How to find more time and increase satisfaction

By Jennifer Bishop

There is a belief that growing complexity of business is demanding more working hours, yet the Australian Bureau of Statistics reports that between 1999 and 2012 working Australians have gained time. The hours worked per week have dropped 5%, and the percentage of the workforce working more than 50 hours per week has dropped by 17%.  Add to this the outsourcing of household activities and the time for satisfying and pleasurable pursuits has increased. Yet we feel under increasing time pressure at work and elsewhere. How are we to manage this contradiction? The answer is not rocket science, but its not simple either. It comes down to perception and control.


Time that gives satisfaction and pleasure feels expansive and generates energy.  Greater energy enables a clearer head and so more can be done. Haven’t we all spent time ‘in the flow’ when everything seemed to work, and didn’t it feel great. On the other hand, time spent in crisis or confusion consumes energy by the bucket load. This produces things like inertia, frustration, and a clouded brain.  It is the perception of time (as much as its content) that seems to be the issue. And the solution like the problem is complex and to some extent personal.

Here are 10 factors that I have seen work well in practice.  And if they look like elements of good leadership and strategy, that’s because they are.

(1) Clarity of goals

The existence of a goal is not in itself important. Its benefit is in the satisfaction from achievement and in the identification of priorities which will channel activities.  Time spent doing things that are on route to an  obvious goal increases fulfilment and reduces stress not only in the person feeling fulfilled, but also in those around them. (Fulfilment creates calm and happiness which rubs off on others). The extra 5 hours spent doing a project that will achieve results will happily be taken from dead time such as TV.

 (2) Herald the boring

Plans that consider the good times, the extraordinarily good, the bad, and the crisis reduce panic when each stage occurs.  Anticipation that things will happen enables calm reaction when they do. But fixing a problem before it erupts does not have the adrenalin hit which goes with fire fighting. Avoiding quality planning is tempting for this reason. Boring it may be, but identifying what may happen will pay time dividends when needed most.

(3) Focus on strengths

It may seem counterintuitive, but time spent addressing personal weaknesses can be wasteful. Leverage comes from building strengths.  Granted there are certain weaknesses such as technical skills that must reach a suitable standard to meet product and service obligations, but where there are people better placed to complete a task, then it should be given to them. Better time and energy management all round.

 (4) Quash the demons

Everyone fears failure. Doing something new has three possible results: success, failure or status quo. Of the three, failure is the easiest to moderate.  This is because capability can be built, and risks managed. Yet failure is a monster which looms large to all of us. For some this breeds excitement, for others, inertia. Inertia is a most wasteful beast that consumes time and leaves no satisfaction behind. Granted failure can’t be eradicated, but by building capability and finding the right checks and balances the demons can be quashed. In doing so added energy will flow from the glow of winning, and the attention paid to process will limit time spent on non valuable activities. 

(5) Live the values

Being aligned to values makes life congruent. Non alignment produces a myriad of time consumers: Politicking, confusion as to actions, staff who won’t go that extra mile when needed, and so on. Working with people who have different values can succeed when those values are known and respected, and are not in conflict with the process or goal. So find out the values of all those around you and reduce confusion and angst.

(6) Trust

One + One  = Three  or at least it does when each person can trust the other to do as is needed and wanted. Where trust is lacking the aggregate is less than One as each spends time anticipating or dealing with the problems the other will create.  The most important element of leadership is Trust.  It takes time to build and can be lost in an instance. Trust and Values go hand in hand. The former reflects congruence with the latter.

 (7) Collaborate

There is a time to work with others, and time to work alone. Unthinkingly the latter is a default position and yet collaboration increases creativity, enjoyment, and tacit knowledge transfer.  And workplace enjoyment is vital in keeping wasted hours low. Discontent increases staff turnover and takes leaders away from strategic work to replicate education that was given to the last incumbent.

 (8) Leave the problem where it is.

The current CEO of Westpac, Gail Kelly, has been reported to say that it is her decision to leave her problems at work (or home) that have made a difference to her success and enjoyment of life. How true. However quarantining issues to where they fit can be hard and if you find this so, consider activities such as meditation to build strength.  

(9) Talk – and listen

Whether being the listener, or seeking out someone with whom to bounce an idea, the benefits cannot be overstated.  Putting voice to ideas and concerns can clear enough head space to allow the solution to arise.

(10) Meetings … da da !

There are numerous books on getting the most from meetings, and the common thread is that more meetings are better. Counter intuitive?  Only if done badly. Meetings must have a purpose, the right people and a frequency that meets the need. If meetings produce sighs rather than excitement then fix them. Badly run meetings consume energy, detract from values, and waste time – lots of it. Good meetings do the opposite.

Build the cake and then ice it

 These ten factors increase the outputs from the time available, and increase satisfaction and pleasure too. Without these factors the myriad of time management tools have limited worth.  Using tools that discourage distraction create the icing which bedecks the cake of life. Whilst these 10 factors create the cake itself. 

If you would like to know how to build these into your firm then give me a call.

A Few References:

Daniel Goleman, What makes a leader:  Harvard Business Review

Peter F Drucker, What makes an effective executive,  Harvard Business Review

Ronald A Heifetz and Donald L Laurie, The work of leadership,  Harvard Business Review

ABS cat. no. 4102.0 Australian Social Trends, 2013

Stephen Covey, 7 habits of highly effective people, The Business Library

Patrick Lencioni, Death by meeting, Jossey – Bass

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