Are you working long hours, struggling with a schedule that seems always overloaded, and perpetually struggling to catch up? You’re not alone. In the United States, overwork has become the norm, with average work weeks stretching to 47 hours. On top of that, Americans are more likely than other nationals to work on weekends or after 10 PM (as I’m doing right now).
There is a way out of this insanity. That message comes from Bruce Rosenstein, managing editor of the journal Leader to Leader, and author of Create Your Future the Peter Drucker Way. Rosenstein is a leading authority on Drucker and his teachings, and he says Drucker’s philosophy of “systematic abandonment” is the answer to our national tendency to overload ourselves.
Though Drucker counseled systematic abandonment as a way to make companies stronger, it’s a good way for individuals to manage their work schedules as well, Rosenstein says. Here’s how it works.
1. Look at Each of Your Activities as if They Were New
Then ask yourself this question: “Knowing what I know now, would I take this on today if I weren’t already doing it?” Be honest. If the answer is no, then that activity is ripe for abandonment.
Rosenstein has followed this path himself. For years, while working full-time, he had a one-day-a-week job in a record store because he enjoyed music and liked being involved in the music world. “It was a really cool job, and I’d been doing it for a number of years, but one day I decided I just couldn’t do it anymore,” he says. So he quit, and not long after got the opportunity to teach a university course. “If I hadn’t left that job, I wouldn’t have had time,” he says. “And teaching is way more fulfilling.”
2. Make Sure to Do What You Want, as Well as What You Must
“When you’re laying out your day, what needs to be done, versus what do you want to do?” Rosenstein asks. “Maybe you want to work on a particular project, but maybe there’s a task that absolutely needs to get done today. Can you delegate it to someone else in your organization? Or can it be outsourced?” Find a way to take the gotta-get-dones off your plate, especially if they aren’t tasks that require your particular skills. (Here are some tips for those who have trouble delegating.)
3. Challenge Your Daily Routines
Keep track of every activity you do in a day, and for each one, ask yourself if that activity is truly moving you toward your goals. “Chances are you’re doing some things more from force of habit than anything else,” Rosenstein says. “This is an easy way to see where your precious time and resources are actually going, and what changes you’d be smart to make.”
4. Make a List of Things You Do Particularly Well
These are your core competencies, the things you can build your success on. Now make a list of all the things you actually do during a given week, and compare the two lists. If they’re not in alignment, take action, Rosenstein says.
For instance, you may be using social media to support one of your core competencies, but it’s easy to drift from using social media to support your goals to just using social media. “You have to find where that dividing line lies,” he says.
5. Once You’ve Cut Back on Activities, Focus on Improving What Remains
“Remove and improve,” Rosenstein advises. The point of systematic abandonment is not only to gain some work-life balance, although that should certainly be one effect. The other purpose is to take a close look at those core competency tasks—the things you do extremely well, and that can make all the difference to your success and that of your company. Take some of the time and energy you’ve gained by letting other things go, and use it to do better at those core activities. That kind of focus can make you powerfully effective, and you may find you’re operating at a whole new level.
6. Do it Again
Drucker was an advocate for kaizen, the Japanese term for continuous improvement. In other words, the idea is that systematic abandonment is never done for good—you need to go back and review your activities again from time to time to see what you should abandon and what you can improve. “Practice it at regular intervals, at times of the year that feel fitting to you,” Rosenstein says.
“Everyone’s life changes and if your situation change, the tasks that make sense for you may change too,” Rosenstein says. “Remember, there’s never going to be enough time to accomplish everything you’d like. But if you remove the guessing game, and determine the areas where your time and efforts ought to be most focused, you’re likely to be better and more fulfilled in every area of your life.”
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