Episode 4: Your Time - Career Cornerstone 4

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Do you know how to structure your days and your weeks to support your energy and therefore productivity and impact? And are you able to set, communicate, and maintain the boundaries on your time that allow you to thrive? This isn't about being dogmatic and obsessive about time management with minute-by-minute plans, loads of apps, and a variety of to-do lists. This is about having OWNERSHIP over your time in a way that supports your energy and priorities. And it’s an essential component of creating an energizing career you love.

Of course, the problem is most of us don't do this. Letting work or other people's requests and needs, overtake our lives is so common and so accepted we often don't question, take a stand, and push back for what we need.

In this episode I walk you through the science behind prioritizing yourself, and a step-by-step process for identifying, communicating, and holding the habits and the boundaries you need to feel at your best.

For those interested, this article has details on the studies I cited in the episode: https://nautil.us/darwin-was-a-slacker-and-you-should-be-too-236532/ 

You’ll learn in this episode

  • How much time you actually need to dedicate to work, rest, and sleep in order to achieve success and feel at your best.
  • Why we typically don’t hold our boundaries and how to move around this.
  • A step-by-step process for identifying, communicating, and holding the habits and the boundaries you need to feel at your best.

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Welcome to the career studio podcast, where we boil down the noise and focus on the core concepts, essential for building an energizing career you love. One that is simply an extension of who you are and how you wanna live your life. Anyone can do it. It's just a matter of knowing what to focus on.

Hi, I'm Anne Benveniste. Career coach, and founder of the career studio.

Welcome to episode four. Today, we're talking about time and specifically how to manage your time intentionally. So that you create the space to fuel yourself, which impacts everything else in your life. And as you might know, I'm starting off the podcast with an overview of the foundational components for creating an aligned, energizing, and rewarding career. I call these the four cornerstones.

The four cornerstones are: your brand, your mindset, your people, and your time. And the reason I created these and based my whole business and this podcast off of them is because there is a lot of noise out there about how to navigate your career. So, when you're in a situation where work has stopped working, and you're not sure what comes next, and you're not sure how to fix it, where do you start? What do you pay attention to? What do you ignore? How do you navigate the confusion you're feeling, with intention, with grace. Instead of just treading water in place, because you don't know what to do or instead of panicking and making a hasty decision, just so you've done something. Okay. So that's what these four cornerstones are all about.

Think of them like the foundation of a house. You need a sturdy foundation to build a house. Equally you need a sturdy foundation to build an energizing aligned career. These four cornerstones are your sturdy foundation. They're the most essential concepts to understand and apply. And they're the areas that need to be addressed first before everything else. They are the chapters in a playbook about how to build an energizing career. You love that you can come back to again and again, because inevitably who you are now will be different than who you are in 10 years. And so, you're gonna reach another inflection point and you're gonna want to have the tools to navigate that.

So, this episode, on time, pretty much stands on its own. So, if you're starting here, that's cool. And if you haven't listened to the first three episodes, I recommend you go back and you review these to get the overview of the concepts that are really the most important for this podcast. And that will really be grounding all of the episodes.

So, what I mean by time is; are you clear on how to structure your days and your weeks to support your energy and therefore your productivity and your impact? Are you able to set, communicate and maintain the boundaries on your time that allow you to thrive? This isn't about being dogmatic and obsessive about time management with like minute to minute plans and loads of apps and a variety of to-do lists. This is simply about having ownership over your time in a way that supports your energy and your priorities.

Obviously, the problem is most of us don't do this. We let work or other people's requests and needs overtake our lives. And it's so common. And it's so accepted. We don't even question it. We don't take a stand. We don't really push back for what we need, because we just think this is reality. When I was working in advertising, which is a very high pressure, fast paced client facing industry. It was standard procedure to work super late. Skip the plans I had for the evening, eat dinner in front of my computer. And by the time I left work, I was so mentally exhausted. All I wanted to do was watch a bit of Netflix, go to bed before starting everything over tomorrow.

Or in a post COVID world, you know where a lot of us are working remotely. This could look like you wake up, you look at your phone, you see an email that stresses you out and you start responding immediately. And then before, you know it, you've missed all the things you intended to do in the morning. Your next meeting, or your first meeting is in 15 minutes. And all you have time to do is quickly brush your teeth, put on some clothes, make a coffee, right. And then you're working. And you have lunch and maybe you have lunch at your desk, and you keep working and then you look up and the light is fading and it's 5:00 PM and you've barely stepped away from your computer all day.

And the last thing you wanna do is exercise or any of those intentions that you set out for yourself that make you feel better. Or maybe if you have kids, it looks something like between getting them up and dressed and ready for the day and then fed and homework done and ready for bed. And plus, all of your work commitments. There's no time left for you, right? Everything is going to work and to your family first, you come last. If at all. So, if any of those situations resonate with you, then this episode is definitely for you. So, let's get into it.

You might be aware of the highly popularized concept from Malcolm Gladwell that it takes 10,000 hours of practice to become an expert.

I think this is from his book, Outliers. So, then the assumption becomes, Okay, let me just work as quickly as possible to get to those 10,000 hours, right? That'll get me to the top of my field. Let me just wake up early before everyone else and get a head start. Let me work late into the evening to finish up extra stuff. Let me work over the weekend. The more I work, the faster I'll get to where I wanna go. Right?

But this doesn't work and the reason it doesn't work, actually comes from the study that that insight is taken from, right? And so, what he didn't include in his book but is really important for us to understand is that those 10,000 hours to expertise, those can only be successfully realized if they're combined with 12,500 hours of deliberate downtime and 30,000 hours of sleep.

Okay? So, you can't rush your way to expertise. So, more downtime and more sleep than practice.

If you actually look at the numbers, you should be resting 25% more than working. So, it's 50 hours for every 40-hour work week, which is a solid three and a half hours every day during the week, plus a full weekend. Because the thing is rest or deliberate downtime gives your brain a chance to do a different kind of work.

This is when it's processing information, connecting the dots, creating ideas. It's why sometimes it feels like you get your best ideas in the shower or on a walk or on a run, right? Because you're giving your brain a chance to operate in a less focused and less linear way than task focused work. It's kind of like when you can't remember something. And it's gone out of your brain and you're like, oh, I just had it. What is it? And if you focus, try and figure it out, it doesn't come back to you. But then if you just decide, ugh, I don't know. And you move on to start talking about something else, then suddenly it appears, right? It's like you have to not think about it in order for the idea to bubble up.

In fact, studies have shown that productivity peaks around four to six hours a day. And what I mean here is four to six hours of focused work. Strategic work, creative work, deliberate practice, anything that requires sustained application, sustained concentration, not so much sitting in meetings or responding to emails or slack.

This is about pure high brain activity work time. And output is basically not really any more productive as you increase past those four to six hours. There's actually a fascinating study about scientists, where they graphed the number of hours, they spent in the office against the number of scientific articles that they produced. And I think the assumption you'd probably think that the line would just be a straight up line to the right, with the number of articles increasing as they spent more hours at work. But actually, the curve is shaped kind of like an M. With the first peak being much higher than the second peak.

So let me explain that. It rises steep, deeply, and it peaks in terms of output. Number of articles produced. It peaks around 10 to 20 hours a week in the office. Okay. Then it slopes downwards and scientists working 35 hours a week were half as productive as their 20 hour a week colleagues. Then the curve rises again but doesn't reach the same height as the first peak. So those who really push it out and did 50 hours a week, they are able to produce more than their 35 hour a week colleagues. But their level of output is still only equal to the scientists who spent five hours a week in the lab. Okay. And it does not reach the same level of output as the scientist who did the 20 hour a week in the office.

Okay. So just let's stop there for a second. 50 hours a week. The output is equal to the scientist who spent five hours a week in the office. It's crazy. And then as you go keep spending more time in the office, the ones that did 60 hours plus, they were the least productive at all. Okay. So, if you start to think about your own work week, how much time you're spending at work, especially if you're in a very intense industry where you're working a lot, this starts to feel insane.

Right. And it starts to make sense why you feel the way you do. And obviously this is just one example from one study, but the takeaway is this. More time does not equal more productivity. And the sweet spot based on this incredible article that I share with all my clients. And I will put in the show notes, the article basically nets out that the sweet spot is four to six hours a day.

This is because those four to six hours leave enough time for the rest and the sleep your brain and your body need in order to be successful. When you eat into your rest and sleep time with more work, you're just gonna be less productive. Right. This is how you become mentally exhausted. This is how you burn out. It's gonna impact your ability to deliver high quality work. And it's gonna impact your ability in general, to just stay engaged and motivated in what you're doing.

You can't rush your way to expertise or results. And if you deprive yourself of recharge time, you're ultimately gonna hurt the thing you think is more important than the recharge time.

Right. You say, I can't take a break because I have to work, but then your work is not as good, and it takes twice as long and you go to bed late and you wake up cranky and demotivated, which makes work even harder the next day. Or if you're the type of person who's giving yourself to everyone around you first and leaving no time for yourself, you're eventually gonna get resentful and cranky because you've not had a minute to yourself. And then that impacts the relationships you're saying are more important. In the time you need to recharge and reset, right?

So, rest and sleep are in fact critical to being successful. They're required for you to recharge your batteries, feel energized, do your best work, and they allow your brain to work in another way. Connect the dots, retain and synthesize knowledge. So, you wanna make sure you're managing your time to create enough space for the optimal amount of rest and sleep. This is about managing your time in a way that prioritizes your energy first. So, you're at your best, and you can give your most to the people and the projects in the rest of your life.

And obviously like what I'm saying is not rocket science. It's not, this isn't exactly new information. You probably conceptually intellectually know this. You know that you feel better when you prioritize yourself that you feel amazing after a good night's sleep, a weekend where you get to completely unplug, you know, you feel more energized when you exercise or more calm when you meditate or more invigorated after a dinner with friends. Whatever the things are, you have a sense of what you need to feel good, but you don't do it.

Why why, why don't we do it? It's because prioritizing yourself requires you to say no to things and push back on requests, and that can feel super uncomfortable. And the reason we feel uncomfortable is cuz we're focused on a set of beliefs about pushing back about creating space for ourselves and our priorities that make us feel bad.

Remember, our thoughts create how we feel. Okay. So, the set of beliefs you might have could sounds maybe like; this is more important, this is more urgent. Or they'll be upset if I say no, or they'll think I can't handle the job or the workload, or if I do that, I won't be a good mother or partner or friend. So, these beliefs are sneaky because we're trying to be the best version of ourselves. But they produce feelings like worry or anxiety or fear, embarrassment, awkwardness. And we don't like those feelings. Right. Cuz they're uncomfortable. And so, in order to avoid those feelings, we say yes to the request, and we deprioritize ourselves.

But the thing is when we try and avoid uncomfortable feelings by saying yes to the other thing and no to ourselves, there's still gonna be an uncomfortable impact somewhere else in our lives. The uncomfortable feeling is gonna come for you in the feeling of exhaustion or resentment or longing or feeling distracted, not present. The uncomfortable feeling might come through overmedicating or overusing substances just to get yourself through whatever the thing is.

All right. So, no matter what, there's still gonna be something uncomfortable happening in your life. Either there's the discomfort of pushing back and saying no, or there's the discomfort of saying yes and dealing with the impact on your life of not prioritizing yourself, right. Of putting work or other people before your own needs.

And this is the thing about uncomfortable feelings. They don't just go away because you avoid them. When you avoid them, they just show up somewhere else. Usually in the form of personal suffering, either emotionally or physically. One of the things my coach taught me that I now sing from the rooftops is that life is a 50/ 50 of positive and negative feelings and experiences. And being okay with experiencing negative feelings is the admission ticket to the things you want. To a bigger life. And in the case of our conversation today, it's the price to creating the boundaries on your time that you need in order to thrive, it is okay to feel discomfort. It's 50% of life.

So, if you struggle to create the boundaries on your time that you need to prioritize yourself and fill your tank with energy, I've laid out what to do. And I'm gonna walk you through that now. Step by step.

So, one, first you have to mentally accept the research I've laid out today. The idea that prioritizing your energy is essential to doing your best work. You want to decide that filling your tank with gas and making sure it's always as full as possible is a top priority. And obviously, of course, there's gonna be times when you say it's not a priority. You want to work late, you want to work extra, you wanna stay out late with friends. You want to commit to loads of activities that you know are gonna drain your energy over a week or a month. But you're going into that with the intention that you're gonna feel de-energized. And perhaps then you're also doing stuff either side of that or alongside it to fill your tank as much as possible.

But the first point of call here before anything else is just getting on board with the philosophy that prioritizing your energy is essential to doing your best work and being the best version of yourself, to all the people in your life. Okay. Once you are on board with that, you wanna think through what are the activities that fuel me? What gives me energy? This can really be anything that isn't work. So, exercise, reading a book, cooking a nice meal, going on a walk, playing music, going surfing, meditating, getting to bed at a certain time, so you can get the sleep that you need.

Pick one or two things to start with that you aren't doing right now that you would like to do more of. Okay. You wanna start off small just with one or two things so that you can focus on them and really incorporate them into your life. Don't try and change everything at once.

Next, decide at the start of every week when you're gonna do them. Block them out on your calendar first, before committing to other things. Right? Think about what the time of the day is where I'm most likely to be able to do this. What's the time of day that's best gonna serve this activity. If you have the most energy to exercise in the morning, then do it in the morning and make that your priority.

Think about when you have the best opportunity to actually do the thing, not when you can fit it in. Right. And you really wanna decide ahead of time when you're gonna do it, because if you just think, oh yeah, I want to exercise three times a week, but you don't decide when, and it's not yet a habit or something that you crave or are comfortable making space for, then you're not gonna prioritize it.

So, decide ahead of time and actually put it on your calendar when you're gonna do it. Okay, then tell the people that need to know. So maybe your team needs to know that every Tuesday and Thursday you're going on a run at five. And so, you're not gonna be available for meetings then, or maybe they need to know that you don't look at emails until 9:00 AM or that you're doing family things from four to eight, and you'll be online later to tie up loose ends.

You can tell them why it helps you do your best work. So, it could sound something like; "Hey guys, I'm finding running regularly really helps me clear my head and have more energy and focus throughout the week. So, I wanted to let you know, so you can help keep me accountable that I'm gonna go on a run Tuesday and Thursday at five" or another one; "hey guys, I'm finding I'm really losing energy in the afternoons, and if I take a walk at lunch, this really helps me. So, I'm gonna be offline from 12:30 to 1 most days". Or another one;" hey guys, I'm better during the week when I completely shut off during the weekends. So, I'm not gonna be checking my email until Monday mornings".

Right? So, you can see in these examples, you're bringing them on board with you. You're telling them why this helps you do your best work, and you're asking them to help you stay accountable. Right. And you could equally offer to help them stay accountable to something. And by doing this, you're starting to create a culture of people making space to fuel themselves. Right? If you're a team leader doing this is gonna set an example for your team, that it's okay to do that as well. So, bring people on board with you, tell the people that need to know.

Next, you're gonna have to practice saying no. Because what will happen inevitably is people will try and book things over the intentions that you've made. It's inevitable. So, use that as an opportunity to practice feeling uncomfortable by saying, no. This is why telling people in advance is important because it sets the stage for you to push back. And just explain to them why you can't do it. And when you'll be able to do the work or meet instead. So that could sound like; "Hey, I just saw the meeting you put in. I actually have yoga then every Tuesday and my brain is way sharper after that. So, I'm gonna be a much better thought partner if we can do the meeting on Wednesday morning". And obviously look guys, I know you're gonna have to acquiesce sometimes, right? Juggling a team with different schedules or client demands, it's tricky. You don't always get to do the thing you want and that's okay. But at least you've practiced setting the boundary, and you could have a backup spot where, you know, if I can't do it, if I can't go to my yoga class on Tuesday, then I'm gonna go to my yoga class on Wednesday. And then notice, especially in work, if your boundaries are continually disrespected, and if people don't appreciate what you're trying to do, then you're probably not in the right environment for your priorities.

Remember what we discussed in episode one about your brand. Your environmental and your lifestyle priorities is a critical aspect to consider as you're figuring out what is the best fit for me. And then the last step is just keep practicing. You know, you're not gonna be perfect the first time around. It's not like just one day you decide you're gonna go to yoga twice a week, and then you just do it perfectly every time. There's gonna be weeks where you don't do it at all. There will be weeks where you do it, kind of, it takes a while to form a habit and you don't wanna get discouraged just cuz you don't do it perfectly. The only thing that's required to make something a habit it's just to decide that you're going to keep going until it is.

You just keep resetting every week and say, okay, I wasn't great last week. What did I learn? How can I think about it differently? What do I need to say no to? Or maybe, you know, you thought you could do it at a certain time and it's just not really working out. And so, you need to adjust it. As long as you stay committed to continuing to figure it out until it is a habit until it is part of your life. You will get there. You'll be successful.

And you can motivate yourself to keep trying by reminding yourself of the difference incorporating this activity is gonna make in your life. And with that in mind, I actually wanted to share a few anecdotes and some quotes from some past clients that showcase some of this work in action.

So, here's an anecdote. I had a client who, she's more on the introverted side, and she gets her energy from being in her garden, quality time with her partner, just time by herself in general. And the situation was, she was super slammed at work, working on a huge project. Plus, she had a big wedding and bachelorette weekend coming up and she felt totally stretched and drained because there were also friends coming into town or people asking her to go out and do things.

So, she decided because she was so busy at work and because she had these wedding commitments coming up, she was just gonna say no to all social events and make sure she really took care of herself in terms of intentionally spending time in the garden, doing things at home, cooking herself nice meals. These are the things that give her energy. So, she intentionally made time for it and said no to the things that she knew were energy drain. Okay. And she did that for a period of time until work was less full -on and she didn't have those big wedding bachelorette commitments.

Okay. So, another slightly different example. I had a client who for years was the one who took on the additional unpaid work of planning holiday parties and investor meetings. And she hated it. But she took it on as her responsibility because she thought she had to do it. And because she thought she was good at it. And because she thought they expected her to do it.

And finally, she just was fed up. She reached a breaking point, and she told them I don't wanna do this anymore. And what was really interesting for her is, and what she was surprised about is that they were actually super casual about it. They were like, yeah, no worries. We'll find someone else. But for years she'd been building it up in her head as this big thing that she couldn't say no to.

And actually, when she did say no, it wasn't a big deal at all. And so that often happens, right? We think that saying, no, everyone's gonna reject us. But actually, saying no is not a big deal. Here's two others, these are quotes that people have written me as part of prep work they've done about what's going on for them as part of our coaching sessions.

So, here's one from a client. She said," I've noticed recently that meditating in addition to working out at lunch really helps me get through the end of the day. I've even set aside the high moral ground of showing up to meetings on time. I've had a lot of back-to-back meetings in the afternoon. So, I just show up a few minutes late after meditating and I'm in a better spot and able to give more to meetings".

I love that. Right? So, she's prioritizing herself. She's not showing up perfectly. Right. But ultimately her impact in the meeting is more because she took those few minutes for herself and a similar quote from another client. She said, "because I'm not forcing myself to sit at my computer all day. I've noticed when I do my work, I'm now a lot sharper. I'm not as tired and drained and I spend less time in a panic mindset". Okay. Again, she's taking time for herself. She's stepping away from her computer. She's noticing that that makes her sharper. So, these are all examples of what it looks like to take the reins of your time and set boundaries so that you can thrive.

Obviously, all roles, industries, teams, require different levels of commitment, but really every role has to be able to accommodate basic things like exercise, like dinner away from your computer, like enough time to sleep, eight hours. Like time with your family or the people in your life. They can accommodate it if you take a stand for what you need to be successful. Ask yourself what boundaries on my time do I need to set? What requests do I need to make? And I get it. It might feel uncomfortable at first. It's gonna feel uncomfortable to communicate a need that you haven't been communicating. You wanna expect that.

So first just reframe it for yourself. Choose a different perspective as it is better for everyone, because you're gonna be doing better work and you're gonna be more pleasant to be around, and you're gonna be a better version of yourself and then just embrace any additional residual uncomfortable feelings. You can do it.

It's okay to feel a bit uncomfortable. And as I said, it's the price you have to pay to create the space you need. And I promise you, once you do it, you're gonna realize you can. You're going to realize the discomfort of saying no is not so bad. It's really just the anticipation of the conversation that is the most uncomfortable.

And you're gonna start to realize that your colleagues, your family, your friends, they're not gonna reject you. They're probably even going to respect you. And they may hopefully begin to copy you. And you're going to feel in return, more energized, more balanced, more aligned. It's gonna allow you to give more to everything in your life. And this is so motivating. You're gonna continue to do it. You just have to move through the initial discomfort of saying no and communicating what you need.

And I would also say, you're gonna be setting an example in a lot of environments if you do this. This is so, so important. You can be the change, be the example of what sustainability and balance looks like. Especially if you're leading a team. Sometimes we don't think about as how you feel is how everyone else feels. Of course, let's put aside the anomalies of a masochistic leader who works around the clock because they can't stand the feeling of sitting still or whatever it is, they've all got their own stuff to deal with. And if you're working under one of those people, you should get out.

But everyone else, they want breaks. They want time to exercise. They want time to be with their family. They want time away from work. So, show them how it's done. Take a break, close your laptop, snag a cheeky nap in the middle of the day. No one will know and you'll feel amazing. You actually have to do less, to do more.

So, anyone can take control of their time. It's just a matter of knowing what to focus on.

Hey, if you're ready to create an energizing career you love, one that is simply an extension of who you are and how you want to live your life. Then I wanna invite you to schedule a consultation. We'll get to the bottom of what's going on for you. And exactly where you need to focus to bring your career and life into alignment. It's free. Just head on over to thecareer.studio/schedule to find a time that works for you, or if you're enjoying and getting value from these episodes, I'd love you to leave a short review on whatever podcast app you use.

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