Last week I invited you to think about the phenomenal value that an hour of your time can have. At your best, in the right arena, the value of your time can be incredible.
But bad time drives out good. To spend the time where we are most creative, we must dump the time when we add little value. This blog gives three ways to do that. What is exciting, though, is that it leads us to a theory of life that is entrepreneurial but about far more than business.
One obvious yet surprisingly neglected way is simply to stop it. Stop attending useless meetings. Stop answering emails that lead nowhere. Stop writing them, unless they lead to a useful result. Stop dealing with people who are bad news. Stop checking the news or the market. Stop doing anything that frustrates you, unless it actually leads to worthwhile results, or your boss absolutely insists on it.
There’s the rub. We all do things that we know are close to useless, or worse, because it’s the norm at work or we don’t have discretion to stop doing them. The answer to that is to plot to get more discretion.
For example, I once had a boss who thought it was my job to summarize and dissect all kinds of allegedly useful management information. This wasn’t going to get me or the firm anywhere, but the boss kept sending me data and links to journals and websites. Soon my in-tray was bulging with books and magazines and had overflowed on the floor and window-sills, where I “filed” the surplus material. Every time he came into my office, the boss would look at the disregarded “goldmine” of information with a mixture of annoyance and bafflement. What was I up to?
Instead of wasting my time, I worked out some ways that my boss could look good in front of his boss and the executive committee. He liked that, and so did I, because the ways were simple and easy to work on together, and took much less time than summarizing and commenting on the articles he sent me. Soon the incoming magazine sludge ceased to flow. Eventually I dumped the accumulated residue in the trash.
Other ways to get more discretion are to change jobs or bosses, to spend more time out of the office, and to disconnect your mobile devices. If you get results on things that matter, you will get away with it. If you have discretion, you can work just on the things where you can add £1,000 or £10,000 of value for each hour.
The second way to get rid of less important things is to delegate them. Delegation is subject to the 80/20 principle. It’s an obvious ploy, yet more than 80% of delegating is done by fewer than 20% of managers. The managers who delegate are the few who are always relaxed.
There is an art to delegation – you have to find more junior people who actually want to do your grunt work. And how do you do that? You take a genuine interest in them. You mentor them. You use your experience and insight to see where they could go places and you encourage them. It takes almost no time to mentor someone, if you do it selectively and intelligently. Help them when they really need it. Give really good advice, which takes little more time than giving bad advice or none at all. They will be so grateful that they will cheerfully take on everything you wish to offload onto them.
The third and final way to eliminate trivial work is to pay someone to do it. If you can do work that is worth £1,000 an hour, why not pay someone to do the chores that are worth only £10 an hour? You can’t afford it? Looked at correctly, you can’t afford not to. You’ll never make a lot of money or help other people if you don’t have time to think about where you can create something really valuable, and to do it.
Which leads us on to a rather grand theory of entrepreneurship, applied to our lives rather than to our businesses. In 1800, the French economist, Jean-Baptist, coined the word ‘entrepreneur’ and said ‘the entrepreneur shifts economic resources out of an area of lower productivity, into an area of higher productivity and yield’. That is what you are doing when you pay someone to do the shopping and the washing. You are moving your time from areas of low yield to areas of high yield.
And this is a game that everyone on the globe should play. There is always someone worse off than you who wants and needs your less productive work. And for them, there is always someone too. We are like a never-ending chain of people stretching all around the world, where ideally we should all focus on our most prized and creative tasks, and get someone else to do the less valued ones. That way, we make the most of human talent, and also spread work about to people who need it most.
Life would be richer, fairer, and more satisfying if we all viewed ourselves as entrepreneurs, making the most of our energy throughout our lives, right up until we finally wear out and shuffle off this mortal coil – having added our most inspired contributions to the world, because, when not relaxing, we never did anything else.