Why Every Minute & $ Counts in My Formula
This blog post was meant to lead you through my system for ensuring I make time for my own personal development, because honestly, ensuring that I continue to learn and grow in areas of interest to me fills my cup and keeps me motivated. But I’m sure some of you are thinking…. “Um, is this girl for real?” She gets up at 5am so she can have 90+ minutes of fitness and journaling and she makes time for personal development?!!? When the hell does all the work happen??? Like her job and cleaning the house and making suppers and lunches followed by piles and piles of dishes and laundry.
Okay, you have a point there. So today I’m going to start with sharing the honest to goodness truth about just how I can guarantee that I’m going to have time for all of the personal development I want to do.
I do have a full time job where I work five days a week for a local electricity distributor. I manage the accounting and regulatory department there and before you judge, while I admit the regulatory part of my job certainly can make me want to poke my eyes out from boredom some days and pull my hair out on others due to the push and shove of multiple levels of government, my job does provide me an outlet to utilize my financial skills through planning, budgeting, and monitoring the activities of our business.
I do not have a punch the clock kind of job (no matter what preconceived notion you may have about hydro workers :)). There is serious risk of constant overflow from work into the rest of my life. This, my friends, in the name of balance, I will not allow to happen. While I do find fulfillment in my work, the part of me that enjoys my job is not even close to all of who I am, and so why then, would I give more energy to this role I play for my employer than is healthy for me in ALL of my life?
This perspective was most certainly not something I was born with. Actually, running myself into the ground to meet a deadline comes far more naturally to me then letting things go, drawing a line, or just plainly saying no at work. What techniques do I now implement in order to ensure I don’t reach a breaking point at work and that the work does not leak any further into the rest of my life than I’m comfortable with? For starters, I believe I’m a successful professional today because of what I learned through training at my first job outside of university at a multi-national accounting firm. Two very ingrained philosophies I learned in my time working there will follow me throughout my career that will allow me to be successful at what I choose to do at work and ensure that work does not leak outside of the allotted hours I choose to give to it. It’s these two philosophies at work that have allowed me to design a life that has enough space for all of the things that I love, like personal development.
#1 – Every minute counts.
You can’t get the full impact of what this truly means, until you are required to track your time by every 6 minutes (yes – that’s one tenth of an hour!) This was necessary at the firm in order to ensure accurate client billing. In addition to the requirement to track time in my previous career, there was always pressure to meet chargeable hour targets (hours that could be billed out to clients) and yet still complete all of the administrative and professional development requirements necessary in order to stay on top of my game and thrive in that environment. Realistically this meant either being super efficient every single minute, or “eating your time” (not booking all of the time you were actually working in your timesheet).
How in the world can one make every minute count? Tracking my time very plainly showed me how inefficiencies can add up and suck away much more of the day then I was willing to give. Can’t find that email you need and spend six minutes searching for it in your messy email filing system, charge 0.1hrs to admin :( Have a chatty co-worker that comes to your office to ask you a question and ends up chatting your ear off for 18 minutes about her weekend, charge 0.3hrs to admin :( Have been asked to do some research for a potential new client (i.e. – not chargeable time yet) and you haven’t refined your research skills so it takes you 36 minutes to find the answer you should’ve been able to find in 12 minutes, charge 0.6hrs to admin :( BAM!! One hour of your day gone to non-chargeable projects and its only 10am!!!! This is what I dealt with day in and day out for 9 years.
When I left the firm I honestly thought the biggest perk was the fact that timesheets would be a thing of the past for me. But I’ve since learned that detailed time tracking engrained in me a very important mindset that allows me to be more efficient at work than the average person. I will admit, my heart still does flutter when a co-worker stops by for a chat. No, that look on my face is not annoyance, its fear! Fear that the time spent having that conversation will set me off track for meeting deadlines which means I may not get out of the office on time and on to the rest of my life!
Slightly irrational? Perhaps. I know this too is a fine balancing act. An organization is made up of people after all. So if you can’t ever stop to chat and get to know them, well, that’s not really an ideal work environment either. As I progress through my career I choose to use my intuition when it comes to making each moment in the office count. Sometimes taking a break actually allows me to go back to the work refreshed and ready to focus, making me even more efficient. I’m very aware though that my break should not interrupt someone else that is currently “in the zone” :)
#2 – every dollar matters.
How did money get into the conversation about balance and not allowing work to seep out into the rest of my life? Simple! As employees, we are all a cost to the organization we work for. Some employees carry a higher cost than others just by virtue of their pay rate. Back to my first job at that accounting firm, as an employee in a firm that charged our clients varying hourly rates based on experience and levels of expertise of the staff working on that client project, it was drilled into us that if there was a lower cost resource that could be doing the task we were working on, we absolutely were not being efficient by doing it ourselves. This forced delegation felt awkward at first, but that skill is invaluable to me now in my quest for achieving balance between the times I focus on work versus the rest of my life.
When I left the firm, I assumed this “every dollar matters” philosophy was typical in any organization. After all, it’s logical. I quickly learned however that a number of elements play into to what extent this philosophy is practiced in other organizations, one of which is the size of the organization. In smaller companies you tend to see people at all levels photocopying, scanning, and faxing etc. To a point this is efficient from the organizations perspective if it saves hiring another whole person (I haven’t even touched on the overhead cost of an entirely new employee :)). However, there is still a place for proper task delegation in any size organization. This means that a very important thing that I do several times each and every day is to consciously think - “Am I the best resource to be doing this task?” This allows me to keep my focus on the work that only I can do based on my training, background, and expertise. If I couldn’t delegate certain tasks that many other employees can easily fit into their day and skillfully accomplish, work leakage into the rest of my life outside of the office would surely be more of an issue for me.
So, every minute counts and every dollar counts and with that in mind as I head into the office each day I’m typically able to efficiently complete the tasks required for my position with a reasonable amount of overtime. Of course there are always exceptions to this rule. Like 2014 when we underwent a massive regulatory project (that thankfully only happens once every five years), where overtime requirements ramped up significantly. So significantly that I had to make the choice between putting this project (Your Formula for Life) on hold for the entire year, or not spending any time at all with my family. The choice was obvious, so there my side project sat on the shelf for an entire year so that I could maintain some semblance of balance in my life.
If you are committed to making some changes at work to give you a hope in hell of achieving more free hours to spend on other life priorities remember, these new habits are not going to be perfected overnight! You need to be conscious in your thoughts and actions when it comes to what and how you want to change and be methodical and consistent about it! It will happen for you if you set your mind to implementing change and focus on those changes like a laser!
Unless your only life priority is your career, remember, only YOU can implement the changes necessary to keep work hours restricted to a level that fits with the rest of your life formula.
If you enjoyed this blog and want to learn more of my philosophies and strategies for keeping my job efficient so it doesn't seep out into the rest of my life too often....check out my guidebook "How to Be A Superstar At the Office in 35 Hours a Week!"