In my career I’ve worked in starting up new ventures, self employed consultancy, teaching and a charity. For various reasons, in all of these contexts it can be difficult to put a value on your time and energy, yet doing so is key to achieving the best that you can.
Working on your own ventures, whether self employed or starting a new business, is a hard grind. There is so much to do, often no one to delegate to, and the pressure that the more you do the more likely your success. It’s really easy to become burned out by hard but low-level tasks, eroding the energy you might have for making big decisions and completing important work that actually sets you apart from others. When I was running events years ago I know I spent far too much time and energy distributing flyers to all corners of the world when I could have invested a bit of money paying someone to, and freeing my time for the work that as the leader of the venture only I could do.
As a teacher I experienced similar. Much has been said recently about teacher workload, with the DfE in England currently analysing a huge consultation they carried out on the matter. There are huge pressures on teachers’ time, I’ve felt them myself, and I don’t doubt there are systemic problems with this. However, I do remember as a teacher spending time sticking work into childrens’ books and marking basic maths calculations. Even at the time I felt these were not the best use of my time, although I know some teachers are under pressure to complete such tasks from their management.
In a University and later a charity the pressures are different, but with tricky to quantify outcomes such as student perception surveys, ‘research dissemination’ and ‘social impact’ it can be hard to evaluate the value of how you spend your time. With so many competing demands on your time, it’s easy to get caught up with speaking about your work over and over to everyone who asks, or spending twice as long preparing the perfect lecture rather than just one that is effective enough.
From the outside it seems like it would all be so much simpler to live in a world of ‘billable hours’. That brings it’s own challenges and contradictions of course, but there is little like the quantification of time as money to sharpen the focus.
Outside of this, it’s so easy to get caught up spending lots of time doing things that are important, but are they the most important things you could be doing?
If something can be delegated, then most of the time it should. I should have paid someone to distribute my flyers and trained the children to stick work in their books (quickly of course, their time has value too).
With a bit of thought work can be delegated to artifacts or tools as well. Rather than spending time telling people about the work I do over and over, creating a page on my website that sums it up and sending links out to that rather than having the conversation could let me focus on the most important things to discuss.
If something can be not done, then that’s also worth considering too. It’s worth stepping back regularly and asking whether the things that are taking up your time really need to be done, or need to be done quite as thoroughly as you are doing them. Sometimes excellence and achievement means going the extra mile and giving attention to the detail, but often time is better focused on the important things that only you can do. It’s a harsh realisation sometimes, but a lot of what we all spend our time doing would hardly cause our world to stop if we didn’t do it.
The problem is, often the easiest way to fill our time is with things that could be done by someone else, or not done at all. Focusing head down on a to do list is much easier than looking up and evaluating what you should really spend your time on. Particularly as this is likely to surface tasks that are much more intellectually challenging and may be harder to achieve.
One of my thoughts for 2015 is choosing what I focus on for greatest value. This starts largely with deciding what value various things have, and whether they are really worth the time I spend on them. These days I find that filling my time is easy, filling it with value is not and should be the real goal. Doing this requires looking at the hours and being very clear about what they, and you, are worth.