Trending Upward to Exhaustion

By: Tony DePrato | Follow me on Twitter @tdeprato

I have written before about measurement and time management. These two concepts are essential for anyone in a leadership position to understand and practice well. However, as leaders, do you ever ask yourself how much is too much? Or, how much time is enough time? When does my job end, and when does my life begin? Are those two things (job/life) the same, and should they be the same?

I believe most people want to work more efficiently, and have more time to focus on things outside of work. Changing focus is where I find inspiration and the energy needed to solve problems, and I have to be believe other people are similar. Change is difficult, but achievable.

Trending Upward

This graph represents the lives of many people I know. Regardless of what they do, and how well they do it, time is always a problem. Based-on this diagram, a person would never finish solving problems. The result is their life is Trending Upward to Exhaustion . The wheel never stops, and the demand is never met.

The goal  should be to achieve something known as a backward bending supply line. A very cool concept from economics.

If your work life and personal life reflected this graph, it would indicate you are completing more tasks/projects in less time. This indicates that the longer you are involved in a career, job, etc. your efficiency improves.

The long term effects of reaching this goal are substantial:

  • You leave work on-time
  • You can take time-off sometimes for personal needs
  • Vacations, are vacations
  • There is time to innovate and experiment
  • Professional networking can be weekly and not just the big conferences
  • This list…can be endless

Achieving a Better Balance

The only tools needed to achieve a better balance are a clock, a spreadsheet or journal, and an alarm/calendar. The process is simple:

  1. Every day at the contractual end of the work day, set an alarm or calendar reminder.
  2. Look at what work is still pending, it does not matter if that work is pending from the past, or if the work is new. Look at the work, and type of work. Record each unique task that is pending.
  3. When you finally leave to go home, make a note of the time.
  4. Continues this process for about two weeks.

You will start to notice things fall into a few categories:

  1. Tasks you have started on your own initiative
  2. Tasks someone else has given you
  3. Off plan tasks created either internally or externally

As you begin to look at and categorize data, certain trends will emerge.

First off, you will immediately identify people who are outliers. These people will either be always requesting or always complaining above the norm. For example, I once found one person accounted for 12% of all IT Support Requests. Once I had that data, I spoke to their line manager and the problem was sorted. Imagine 12% of all last minute noncritical requests being eliminated.

In another case, I found that one employee in a weekly meeting hoarded problems. They left the problems off the agenda, and sprung the problems like a trap. Because there was an agenda, only a small percentage of problems could ever be addressed, and thus problems spilled-over into another meeting, another day, etc. I started managing my time in the meeting. Since there was an agenda, if the items did not pertain to me, I would asked to be excused. This forced the person in question to schedule a direct meeting with me, and thus, I was able to insist on all issues being in writing, in advance. The result was that 90% of the issues were dealt with outside of a meeting, and via email. Sometimes, I could delegate the issues to another team member, and avoid direct involvement.

Next, you will notice tasks that you have volunteered to do. Those are simple enough to manage. Volunteering is a choice, and doing it too much will shift from choice to responsibility. Moderation is the key.

Finally, within your team/department you will notice inefficiencies that are spilling-over. If your team is supposed to complete jobs A-B-C, and they only complete A and C, who is going to do B? You cannot do B. You have to figure out how to help them do A-B-C and properly meet their responsibilities.

When I started finding the daily issues caused by spillover, I knew something needed to change. I solved most of the spillover issues after discovering the cause was within the human resources policies my team was following.

The solution is in the trend. To find the trend you need the data. Use time in its various forms as the benchmark and boundary for the data. Be diligent in the routine and if you cannot be objective, find someone to help with the analysis.

Find the balance, your life and your school will appreciate the outcome.

About Tony DePrato

Tony DePrato has a Master’s Degree in Educational Technology from Pepperdine University and has been working as a Director of Educational Technology since 2009. He has worked in the United Arab Emirates and China where he has consulted with schools in both regions on various technology topics. In 2013, Tony DePrato released The BYOD Playbook a free guide for schools looking to discuss or plan a Bring Your Own Device program. Tony is originally from the US, and worked in multimedia, website development, and freelance video production. Tony is married to Kendra Perkins, who is a librarian.
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