My ill-fated quest for efficiency, and what I learnt along the way

I have always enjoyed getting stuff done. I take great satisfaction from finding the most efficient way of doing things, whether that be when cooking dinner or coming up with a process for managing a complex higher education admissions system. For me, it’s not just about getting whatever needs doing done to a high standard; it’s also about getting whatever needs doing done as quickly and efficiently as possible.

Until one day, on my way to the kitchen at work (I remember this moment so clearly), I stopped and asked myself: “What is all this rushing actually FOR? Yes, I’m saving a few minutes here and there, but what am I doing with the time I’ve saved?”

I was hit by a realisation so blindingly obvious that I couldn’t understand why it hadn’t occurred to me before.

What was I doing with the time I was saving? More stuff. More doing. More work.

When you’re working 9-5 and getting things done in record time, nobody says, “hey, great work, now you’ve got that done why don’t you take the rest of the day off and go do something fun”. No. What actually happens is that you take on more work to fill the time you’ve saved by getting the other work done so blooming quickly.

The pace started to feel relentless. I was actually making myself ill. At that point, I realised that surely there must be a better way.

Deciding to start my own business was not easy. I’d been working the 9-5 for 15 years, so the thought of losing that regular income (and my 'expert' status) was scary. It felt like the right thing to do, though, and whilst I probably couldn’t have articulated it at the time I can now see with total clarity why this is the perfect fit for me:

  1. I still get to use my strengths and the skills I’ve developed during 15 years in administration, but on my own terms.
  2. I still get satisfaction from finding the most efficient way of doing things, only now I’m doing that for the benefit of my clients.
  3. I don’t have to fill the time I’ve saved with more doing. Once I’ve finished a project I can take a walk, do some exercise, take half an hour in a sunny spot with a cuppa and a good book. (Or, as was the case this morning, try my hand at a new tune on the piano and then get under a blanket to write this post.)

The best thing about what I do now, though? Helping my clients realise that their time is precious.

No matter how much you love your business and want to succeed, burning the candle at both ends is not sustainable in the long term. I learnt the hard way that mindlessly cramming more and more things into your day is not going to win you any prizes.  

I encourage you to think about the tasks you could outsource or ditch altogether. Think about what feels fun for you and what works both for you and your business.

I gently challenge you to find ways of doing more of what you love by saying ‘no’ to the things that deplete and drain you, and ‘yes’ to the things that bring you alive!