Why ‘leaning back’ is the new ‘leaning in’

You’re busy. Slammed. Up to your neck. Buried. But do you really have to be?

There’s no denying that advisors have a lot on their plates, but it’s gotten to the point where business owners wear busy as a badge of honour, and take insult to the idea that they could be working less, say experts.

Recent surveys have found almost a third of working adults get six hours or less of sleep per night, 80% continue to work after leaving the office, 69% cannot go to bed without checking their inbox and 38% routinely check their work e-mails at the dinner table.

A recent anonymous column on The Economist website hit back at the plethora of publications telling business people to ‘book themselves solid’, to ‘never eat alone’ and, most of all, to ‘lean in’.

“It is high time that we tried a different strategy – not ‘leaning in’ but ‘leaning back’,” said the author.

Taking time away from the busy-ness of business has been a favourite tool of some of the great leaders of commerce in the past. Jack Welsh of general electric would dedicate an hour a day to what he called 'looking out the window time'. Bill Gates would take two 'think weeks' every year.

“Office workers are on a treadmill of pointless activity. Managers allow meetings to drag on for hours. Workers generate e-mails because it requires little effort and no thought. An entire management industry exists to spin the treadmill ever faster.

“Yet the biggest problem in the business world is not too little but too much – too many distractions and interruptions, too many things done for the sake of form, and altogether too much busy-ness.”

This proverbial treadmill is not only wasting our time, says entrepreneur and writer Meredith Fineman, but it’s damaging our mental health and harming our personal relationships.

“In addition to having entire conversations about how busy we are, we fail to share feelings with friends and family, ask about important matters, and realise that the ‘busy’ is something that can be put on hold for a little while,” said Fineman.

Business has become a competition, she says, and it’s only getting worse.

“To say that ‘I'm busier than you are’ means I'm more important, or that my time is more valuable, or that I am ‘winning’ at some never-finished rat race to Inbox Zero.

“When everyone around us is ‘slammed', it's easy to feel guilty if we're not slaving away on a never-ending treadmill of toil. By trying to compete about it, we're only adding to that pool of water everyone seems to be constantly ‘treading’ in.”

It’s time to realise that busy-ness doesn’t mean productivity or even hard work. On average, people can focus for a maximum of 90 minutes before they become distracted and their output begins to decline, says Fineman.

“If you're putting in 15 straight hours at your desk, without breaks, how good is your output? How much time are you wasting?

“For once, I'd like to hear someone brag about their excellent time management skills, rather than complain about how much they can't get done. Maybe we could learn something from each other.”

Finally, Fineman offers three tips to cut the busy and take your time back:

Constrain the time. “The more I constrain my time, the more focused and productive I feel, and the less I waste time on low-priority work. If you can only afford to spend 45 minutes on a certain project, then only spend 45 minutes on it – and move on, even if it isn't perfect.”

Use a scheduler. “If you're really up to your neck, it's very easy to find a scheduler, virtual or otherwise, to help put things on your calendar. Sometimes it's a matter of freeing up that time used for coordinating plans to actually doing them. Zirtual is a great answer to this. As is the DIY scheduler Doodle.”

Cut the fat.Once I cut out superfluous meetings that were not fun, productive, leading to new business, or really had something wonderful in it for me professional or otherwise, that plate emptied a little bit.”