"It is not enough to be busy; so are the ants. The question is: What are we busy about?"
- Henry David Thoreau
I know I don’t often quote philosophers unless they are guest starring on a reality TV show.
But Thoreau was right.
What keeps you busy matters. And often, we are engaged in things that do not bring us joy or further our careers, and that is where you should be investing your time. And far too many of us invest our time in ways that do not benefit us. You need to stop doing this.
One of our most significant time sucks, especially for women, is "housekeeping" tasks at the office. These include taking notes, ordering lunches, and working on celebratory events. None of these will advance you. You need to take on strategic initiatives that make you more promotable or marketable, strategic networking, and building a compelling professional profile. Below are three techniques to help you do this.
Dump It, Delegate It or Do It.
You must track where you are spending your time and then decide whether you should dump it, delegate it or do it.
In doing this analysis, the following are not valid reasons for holding on to work:
- I can do it faster.
- I can do it better.
- If I teach someone to do this work, I am at risk.
- If I say no to this work, I may not have enough to do and get fired.
Valid reasons can include - Only I can do this task. For example, a General Counsel has to give the General Counsel's report to the Board. Another is the client has requested me specifically and is not open to someone else doing it.
You must be ruthless in this evaluation and be open to how delegating some of this work could be a growth opportunity for someone else. Also, make sure that in going through this process, you look at the tasks you are doing for professional organizations, the PTA, and anywhere else you spend time.
Finally, do not eliminate any self-care time. That time is critical to renewal and rejuvenation.
Many of us are people pleasers and have difficulty uttering that single word, no. So instead, I recommend making it a complete sentence. "While I would love to tackle that work, unfortunately, my plate is full. Can you give me the first shot at the next one?"
While uncomfortable at first, the more you say no, the easier it will become.
Don't Fall Back.
I have clients who go through this challenging process of dumping and delegating tasks and then, the next things they begin to take on are the same type of work. You need to guard this time ferociously and stop it from being taken away.
I recommend taking 2/3 of the time for investment in your career and 1/3 for investment in you. Calendar your commitments to ensure that you don't give this time away.
To get to where you want to go, you need to invest time, and time is our most scarce resource. Ensure that you are not an ant and that you are investing in getting the most significant returns.
Want to learn more about how to become the in-house leader you are meant to be?
Check out Sheila's 10 Tips for In-House Counsel Struggling to Advance.
In this guide, Sheila shares her time-tested tips for in-house counsel to release fear, jump-start your career, and propel towards promotion.