One of the most important ways to show our loved ones that we care about them is to spend time with them. We also all deserve the opportunity to relax and enjoy our own passions. On the flip side, many of us have challenging work lives that are very important to us and make many demands on our time. This can leave us in a state of stress. We feel guilty when we are working, and guilty when we are not. And we feel lousy when we don’t leave enough time for ourselves.
What we all need is more time. In his book Deep Work, Cal Newport makes the case that we should all finish work by 5:30. The actual time is not important to Newport, but having a cut-off time every day when we are committed to ending and leaving work is very important. According to Newport, we should figure out a fixed end time and then work backwards to get all of our important tasks done before the deadline. And we should say “no” to anything that throws us off schedule.
Why does this help (according the Newport)?:
I have been working with this idea and trying to put it into practice. I start with planning my departure time each day and then plan my day backwards from there. I have seen some success with the concept. It absolutely does change my mindset about low-priority tasks and frivolous activities like checking email too much or having long-winded conversations about nothing. My calendar reminds me that I have only so much time to get the important stuff done.
Where I struggle with Newport’s idea is around the leadership aspects of my work. I feel strongly that a big part of being a good leader is taking time with people when they need it, and you can’t schedule when people will need you. When I first tried Newport’s approach (too rigorously), I found myself getting short with people or just plain letting moments pass when I should have taken the time to have an important conversation with someone.
Despite the challenges, I still recommend the fixed cut-off time idea. If we lead people, we just need to make sure we are prepared to adjust our plans when required in order not to miss the important opportunities to coach, console, train, manage, and motivate our team members. This is our most important role after all.
One thing I really appreciate and believe about Newport’s approach is his assertion that we should not work after our cut-off time. We all need to take time for our families and ourselves daily – this is very important to our productivity during our work time and is the key to living a balanced life.