Don’t fake it if you want to make it
By David Penney
There is no one single secret to success.
Success – however you define it – is achieved through a combination of many factors.
For athletes it could be a combination of natural talent, determination and a smattering of good fortune around injuries.
In business those factors could be an unwavering optimism, resilience to disappointment and an appetite for risk.
However, one area that may not be the single key to success, but is an important trait in all successful people, is a respect for time.
We often hear the phrase in business that time is money, but it is so much more than that. Time is our greatest asset and what we choose to do with our time will define what happens in our lives.
It was William Penn, the founder of the American district of Pennsylvania, who said that “time is what we want most, but we use worst” and the truth is that for many of us, even though we don’t know how much time we have, we still waste it.
As somebody who has spent more than three decades working in financial services, I have had literally thousands of conversations about the importance of time when it comes to investing, but achieving success is not just about having that long term orientation, it’s about having a better relationship with time every day.
As a species we are great ones for marking and often mourning time’s passing and yet it is something that we seem to pay such little respect to in the present, particularly when it comes to work.
Even though we all feel that we are working hard – indeed possibly working harder than ever – the reality is that for all the effort that people put in, it could be that they are often actually achieving less.
It is a decade since the author Brent Peterson coined the phrase ‘fake work’ – a phenomenon where people work hard but they mistake activity for results.
According to Peterson, this is caused when people are told to do something, or choose to do something, because they are rewarded for it, or when the desired results of that work are not properly articulated.
Real work is that critical activity that explicitly aligns with goals and strategies, but how often do we step back and ask ourselves whether all the hard work we are putting in is creating results that measurably matter?
In short, are we using our time wisely?
When was the last time you reviewed all the repeat meetings in your calendar and questioned whether they were creating the desired results? All that information you shared today – did everyone really need it? Was that offsite meeting a good use of your time and energy?
More than 100 years ago the Italian economist Vilfredo Pareto created a mathematical formula to describe the unequal distribution of wealth in his country, observing that 20% of the people owned 80% of the nation’s wealth.
It is a principle that has since gone on to be applied in a range of studies – 80% of a company’s revenues are generated by 20% of its customers; 80% of complaints come from 20% of customers; or as the opposite rule, 20% of blogs generate 80% of traffic!
It is also a formula that can play a large part in helping with productivity at work – and developing a better relationship with time.
When you look at your ever-expanding ‘to do’ list, the chances are that only a few of the items on the list are tied to what would be considered important issues – those that are going to help achieve established strategic goals.
As nice as it is to cross off a large number of the smaller issues off the list, according to the 80/20 rule, by focusing on the most important issues on the list you are likely to generate much more valuable results, even if the list doesn’t get appreciably smaller. Your valuable time is being much better spent.
David Rock, author of Your Brain at Work, found that somewhat alarmingly, we are actually only truly focused for six hours a week and so that the real challenge for us isn’t working out what we should do, but actually what we shouldn’t do.
The great thing is that when you stop doing the things that make you feel busy but aren’t getting results, the energy you have saved can be redirected into other important areas of your professional – and personal – lives.
By actually doing less and really focusing on the things that matter, we are clearing mental space for more creativity while also making more space for ourselves to enjoy all those other things in life that are important to us.
So if you are working around the clock and regularly clocking up 60 or 70 hours weeks, there is a very good chance that the effort that you are putting in is not a means to accomplishment but potentially an obstacle to it.
So take a step back, assess whether the work you are doing is delivering the results you really want and revel in the joy of doing less – it might just be the secret to success that you’ve been looking for.