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Opinion Editorials

Why a “time is money” attitude can lead to failure

(EDITORIAL) America loves the thought of the hard worker. It’s a part of the American Dream, much like the Wild West. And like the Wild West, the idea that we’re busier now than ever and that our time is valuable – is a myth.

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The math is wrong

When Marissa Meyer’s dedication to working seemingly inhuman 130-hour workweeks was lauded in an interview as the key to her success, her detractors weren’t quiet in calling the notion ill-formed at best, ludicrous at worst.

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In the dim recesses, however, there were a small faction that quietly smiled, with a knowing nod to Mrs. Meyer and her Herculean work ethic. You see, for those who’ve seen their constant state of busyness devolve from simply being a way of life to something akin to an addiction, or a fetish, there is a greater danger still. Not only does an over-dedication to a bursting schedule relieve their need for belonging, importance, or fulfillment, but they do so believing time spent in pursuit of these efforts equals money. Unfortunately, their calculus is wrong.

The myth of the bootstraps

America loves the thought of the hard worker. It’s a part of our national ethos: the struggler, the striver, the Horatio Alger story of a lad who pulls themselves up by the bootstraps to achieve success at all costs. It’s a part of the American Dream, much like the Wild West.

And like the Wild West, the idea that we’re busier now than ever and that our time is valuable is a myth.

The number of hours worked annually in the United States has decreased 10.5 percent from 1950 to 2010, notes Derek Thompson in his Atlantic review of Elizabeth Kolbert’s New Yorker piece, “No Time.” Lest you be tempted to think this means the downfall of the American Puritan work ethic, worry not. Of comparable industrialized nations, Germany led the way with a decrease of 41 percent, and the Netherlands a close second at 40 percent.

Step away from the punch clock

Yet it certainly doesn’t feel that way, does it? Especially if you’re an entrepreneur, you understand the number of hours that you spend at the office, home, and the commute in between. Obsessing over every crucial detail of your company’s future can be an overwhelming adventure. But let’s afford ourselves a moment to step away from that embeddedness to look at what it is that we do and how we come to think about our process.

Identify which daily activities aren’t important to your process, suggests Birkinshaw and Cohen’s 2013 Harvard Business Review article, “Make Time for the Work That Matters.”

Employees can cut down the number of hours engaged in tasks that did not add commensurate levels of value by eliminating, delegating, or outsourcing.

Knowledge workers, who make up a majority of the current economy, can reduce the 41 percent of their time they identify as work-related activities that added little value to their organization and even less satisfaction to themselves.

What now?

So, once you’ve eliminated the things from your routine that don’t add anything meaningful, what should you do with that time? When you started your career, you had ambitions and dreams that were meant to support your life and the people in it. Is it now the other way around?

Have you become so intensely focused on making a living that you’ve forgotten to make a life?

The value of that hour engaged in a task that may or not be productive pales in comparison to the value of that hour that you’ve now gifted to those in your life or community. They need something much more than your production: your presence. The value of that hour gifted, fully immersed and present in the moment is often reciprocal as well. Spending time with your family or involved with your community as a volunteer provides you a restorative charge that allows the time you spend at work to be enriched, rather than simply spent.

#TimeIsTime

Roger is a Staff Writer at The American Genius and holds two Master's degrees, one in Education Leadership and another in Leadership Studies. In his spare time away from researching leadership retention and communication styles, he loves to watch baseball, especially the Red Sox!

Business Finance

How to survive a recession in the modern economy

(OPINION EDITORIAL) Advice about surviving a recession is common these days, but its intended audience can leave a large gap in application.

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There’s no question of whether or not we’re in a recession right now, and while some may debate the severity of this recession in comparison to the last major one, there are undoubtedly some parallels–something Next Avenue’s Elizabeth White highlights in her advice on planning for the next few months (or years).

Among White’s musings are actionable strategies that involve forecasting for future layoffs, anticipating age discrimination, and swallowing one’s ego in regards to labor worth and government benefits like unemployment.

White isn’t wrong. It’s exceptionally important to plan for the future as much as possible–even when that plan undergoes major paradigm shifts a few times a week, at best–and if you can reduce your spending at all, that’s a pretty major part of your planning that doesn’t necessarily have to be subjected to those weekly changes.

However, White also approaches the issue of a recession from an angle that assumes a few things about the audience–that they’re middle-aged, relatively established in their occupation, and about to be unemployed for years at a time. These are, of course, completely reasonable assumptions to make…but they don’t apply to a pretty large subset of the current workforce.

We’d like to look at a different angle, one from which everything is a gig, unemployment benefits aren’t guaranteed, and long-term savings are a laughable concept at best.

White’s advice vis-a-vis spending is spot-on–cancelling literally everything you can to avoid recurring charges, pausing all non-essential memberships (yes, that includes Netflix), and downgrading your phone plan–it’s something that transcends generational boundaries.

In fact, it’s even more important for this generation than White’s because of how frail our savings accounts really are. This means that some of White’s advice–i.e., plan for being unemployed for years–isn’t really feasible for a lot of us.

It means that taking literally any job, benefit, handout, or circumstantial support that we can find is mandatory, regardless of setbacks. It means that White’s point of “getting off the throne” isn’t extreme enough–the throne needs to be abolished entirely, and survival mode needs to be implemented immediately.

We’re not a generation that’s flying all over the place for work, investing in real estate because it’s there, and taking an appropriate amount of paid time off because we can; we’re a generation of scrappy, gig economy-based, paycheck-to-paycheck-living, student debt-encumbered individuals who were, are, and will continue to be woefully unprepared for the parameters of a post-COVID world.

If you’re preparing to be unemployed, you’re recently unemployed, or you even think you might undergo unemployment at some point in your life, start scrapping your expenses and adopt as many healthy habits as possible. Anything goes.

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Opinion Editorials

How strong leaders use times of crises to improve their company’s future

(EDITORIAL) We’re months into the COVID-19 crisis, and some leaders are still fumbling through it, while others are quietly safeguarding their company’s future.

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Anthony J. Algmin is the Founder and CEO of Algmin Data Leadership, a company helping business and technology leaders transform their future with data, and author of a new book on data leadership. We asked for his insights on how a strong leader can see their teams, their companies, their people through this global pandemic (and other crises in the future). The following are his own words:

Managers sometimes forget that the people we lead have lives outside of the office. This is true always, but is amplified when a crisis like COVID-19 occurs. We need to remember that our job is to serve our teams, to help them be as aligned and productive as possible in the short and long terms.

Crises are exactly when we need to think about what they might be going through, and realize that the partnership we have with our employees is more than a transaction. If we’ve ever asked our people to make sacrifices, like working over a weekend without extra pay, we should be thinking first about how we can support them through the tough times. When we do right by people when they really need it, they will run through walls again for our organizations when things return to normal.

Let them know it’s okay to breathe and talk about it. In a situation like COVID-19 where everything is disrupted and people are now adjusting to things like working from home, it is naturally going to be difficult and frustrating.

The best advice is to encourage people to turn off the TV and stop frequently checking the news websites. As fast as news is happening, it will not make a difference in what we can control ourselves. Right now most of us know what our day will look like, and nothing that comes out in the news is going to materially change it. If we avoid the noisy inputs, we’ll be much better able to focus and get our brains to stop spinning on things we can’t control.

And this may be the only time I would advocate for more meetings. If you don’t have at least a daily standup with your team, you should. And encourage everyone to have a video-enabled setup if at all possible. We may not be able to be in the same room, but the sense of engagement with video is much greater than audio-only calls.

We also risk spiraling if we think too much about how our companies are struggling, or if our teams cannot achieve what our organizations need to be successful. It’s like the difference in sports between practice and the big game. Normal times are when we game plan, we strategize, and work on our fundamentals. Crises are the time to focus and leave it all on the field.

That said, do not fail to observe and note what works well and where you struggle. If you had problems with data quality or inefficient processes before the crisis, you are not fixing them now. Pull out the duct tape and find a way through it. But later, when the crisis subsides, learn from the experience and get better for next time.

Find a hobby. Anything you can do to clear your head and separate work from the other considerations in your life. We may feel like the weight of the world is on our shoulders, and without a pressure release we will not be able to sustain this level of stress and remain as productive as our teams, businesses, and families need us.

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Opinion Editorials

Declutter your quarantine workspace (and brain)

(EDITORIAL) Can’t focus? Decluttering your workspace can help you increase productivity, save money, and reduce stress.

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It’s safe to say that we’ve all been spending a lot more time in our homes these last few months. This leads us to fixate on the things we didn’t have time for before – like a loose doorknob or an un-alphabetized bookshelf.

The same goes for our workspaces. Many of us have had to designate a spot at home to use for work purposes. For those of you who still need to remain on-site, you’ve likely been too busy to focus on your surroundings.

Cleaning and organizing your workspace every so often is important, regardless of the state of the world, and with so much out of our control right now, this is one of the few things we can control.

Whether you’re working from a home office or an on-site office, take some time for quarantine decluttering. According to The Washington Post, decluttering can increase your productivity, lower stress, and save money (I don’t know about you, but just reading those three things makes me feel better already).

Clutter can cause us to feel overwhelmed and make us feel a bit frazzled. Having an office space filled with piles of paper containing irrelevant memos from five years ago or 50 different types of pens, has got to go – recycle that mess and reduce your stress. The same goes with clearing files from your computer; everything will run faster.

Speaking of running faster, decluttering and creating a cleaner workspace will also help you be more efficient and productive. Build this habit by starting small: try tidying up a bit at the end of every workday, setting yourself up for a ready-to-roll morning.

Cleaning also helps you take stock of stuff that you have so that you don’t end up buying more of it. Create a designated spot for your tools and supplies so that they’re more visible – this way, you’ll always know what you have and what needs to be replenished. This will help you stop buying more of the same product that you already have and save you money.

So, if you’ve been looking to improve your focus and clearing a little bit of that ‘quarantine brain’, start by getting your workspace in order. You’ll be amazed at how good it feels to declutter and be “out with the old”; you may even be inspired to do the same for your whole house. Regardless, doing this consistently will create a positive shift in your life, increasing productivity, reducing stress, and saving you money.

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