share desks (a practice known as “hot desking”). Overall, this is about giving people options.
But if you opt to work from home more often, make sure that you don’t become a slave to technology – manage your phone, don’t let it manage you. I get through emails, check social media and answer calls in batches, switching on the necessary devices to deal with those things that need my attention and then switching them off again to focus on other matters.
Just as you’ll help your kids with their homework, you may find that they can take part in yours. Of course, this doesn’t apply to everyone, but discussing your work with them can be a good way to spend time together and can help you see problems from a new perspective.
Some of my best ideas came from conversations with Holly and Sam. I’m very fortunate, in that Holly now works with us at Virgin on health issues as a special projects manager, and we’ve collaborated with Sam on various creative projects, like his diary about his Arctic travels.
However you decide to resolve your situation, I think you’ll find that your supervisors and colleagues will be much more understanding of your needs than you might expect. As more women have entered the workforce in recent decades, one of the benefits has been that people have become much more aware of the importance of fathers – and more supportive of efforts to be a great dad.
Managing Your Schedule Like A Boss: Tips The Experts Never Tell You
Time management is at the top of the short list of reasons why some people succeed and most don’t.
Lou Gerstner, the former CEO of IBM, once said, “Never let anyone own your schedule.”
I don’t know about you, but I love that quote. It’s so simple, yet true. After all being deliberate with your time is one of the best ways to have a happy life in the business world. Of course, try as hard as you can, that’s not always the reality. Life is kind of known for throwing a monkey wrench into your plans every now and then.
But, it’s still possible to manage your schedule like a boss by following these can’t-beat tips.
Create a routine
Next up you need to create, and stick, to a routine.
Start by blocking times for specific activities, such as checking emails, exercise and spending time with your family. You can then convert your calendar into a series of blocks for you to place activities in the prepared spaces. If something isn’t planned and placed into a block, don’t do it.
Keep in mind that your routine will probably change throughout the year. But, it’s better to have a plan that changes than no plan at all. For example, if you’re launching a start-up, then you should block times for activities like customer discovery, coding and hiring. Next year you may have to block out times for marketing, growing your business and customer service.
Carry a schedule and record all your thoughts, conversations and activities for a week
“This will help you understand how much you can get done during the course of a day and where your precious moments are going,” write Joe Mathews, Don Debolt and Deb Percival on Entrepreneur.
“You’ll see how much time is actually spent producing results and how much time is wasted on unproductive thoughts, conversations and actions.”
Add time buffers to manage your schedule
Have you missed a couple of deadlines because you jumped from project to project? It’s probably because your didn’t add time buffers. A buffer is something like this:
You just landed a new client for your freelance business. They assign you a deadline to complete the task. Instead of entering their exact deadline, your put your own deadline that’s 24-48 earlier. Those hours are the buffer.
Why’s that such a big deal? When you have a buffer, and something happens that you can’t control, you still have those 24-48 hours to meet the deadline.
Schedule your calendar like a to-do-list
If you have things on your schedule that have to be done, I personally like scheduling out time on my calendar for them. Much like a meeting, they have a set and scheduled time for this task to be accomplished.
For some people like myself, this includes blocking out time for working out, eating, walks and other important activities in my life. If I don’t make time for them, other things will always get in the way. I find that when I block out those times on my schedule, I’m much more proactive as well as I feel better about myself.
Use batching and time-blocking
In my early days of freelancing I multitasked like it was going out of style. I eventually realised that doing more than one thing at a time is ineffective and stressful. I was stressed beyond endurance because, as research now shows, the human brain isn’t capable of multitasking.
A study conducted by Microsoft Research, shows that switching from task to task is less productive than staying on the same task, or the same types of tasks, over a block of time. That’s why batching is so awesome.
Batching is basically where you find similar tasks and then lump them all together to make a task-batch. You then sit down, set a timer, and focus only on those similar tasks. For example, setting aside 6 am to 7 am to check emails and then 8 am to 10 am to write blog posts.
Another strategy that you should try is using time-blocks. When you have outside meetings, block two and a half days per week for those meetings. Only attend those outside meetings during those time-blocks. To make blocking more effective, color-code your calendar so that you can visually glance at your calendar.
Chandler Bolt wrote a great book, The Productive Person, that you should read if you want to learn more about time-blocking.
Optimise time for different meeting types
To be honest, 30-minute meetings and 10-minute calls are ideal. A 10-minute phone call with a prospective client is more than enough for me to know what their needs are and if we click. Better yet, Google Hangout or Skype can be used to see the person instead of just hearing them.
If you have a remote team, you can host a virtual meeting via Zoom,RingCentral Business, Zoho Meeting, Join.me or GoToMeeting.
Here are some suggestions on the types of meetings that you might want to book and schedule:
- 45-minute meeting that’s outside of the office. Allow 15 minutes for travel and 30 minutes for the meeting over coffee.
- 30-minute weekly staff meeting.
- 30-minute meeting in the office to get to know colleagues or catch up.
- 15-minute daily standup if you’re a start-up or leading an engineering team.
- 10-minute phone call to offer someone advice.
Whatever meetings you decide to hold a meeting, you should group them into blocks. If you think that a particular meeting needs more or less time, then you can adjust the block accordingly.
Still, just remember that it’s impossible to get everything done. “Also remember that odds are good that 20 percent of your thoughts, conversations and activities produce 80 percent of your results,” say Mathews, Debolt, and Percival.
This article was originally posted here on Entrepreneur.com.
How To Optimise Your Productivity After Quitting Your Job
You’ve done it. You’re your own boss. All the time in the world. Now the problem is – you’re used to 10 hours of your day being allocated elsewhere – there’s almost too much time now. So much time… and so many ways to waste it.
The idea of having control of our own time is bliss. In many ways, nothing could be better than the idea of “freedom”, of having “full control” of one’s life. The reality is that it can be incredible, however it can also be life’s biggest trap. If there is no strategy to optimize this available time, it will turn into one major procrastination session.
If your time is not carefully managed, your entrepreneurial journey could become months of regret and self-loathing because of wasted opportunity. On the flip side, Peter Thiel has been paraphrased in saying that one of the beauties of an entrepreneurial life, is that if someone were to put a gun to your head and demand that you achieve 10 years worth of goals in 6 months, it would be possible. If time is used extremely effectively, anything is possible. That, in my view, is something to get excited about, and is reason enough to want to put tangible methods in place.
Note that many of these methods were inspired by Tim Ferriss and the many world class performers he has interviewed on his podcast. I have since experimented with recommendations and have found that the below have worked best for me.
1. Organise meetings
This may sound counterintuitive, because meetings are commonly considered (at least in the corporate world) to be the ultimate waste of time. The reason for that perception is that there is usually so much work to be done, and corporate meetings classically aren’t necessary for all the attendees, and do not result in a definitive next step.
My argument for organising meetings is to conjure momentum when none exists early on in the process. If you are sitting with a blank calendar and a blank agenda, by arranging meetings with potential clients, partners, employees or investors, this will create a sense of scarcity; a simulated “due date” that will force you to do the appropriate work to be ready for said meeting, and could put you on an exciting unforeseen path post-meeting.
These meetings also get people on the same page as you; to buy into your vision and to get them excited by what excites you in your entrepreneurial journey – you never know what doors can open from connecting with the right people at the right time.
I read a quote recently that said “great opportunities never have ‘Great Opportunity’ in the subject line”.
2. Say No
You may receive a deluge of exciting propositions and projects out of nowhere that others less committed than you would like you to work on. These can be extremely tempting, but as Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks says, “The single most important distinction in life is to distinguish between an opportunity to be seized and a temptation to be resisted”.
Derek Sivers makes this distinction by removing any middle ground – if he doesn’t feel that the opportunity is a “HELL YEAH!”, it’s simply a “no”. Another tool you could use is to rate opportunities out of 10 – but you’re not allowed to use the number 7. When in doubt, you have to either rate the opportunity as a 6 or an 8. If it’s a 6, it’s a definite “no”.
Saying no can be infinitely more difficult than saying yes. That’s why, it can be argued that nurturing the ability to decline mediocre opportunities is one the most important skills on the path to success.
3. Don’t let others set your agenda for you
You will wake up to several emails, whatsapp messages and a missed call. You are then faced with a difficult decision – to reactively respond to all before pursuing your agenda for the day; or proactively completing your agenda first and then addressing the needs of others.
The risk of the reactive approach, is that there is a high probability of getting derailed entirely by requests from other people. A seemingly short request could end up cascading into several hours of back and forth. It is quite possible that by the time this has reached completion, you have no energy left to allocate to the most important tasks for the day. You will leave feeling unfulfilled, as if the day was wasted – a routine you desperately need to avoid.
You should set your own agenda, and when the key tasks are completed, you attend to the emails and requests of others.
4. Set your most important 3 tasks each day
On any given day, you may have 32 important things you want to achieve. Where does one even begin to prioritise these? Typically, we may start with the easiest of the 32 to get that “small win” feeling. The downside is that the easiest may not be the most important or urgent, and could leave you feeling in a similar position to where you started. That’s why I set the most important 3 each day.
They may take 5 minutes each or 5 hours each, but if you can consistently overcome the most important 3 tasks on a daily basis, you will not only make tangible progress in your work, but develop an unrivalled (and somewhat addictive) sense of productivity.
In addition, I recommend setting these 3 tasks at the end of each working day, so that you can get straight into them the next morning. I find that setting the next day’s objectives is a nice way to wind down the day, and reduce chances of morning procrastination the next day because your agenda will already be pre-constructed, leaving no room for excuses.
5. Find the environment that speaks to your working soul
Some people thrive in 8am-5pm busy office environments, while others can only work from night time when it feels like the world around them is asleep. Some people love absolute silence while others need the madness of boisterous conversation and loud music. There is no perfect way to work.
I have found that the ambience of coffee shops is conducive to a productive environment – being surrounded by people of different backgrounds and occupations leads to a complementary sense of both community and urgency, and removes any sense of loneliness. Furthermore, don’t underestimate the power of the right music to aid productivity.
Certain melodic lyric-less music could help create a rhythm conducive to productivity (Tim Ferriss highly recommends Gramatik as an aid to his book writing). Some people prefer music they are extremely familiar with, and even play the same song or album on repeat for hours; the familiarity could create a sense of comfort, and you won’t get distracted by the lyrics.
There is no perfect formula for productivity. There is no script, as much as others may try enforce theirs onto you. That’s why this journey is so exciting – you can use any of the methods above and do what works for you. Be productive by using your mind, not your time.
Immerse Yourself In Purposeful Reading This Holiday Season
As the festive season draws close, and we have a bit more time on our hands, I thought I’d share details about a few of my favourite books which I encourage everyone to read.
I am an avid reader. Maybe not as avid as Nelson Mandela was or self-made billionaires Warren Buffett, Bill Gates and many others are, but still very avid. Buffett, in fact, estimates that he spends as much as 80% of his time reading. He puts his success down to the amount of literature that he consumes, saying that reading is what makes him a more nimble and astute businessman.
Reading broadens the mind and allows for learning through others’ experiences. Through learning, we build up knowledge. By putting that knowledge into practice over time, we build wisdom. Wisdom in turn builds trust, builds relationships and attracts followers.
As the festive season draws close, and we have a bit more time on our hands, I thought I’d share details about four of my favourite books which I encourage everyone to read.
- Listening To These 8 Audiobooks On Success Is A Better Use Of Your Long Commute
- 4 Lessons From The Pivotal Group Founders On Growing And Disrupting All At Once
- Sennergi’s David Hounson 4 Tools To Help Weather The (Entrepreneurial) Storms You Will Face
- The Best Conversion Rate Optimisation Tips To Help You Grow Your Business
- How To Make Speedy Decisions As A Leader
- What Kind Of Leader Are You?
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