Reclaiming Your Time

Prioritize your goals by importance, not urgency

If we want to succeed in the career we love and the family we love, we have to be ready to give some things up, says Shelly Lazarus, the former CEO of Ogilvy & Mather, who raised three children with her husband while climbing the ladder to success.

One day, as her son was headed to school, she noticed that he didn’t have buttons on his blazer. She decided to let it go: “He doesn’t care. I don’t care.”

Most American workers today are dealing with a time famine. The 2014 Heartland Monitor Poll, released in November, found that among adults 30 through 49, 45 percent agree that “in today’s economy, it’s not possible for most people to succeed at work … and have enough time to contribute to their family and their community.” Not possible!

How do we rethink what is possible, so that we can feel we are succeeding both at work and at home?
Organizations have a role to play, and many of the employers recognized by the Families and Work Institute with its When Work Works Award are doing their part, from monitoring burnout among employees to providing flexible work options 
like a compressed workweek and paid 
parental leave.

But individuals must take action as well. At the Wall Street Women’s Forum, sponsored by Regent Atlantic, senior-level women wrote down their personal strategies for reclaiming their time, and here is what they suggest.

1. Set concrete goals on a regular basis. The more specific your goals, the more likely you are to achieve them—in work, and in other aspects of your life.
2. Write it down. Make a habit of 
creating lists that are realistic and reflect your priorities.
3. Prioritize by importance, not urgency. This way, your priorities and goals guide how you invest your time.
4. Ask, don’t assume. Ask those you care about what they care about most. For example, ask your kids which events they want you to attend, and ask your boss what task or project is most important.
5. Calendar it. Block out time for all aspects of your life—from work and personal commitments, to time to step away, to time to get to what falls to the bottom.
6. Ask others to calendar it. Request that others add to their schedule what matters to you, and keep a team calendar of commitments on and off the job.
7. Take 24. Give yourself 24 hours to decide before you say yes to a new task.
8. Delegate. Figure out what you really don’t want to do, find someone who does, and delegate.
9. Make space. Create the conditions to be able to focus, whether leaving your smartphone behind or listening to music.
10. Follow the 80/20 rule. Identify what 80 percent perfect looks like and then congratulate yourself when it happens.

When seeking balance, combat zero-sum thinking by accepting that each day is different and doing your best. As Lazarus advises, set your priorities, and don’t worry about the buttons. That’s how you find time for what’s truly important.

For more information, please visit the Families and Work Institute, familiesandwork.org.

Anne Weisberg is a senior vice president at the Families and Work Institute and a recognized thought leader who has designed innovative practices to build effective, inclusive work environments.

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