Kris at The HR Capitalist caught my attention with his post, "Being a Star - Either Put In More Hours Than Others, or Start Eliminating Stuff (But Stop Whining)...." He says:
Work/life balance is a choice. You won't be able to be your version of Bono with work/life balance as your goal. More and more, I run into super sharp people who are amazed at the entitlement culture of talented folks who say they want to be stars, but won't put in the time to outwork others and are outraged when told that's what it takes.If you are not inclined to put in more hours, Kris says, "you need to start eliminating things that you don't think matter, the things you can get away with not doing, not being involved with at work."
This is the choice of anyone seeking success, but notably of the entrepreneur. As my company has grown, my time management strategy as evolved--or devolved as the case may be:
- Phase 1--The first date that won't end: You have a crush on all the excitement that your business is providing for you in life and unwittingly give it all the time that it needs. Other things need to happen, like sleep, so you just add more work hours to your day and keep plugging after dinner, or after your spouse knocks off for bed. When opportunities present themselves, you drop everything. For instance, someone you've wanted to meet with for some time wants to connect for breakfast at 7:30 a.m. the next day in New York City, and you are in San Francisco. No problem! Sure you don't feel great after taking a red-eye, but you make it there. And you've set up other back-to-back meetings to get the most out of your time. By the time you are back at the airport you realize you might not have mentioned your whereabouts to your spouse but know he'll understand. And you know that this phase can't last forever, but you must take full advantage of every opportunity now, while you have it.
- Phase 2--The Trade-offs: You realize that other things--hobbies, friends, wellness--are being impacted, but hopefully now you are experiencing some growth and cannot imagine losing momentum in order to stop and smell the roses. Also, expectations have been set. Clients on the East Coast expect that you will be available during the wee hours of the morning on the West Coast; you've told them to call you if they wanted to talk--anytime; they're just taking you up on your offer. All those opportunities that you have been pushing for are now happening; and you must be there to implement them. You can't imagine having others do it during such a delicate, relationship-building phase. You plan to eventually build replicable, delegatable processes, but you must trail-blaze for how.
You try to fit it all in, but even with extended hours you can't. So you compromise on everything except your business. You skip those biannual physical exams, you whittle that full workout into a few sit-ups before bed, you spam an eGreeting card to your address book this year instead of sending individually written cards. That quality time you book nightly with your spouse or the kids is spent responding to email while sitting next to him on the couch. You don't have to meet with people in-person today, so you forgo showering and getting dressed--time is money, people! The first time you skip these things it feels bad; the second time you can justify it as something you're sacrificing "for now", the third time you've re-identified yourself: "I guess I'm just going to be 10 pounds heavier." "I've never been much of a home cook." "I'm just not a neat person." "I'm the kind of person who always has to be doing something." ...
You start to fear that your tradeoffs are becoming more and more visible. You look older. You have creaky knees and your neck hurts. You indiscriminately hand people not associated with your business, like your drycleaner, your business card. You develop this glassy look that signals to your domestic partner that you are assessing what else you need to get done today, not listening to his suggestions for what to have for dinner. You meet up with friends you haven't seen in ages, and when they ask how you are doing, you update them on your calendar and on your competition.
- Phase 3--Signs of wear and tear: You have much to show for your hard work--both good and bad. You are still pushing hard; forget about cruise-control. But you can speak confidently about the future of your business.
Through accidental situations, like delayed flights and malfunctioning electronics, you find yourself with small pockets of unscheduled time and have no idea what to do with it: Pick up a newspaper and at least familiarize yourself with the happenings in the world, pet your cat, or call people? You realize you don't know where to start and defer to doodling in your notebook. You go to the dentist and they declare you're in for a year of orthodontics due to stress-induced jaw alignment issues. You understand the urgency but just don't know how you can fit that sort of thing into your schedule at this time. Pain is also very time consuming--feeling it, preventing it, containing it. You plan another appointment in several months--hopefully enough lead time to plan around it. You later realize that you do have a conflict but you do nothing. Maybe the other party will cancel. You meet up with friends you haven't seen in ages, and when they ask how you are doing, you have nothing to say. You say, "Hanging in, and you?
People call you successful and you wonder, "How so?" Even if you are, you are so used to the act of building momentum that you don't know what success feels like. Perhaps you've overcome it and it's now trailing behind, and you just feel something dragging. You assume it's another problem to attack. You remove your anniversary dinner from your calendar and enter "figure out dragging issue" in its place.
But back to HR Capitalist's two options: Accept that you are going to have to put in the time, or start taking things off your plate. The frustration of a later-stage entrepreneur who's had a few years to cycle through both options is "what else?"
One could say Option 3 is aspire to less. Let's just say for the sake of argument that this was even possible for the entrepreneur, that we could temporarily suppress this unquenchable ambition and could actually make a logical decision to dial it back a bit. I argue that our natures would kick back in, and we would become crazy about something else.My friend and former coach Kimberly threw something out to me that was similar to Kris's advice, but offered in a way that I could actually consider.
"I'll bet you could back off about 10 percent and no one would even notice," she said.
"But I would notice," I said.
And I thought about that. There are types of effort: level one being "9-5" effort, level two being extraordinary effort, and level three being "Why are you afraid that level two won't suffice?" effort.
I am willing to consider level 2 may be effective.