"How do you get it all done?"
This is a question I am asked time and again, and I have to say that time management has never been a particular problem for me, no doubt because of my early training in time management by a Japanese boss.
Oh yes, I worked for a Japanese company for three years, and it was a learning experience like no other!
When I was hired for my first executive-level job, my employer was a Japanese tycoon who owned a number of interrelated businesses, and he hired me to open an office in the US for him. Soon after my hire (I won't go in to the details of our disastrous first in-person meeting when he took me for a stripper because until that moment he had assumed I was a man), he invited me to participate in a Japanese management training program for new executives in Tokyo.
I went, and it was everything you imagine in terms of being exhausting and weird, but the worst actually came after the training when we sat down to go over my to-do list for the week. He talked, we brainstormed, I talked, and I took notes, and after about 40 minutes I had a list of some 90-odd tasks to complete in the next week.
"This is too much!" I protested. "I can't do all this."
"Then why did I hire you?" he asked.
That shut me up but good. He said, "I hired you because I believed that you could complete the tasks in a satisfactory manner in the time allotted. Was I wrong?"
Well, when you put it that way, no, you weren't wrong, I thought, but I still don't know how I am going to get all this done on time.
He then challenged me to create a work plan to prove to him how I was going to organize my week to get everything done. (Now, of course, I realize that it was to prove to myself that I could get it all done, but I was young and green back then.)
The only work plans available for me to see were in Japanese, and while my conversational Japanese was passable, my reading comprehension was not. Looking at my colleagues' work plans gave me little inspiration, so I went with the one idea I had, which was to create a calendar that scheduled each task for a specific amount of time. It was like putting together a very complicated puzzle, but I did it.
One of the advantages in this scenario was that the standard work week was 55 hours, compared to the 40-hour week Americans work. Using that schedule of 10 hours a day plus half a day Saturday, I discovered that I was indeed able to schedule everything I needed to do, and with a little time to spare if I whizzed through some tasks. Not that there was a lot of give in the schedule, but by adjusting my expectations of the time it would take to complete the tasks (which was easier when my boss told me that what I could do in 10 minutes was worth an hour of most people's time), bundling like tasks together, and making some educated guesses, the work plan came together.
When I proudly showed him the plan, he simply nodded, and that was that. I wondered if his response was a sign of his decreasing confidence in my abilities, so I resolved to make this work plan happen if it was the last thing I did. (Turns out his nod was the height of commendation, and my colleagues thought I was teacher's pet after that.)
What I discovered by having this detailed work plan is that it completely focused my attention, and made it (almost) easy to get huge amounts of work done. It was a relief to cap the time devoted to tasks, and confidence-boosting to complete so many tasks quickly.
My strategy was simple: Instead of fussing and over-editing, I simply went with my best ideas--or my worst idea if that was all I had--and did the work, without worrying about quality because my boss made it clear that quantity of output was more important than quality. Of course, it helped that he believed that my work would be of sufficient quality so spending more time on it would be pointless.
It was after a couple of years working for this company that I finally understood that his insistence on detailed work plans was not a reflection of his lack of confidence in me, or the fact that I was working without supervision in another country, but a cultural norm. I was surprised to find out that my colleagues back in Tokyo didn't always complete their plans, and that my boss used to shame them by comparing my output (the output of an American WOMAN, blonde
, no less!) to theirs, which did not make me particularly popular in the head office, although they were too polite to say much to my face.
Years later, when I worked with Dan Kennedy
in his Peak Performers program, I heard him say again and again that speed and output were two of the keys to success, and to get used to the concept of good enough being good enough.
I struggle with this concept of "good enough" to this day, but as is obvious by my work, I don't wait until everything is perfect to get it out. I pack my schedule with tasks, meetings, and creative time because I know that if I don't control my schedule, the time will just slip away from me, and what I want to accomplish will be left undone, leaving me disappointed in myself.
My work plan is tight but includes everything I truly want and need to get done, as I learned to do so long ago from my Japanese boss. Any lingering leanings I ever had to perfectionism are long gone, thanks in part to the influence of what I consider the greatest marketing mind in the world, Dan Kennedy
, and to the confidence I have gained by making this discipline a part of my life.
I truly do the best I can in the time I have, and you won't find me messing around when I have work to do and deadlines to meet, which is how I get so much done. (Although, in the spirit of full disclosure, I don't actually get it all done.)
When it comes to projects, my eyes are definitely bigger than my stomach so to speak, but I am comfortable knowing that I get done what needs to be done, done. And so can you.