I had an epiphany about myself and (potentially) my generation this week and I want to share it with you briefly.
When I turned 8 years old, the pace of my life started picking up. That’s when I started playing football, basketball, baseball, and any other “ball” sport.
Being the son of two hard-core Christians, I also went to church at least every Sunday and Wednesday and usually had some type of youth group event every week.
I also begin reading books more regularly and began to get into a routine of nightly homework.
The point is, I did several different things in one day. On a typical day, I might get up, go to school, have an afternoon practice, have an evening church event, do my nightly homework, and then read or watch TV until bed. That’s 6 different events in 6 different environments.
High school was even more involved. Morning lifting for football, 6 periods of school, afternoon football/baseball/basketball practice, evening church or worship/FCA event, nightly homework, and then bed. Again, 6 different activities in 6 different places.
Moving on to college, the schedule looked something like this:
- Get up, fool
- Run or lift
- Class until early afternoon
- 3 hours of baseball practice
- Evening Worship Service
- Family Guy with the Roommates
So, by my count, that’s 7 or 8 things in 7 or 8 places.
Something else I would like to point out is that I went to a Liberal Arts college. So I was studying a diverse array of subjects for each of my four years. I was an Econ Major, Spanish Minor, and had a pretty serious concentration in New Testament Studies and History. That’s 4 different subjects I studied heavily almost every day and that doesn’t even include the courses I took on Galileo, Chemistry of Art, Beginners Japanese, etc. The point is, my studies in school were widely varied and diverse.
If your elementary, middle, and high schools were anything like mine, you know what this is like. First period is biology, followed by anthropology, followed by calculus, followed by English, and on and on and on. In school I jumped from subject to subject in short one hour or 90 minute bursts (and I bet you did, too). The above line-item of “Go to class” included very different experiences every hour or so.
Ok. So what’s the point?
The point is: I spent 15 of the first 22 years of my life learning how to accomplish great things through short bursts of intense focus. Since I only had 50 minutes every day to learn AP Calculus, I had to learn to adjust my temperament to an extreme and intense focus for a short period of time, then move on and do it in the next class/practice/event.
So, then I graduate from college and I am looking for a job (because that’s what you are supposed to do, right?). And guess what these employers are selling?
It goes something like this:
Duke, we want you to sit at your desk for 10 hours every day and do the same thing all day! Doesn’t that sound great?
You are basically asking me to do the exact opposite of what I have been trained to do for 15 years. That’s like telling me to 1) take the only way you know to accomplish diverse tasks, 2) forget it, 3) do it OUR way, and then 4) be grateful for this generous offer.
I’m not here to turn the business world on its ear, but can you see the lunacy is this? I understand that there are certain pre-existing constructs in every work environment, but asking someone to be productive in a manner that they have never been productive before is a little silly.
I will get into ways an employer can configure the work day to play to Gen Y’s strength and productivity, but for now I just wanted to point out the fundamental conflict between the way I was raised to accomplish and the way I am asked to accomplish at work.
Think about it this way:
What do admissions officers at universities look for in prospective students? It’s not just about the highest test scores or grades. They (allegedly) look for the proverbial “well-rounded” student, right?
How about employers? When McKinsey is scouring Ivy League campuses are they looking for the smartest nerd in the business school with the highest grade? Nope. They want a young man or woman who has demonstrated excellence in several areas at the same time. They want someone who is “well-rounded“, too.
So, Mr. Employer, let me see if I have this straight. You want me to demonstrate that I have achieved excellence in multiple areas at the same time so that I can come and do one thing for you, in the same place, all day?
Middle school was structured to get me ready for high school where a high value is placed on being well-rounded. High school gets me into a college where the admissions office heavily favors well-rounded students. College gets me ready to enter the workforce where the best employers want the most excellent students that are well-rounded. But once I enter the workforce I’m supposed to specialize at one single task all day every day and be the best at that.
Hmmm . . .
Am I the only one confused by this? Is anyone else struggling in this battle? Let me know in the comments and I’ll comment back.
This may be unique to me, but I think an integral part of setting goals for yourself should include your time.
That is, I think you should plan for what you want your ideal day to look like in addition to what you want to accomplish or who you want to be.
Most of us focus on deals we want to do, money we want to make, or roles we want to acquire as our career progresses. But, how many of us plan for how we want to spend our time in an ideal work setting?
Maybe the simplest way I could ask it is as follows: Suppose I were to give you $100 Million, no strings attached, and you realize that you still want to have a career. How would you spend your time in those work days?
For this thought exercise, let’s assume that careers have more intrinsic value than the basic need to make money. People like you and I are accomplishment-oriented and, as the great JoePa noted, there is only one major life event after retirement. We don’t stop being achievers when we have a bunch of money. Think about it. Think of all the start-up and business success stories you have heard about the entrepreneur who struck it rich and made so much money that they never had to work again. How many of them actually never worked again?
Maybe 5%? Maybe less?
Most of us love the rush of working and accomplishing things. That basic desire may change slightly, but it doesn’t fade when we get rich. It is still there and even the one-hundred-millionaire will want to work toward some goal every day.
So, for this exercise, let’s assume you have enough money to do whatever you want whenever you want to, but you still yearn for accomplishment and efficiency. How will you spend your day?
Do you see why this is a crucial question to ask of yourself? If you only focus on deals, money, and titles, you will work yourself to death and ruin your health and your relationships. I think you need to build some time into every day working on your life plan, not just your business plan.
Consequently, what are the things you would like to do every day to have an ideal life? If your life were “perfect”, what would you spend your time doing every day? I’m not trying to dig too deep philosophically, but if you don’t think about what the perfect version of your life would look like, then how do you know what to aim for?
So, back on point, what would your perfect work day look like?
Here are a few questions to consider . . .
What types of things would you accomplish?
What time would you wake up every morning?
How many hours of sleep would you get?
How would you spend the majority of your time?
How much of the day would you spend in the office vs your home?
How often would you be on the phone?
How much time would you spend meeting with people?
How much time would you spend with family?
How would you fit in your exercise?
What else would you like to spend your time doing?
How many days per week would you work?
All of these answers are unique to each person and no one can tell you what you “should” be doing. You have to figure that out for yourself and I can almost guarantee that these answers will change over time as your temples gray. But you MUST have a plan on how to spend your time.
When the shadows creep in, all we have is a collection of moments in our life. The greatest regret of a dying man may be to look back at his life and realize he wasn’t intentional with the way he used his moments. Those are the times when you hear men talk about “wasting their life.” That’s just a way of saying they wasted the time they were given on this earth since they didn’t intentionally plan how to spend those moments.
Don’t you be like that. Have a plan for your time and how you want to spend it. I bet that you will realize that there are changes you can make today in your current life stage to get you closer to that ideal day. You certainly don’t need $100 Million to make the first steps in that direction.
Take a few baby steps today and every year for the next 5 years and I am betting that you will find yourself much closer to that ideal day than you ever imagined you could be. You may just find that the $100 Million is an irrelevant consideration and that control of your time is more valuable to you than a huge paycheck.
Lest I be accused of being a philosopher, here is my practical application. My ideal work day and week is below. Take note of how much time I spend doing each of my activities and how I answered the above questions. That should tell you more about my priorities and lifestyle desires than any long-winded rant could. I put a few notes at the end of the schedule.
And here it is (click to enlarge) . . .
7.5 hours of sleep every night. Reading at least twice a day. Running everyday. Goal time at the beginning and end of every week. Answer emails ONLY 3 times per day. Plenty of practice on delegating tasks and organizing. Three networking lunches every week. Three afternoon lifts every week. Mentoring or coaching every single weekday. Two bible study/small group sessions every week. Date with the wifey every week. About 11 hours every week with the family in the evenings. 40 1/2 hour work week with most of my time spent on making deals, driving markets, and visiting properties.
Seems like a fun week and, frankly, a very efficient one. Notice how my goals conform to this ideal schedule. I need to find a role in which I am a deal-maker by phone and in person. I need to develop my organizational and delegation skills. I need an office that is close to a gym and close to my home. I need outlets through which I can coach and mentor young men (or my children). I need to stick to my networking in order to know the right people to call and visit property with during my day. And on and on and on. I can glean crucial data points to aim for now that I have this written down and recorded. If this is how I want to spend my days, I can now figure out what skills I should acquire and what contacts I need to make in order to get there.
Anyway, that’s what my ideal day and week look like. What does yours look like?
Visit this site and download the printable hourly calendar (I downloaded it to Word for editing). Fill out what your ideal week would look like and then take notes on what you are spending your time doing. How does that align with your priorities? Can you implement any of these changes right now? As I said above, start working toward that goal little by little and you may find that you have an ideal schedule before you ever become a high-powered executive. You may even want to show this to your boss. If he or she is a good boss, they will understand what you are doing, why you are doing it, and they will help you move toward your goal.
Use this tool and these ideas in any way you please. Let us know what you come up with in the comments and remember that your time is your most precious resource and if you don’t plan how you are using it you may look back and wonder what might have been.
(Hat tip to StudentHandouts.com for the great, free resource)