The Power of Doing Less has a very simple but I think, very powerful message. We are all busier than ever before. Our lists of stuff to do, whether in work or outside of work, seem to get longer and longer. In response to this, we put in more time – particularly at work – trying to ‘clear the list’. We feel that if we work long enough hours, we can eventually – somehow - ‘clear the list’.
My book says that it’s time to wise up and to realize that we will never clear the list – not even if we had several lifetimes.
So rather than trying to clear the list, we should do something much smarter. We should just focus on the things that really, really matter.
Rather than asking the question, ‘How can I cram this in to an already overcrowded life?’ we should be asking, ‘Why should I invest my precious time in this?’ If you can’t come up with a good enough answer, you should not do the particular thing.
Why in the last 20 years have people’s lives got busier?
I think it’s a combination of two factors. One is the work and communication tools that we now have. We can quite literally work twenty four hours a day, if we choose to. I can wake in the middle of the night and, provided my mobile phone is by my bed, I can instantly be at work. That notion would have been laughable to our parents and grandparents - not just that the technology to do this would be available but more, why you might want to do something like this in the first place.
The second factor is the pressure / threat – implied or stated – that if we don’t do something, there is somebody somewhere who will. So we find bosses saying (and getting away with) things like, ‘You’re going to have to do more with less,’ or ‘If you don’t do it I’ll find somebody who will,’ or ‘You should work smarter not harder’ [whatever that’s supposed to mean] or ‘You’re lucky to have a job’.
Layoffs, redundancies, outsourcing, downsizing, offshoring – the threats come in different flavours but they’re all basically the same threat.
Why is work more demanding than ever before?
Many bosses and organisations seem to equate attendance with productivity. In other words, if you spend a long time in work – arrive in early, go home late – then you must be doing a great job.
Any boss who thinks this is an idiot.
What are the most important things that people should be spending time on?
First has to be your health. This is on the basis that if your body packs up, everything else falls apart. So – eating good food, not drinking too much, giving up smoking if you do, getting some exercise, losing weight if you’re over. Trying to stay reasonably healthy.
Second I think is family – wives, husbands, partners, children, loved ones.
After that, there are often two contending priorities – earning a living and your passions. If you’re lucky you can combine both.
So far, for example, I haven’t been that lucky. I earn a living from consulting / training and speaking but my passion is writing fiction.
Since I haven’t yet been able to combine them, I balance them. It’s the next best thing and it’s completely possible. If I can do it anyone can. You put in the time to earn a living and you make the time for your passions. My book tells you exactly how to do that.
Please can you tell us the difference between the ‘work that hurts’ and ‘work that works’?
I think of it like this: Some stuff in our work lives really, really matters. It’s unbelievably important. And lots of stuff … well, just isn’t.
The ‘work that works’ is the unbelievably important stuff. You’ve got to figure out what that is. You’ve got to agree it with your boss. You have to make sure that what you both have agreed is measurable. This is to ensure that when, say your annual performance appraisal comes around, there is no confusion in anyone’s mind about whether or not you have been successful.
The ‘work that hurts’ is all the other stuff. This is the stuff that you should absolutely not do. You should treat it with the contempt it deserves and not invest your precious life in it.
Just to give one example, I’d have to say that a lot of meetings fall into this second category. While some meetings are incredibly valuable, useful and productive, I think I’d have to say that about 80% of the meetings I’ve attended over the course of my life were a complete and utter waste of time. If I’d put that time into something else, I think I could be a reasonably competent jazz pianist now! I don’t think I’m alone in feeling this.
Why is it important to sometimes say ‘no’ to doing things?
Each of us has too much to do and not enough time to do it. Better time management isn’t going to fix that problem. The only thing that will is saying ‘no’ to things.
How can this book benefit you both at work and at home?
Quite simply, if you are not happy with the way you are living your life and spending your time at the moment, it will enable you to change all of that.
You will get to spend more time on the things that really matter to you and less or no time on the things that don’t.
Please tell us about your company ETP.
I started ETP back in 1992. We do consulting and training in project management, time management and getting things done in the shortest possible time. I guess the main thing that’s different about us is that – unlike our competitors - all of what we do and teach is grounded in common sense; there’s no rocket science.
We’ve got clients on six continents – we still haven’t done anything in Antarctica! Our biggest assignment to date was the Special Olympics World Games 2003 for which we were the project management consultants. It’s generally regarded as having been an outstandingly successful project.
What is your educational background?
I have a First in Mathematical Physics from University College Cork in Ireland. Other than that – travel, the university of life and the school of hard knocks. I also think of myself as having a Ph.D. in Perseverance!
What is next for you?
My next novel is coming out on September 15. Called Moonlight, it’s the third in a sequence of four love stories which collectively are called The Four Lights. I’m writing the fourth book at the moment and my publisher, Thames River Press, will publish it in Spring 2014.
I sold options on the film rights to two of my previous novels but the films never got made. Will try again this time.
After this novel there’s a screenplay I want to write and I have just begun some preliminary work on that.
I’ll continue to do teaching / consulting and speaking. Writing is a very solitary occupation so these keep me in touch with the real world – as opposed to my imaginary friends!
I’ll continue to balance earning a living and my passion until one day – hopefully – I can combine them.