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It’s that time of year again when we make resolutions—most often to lead healthier, better lives. This episode offers real, actionable ideas to help you with your work goals, from better managing time to balancing mindfulness with action.
TANYA OTT: It’s that time of year again when many of us are making resolutions: “I want to eat better and work out more.” “My resolution is to spend more time with my friends and family.” “I really overspent this holiday, so I need to save a little money. I’ll be watching my budget more and not taking any big trips.”
Today on the show, we’ve got a bunch of ideas—real, actionable ideas—to help you with your goals at work. I’m Tanya Ott for the Press Room, and I don’t usually make resolutions myself because—well, let’s be honest—the treadmill got more use as a clothes hanger, the carbs found their way back onto my plate by Martin Luther King Day, and sleep? I’ll get plenty of that when I die.
I’m actually pretty awful at making—and keeping—resolutions. But it doesn’t have to be that way for you. We’ve gathered some of the best “new year, new you” advice from last year’s guests on the show, and today we’re going to tackle two really big goals many of us have at work:
So, let’s go!
You’re back from holiday and back to the grind. Lots of meetings, lots of email, lots of new stuff for the new year. Ajit Kambil can sympathize. He’s global research director for Deloitte’s CFO program and creator of the Executive Transition Lab.
AJIT KAMBIL: The transition lab is a one-day workshop. It’s individualized to senior executive C-suite executives, where they come in and think through how they’re going to allocate their time, their organizations’ time, and their priorities.
TANYA OTT: When I talked to Ajit last year about executive transitions, he laid out a game plan that could work even if you’re not new in your job.
AJIT KAMBIL: Most senior executives, when they come into a very large company, will spend 12-hour days during the work week, and then there's at least 5 to 10 hours potentially on the weekend. So it easily adds up to 70 hours. Some of them spend time when they get home every day doing emails and so forth. That adds to a 14-hour day sometimes, and you know that's not sustainable in the long run. So it's a good idea to figure out how to capture your time back and get energy to focus on the most important things.
TANYA OTT: You have been running these transition labs, and you’ve worked with about 1,100 CFOs over the last six years, so you’ve been able to talk with them in depth about what they’re experiencing. What have you learned?
AJIT KAMBIL: I’ve personally done 250 of these transition labs. Our firm
collectively has done the 1,100 across the world. What we’ve learned is that it’s very intense for executives. In fact, just the other day I was doing a transition lab, and I was asking the CFO, “How much time do you spend reading anything outside of your work?” It was less than 10 minutes a day, maybe 5 minutes a day. That’s just capturing the news that comes on the Wall Street Journal or the Financial Times.
These jobs can be so intense that at times they’re going from meeting to meeting or dealing with different issues, and they’re not getting enough time to step back and really think through the heart of the problem and focus on a strategy to overcome the problem. So it’s really important that they make time for themselves and capture that time back.
We talk about five things that can help them capture their time back. One is screening and scheduling things better than they have ever done before. Another part is routinizing and delegating tasks. And another thing is to have a kill list.
TANYA OTT: Let’s talk about those. I will just share my
experience. I’m not a Deloitte employee, but I am the vice president of another organization, and I have roughly 40 to 50 people under me. So not exactly at the C-suite level, but it was a big jump for me professionally. I found that I really struggled with the meetings, because people would put meetings on my calendar, and there would be meetings I would have to be in. It took me a while to really figure out which of them I really do need to attend, which of them I don’t need to attend. What advice do you give to the folks that you’re working with?
AJIT KAMBIL: So obviously, in the first 30 to 45 days, you’ll get invited to a lot of meetings, and it’s really important, perhaps, to go to those meetings because you’re still getting to know the people and the context in which you will operate going forward. But after that time, it’s perhaps time to say, hey, these particular classes of meetings are not so important to me to be successful, and I need to have somebody else from my team attend those if it’s needed for them to attend. Now obviously, if the CEO is asking you to meetings, and perhaps even marathon meetings, you cannot avoid that. But there are going to be other meetings you could probably start declining and stop doing.
TANYA OTT: I would think the other benefit of taking yourself out of some meetings and putting another person on your team in those meetings is that it, at some level, in some instances, is a professional development tool for those folks on your team.
AJIT KAMBIL: Absolutely. It’s a wonderful professional development tool.
TANYA OTT: A few months ago, I talked with two folks who look at the idea of scarcity, whether it’s scarcity of resources or, more importantly, scarcity of time—[which] is what we focused our conversation on, and some of the things that can result that are maybe not so positive in the workplace if we’re all feeling incredibly stressed to get things done. You’re largely alluding to this idea of scarcity of time, and there are things that take so much attention and distract us. One of them, I think we might all agree, is email. The volume of email that we get is intense.
AJIT KAMBIL: You hit the nail on the head. I called email a weapon of mass distraction. And you see it all around: people constantly looking at their iPhones, looking at their computer, getting distracted. There’s lot of research
done on distraction and how much time it takes to come back to an issue if you do get distracted. Time is the only finite resource of all executives. And it doesn’t come back. So they have to manage this resource well, not only for themselves but also their organization.
One of the ways I manage my email, probably to the frustration of some of my colleagues, is I only respond to emails at certain times of the day. I block off email time, and the rest of the time I choose to focus on what I need to get done, and then I’ll get back to an email toward the end of the day. I think it’s important for folks to say, technology for the first time allows us all this connectivity, but at the same time it doesn’t mean we have to instantaneously respond. It may be better if we take some time to think through our responses and not get caught up in this email cycle.
TANYA OTT: So you schedule time to answer email. You also
suggest scheduling time out to think. I love that idea, and I’ve actually started doing that after the scarcity conversation that I had—just blocking off time in my schedule, so I have time to think about the big issues in my industry and do that reading that I need to do to better understand the forces at play.
AJIT KAMBIL: Yes. Again, that’s where a good assistant comes. Have them block different times in your calendar to think or maybe even to just go hit the treadmill somewhere because that may be uninterrupted time where you’re focused on processing some of the issues that are going on in the company and helping you formulate how you might respond to certain complex issues. If you’re multitasking and going from task to task every 30 minutes or so, it doesn’t allow you time to grapple with the big ones. So, you know, blocking off an hour a day . . . you take a walk or whatever, the Truman walk, I think it was called. It’s a wonderful way to step back and say, what is really important today, and how are we going to really tackle this tough problem and get the right resources.
TANYA OTT: Ajit Kambil, it’s been wonderful speaking with you again.
AJIT KAMBIL: Thank you, Tanya. It’s been a delight.
TANYA OTT: Ajit Kambil is global research director for the CFO program at Deloitte and also the creator of Deloitte’s Executive Transition Labs. He says when they created the lab, they talked with a lot of a CEOs, board members, and other key stakeholders—and, to a T, they all said, look, we understand that C-suite jobs are really intense. They’re demanding. We want a whole person in that role. We want to make sure they’re doing things for themselves, that they’re taking care of themselves. Ajit has more ideas for how to strike that ever-elusive work/life balance in his Executive Transitions series at deloitte.com/insights.
TANYA OTT: The world is changing so fast. If we don’t slow down, absorb and reflect, we’re going to miss out on a lot. Does the thought of hitting the brakes freak you out? It’s all good! We’ve got a life hack for that, too.
MAGGIE WOOLL: Hi, I’m Maggie Wooll, and I lead eminence development for the Center for the Edge. I came out of consulting and strategy and operations, working also with tech companies. At some point, I decided I no longer wanted to do that. So I left Deloitte and spent a few years writing novels and writing fiction. Then I gradually decided I wanted to work my way back up the food chain and start engaging my brain a little bit more again and started freelancing, doing perspective for companies like Deloitte. I then came back to the Center for the Edge, when the opportunity came up.
DULEESHA KULASOORIYA: I’m Duleesha Kulasooriya. I’m the strategist for the Center for the Edge and prior to that, which has been about 10 years now, I was a consultant with Deloitte. I’d actually come to a point, like Maggie, where consulting was less interesting. I wanted to look for something else. The center has just been set up, and what I agreed to as a six-month assignment ended up being the last 10 years.
TANYA OTT: Maggie and Duleesha track trends, and one of the trends they started recognizing is that there’s more stress in the workplace—and life in general.
DULEESHA KULASOORIYA: We saw this mindfulness popping up all over the place as a reaction to the stress. So that was one of the markers to say, huh, this is interesting. We should be paying attention to this.
MAGGIE WOOLL: At the same time, what we do at the center is to think about how institutions are going to change, which leads to thinking about how work in the future is going to change, and how the workplace of the future will change. So then we thought, what does that actually mean for individuals? It was both kind of what we feeling ourselves right now, as well as in thinking about how it played in with the center’s larger topics.
TANYA OTT: They’ve developed an idea called roots and shoots. The roots part is all about slowing down, reflecting, finding the quiet spaces for free time to reflect. The shoots are the opposite.
MAGGIE WOOLL: A lot of times, people don't come to some of these roots practices—even basic rest, mindfulness, reflecting on their values—until they reach some sort of crisis in their lives. Whether it's suddenly finding yourself crying every Sunday night before you go back to work, or you have an illness, or someone you care about has an illness, and suddenly it makes you think about what really matters. People tend not to come to these roots practices until they have a crisis.
Rest is very useful, but how much more effective [is it] if you can be building in the rest and reflection into your life as you go along, so you don't have to reach a crisis point. You can continue to check the exploration and the learning that you're doing in the shoots against what your core values are. That way, it's not 10 years down the road you realize you've become very far from your core values, but you're actually on a regular basis checking in, seeing how what you're doing and the actions you're taking are actually aligned with the goals you have and the values you have.
What we envision is really an ongoing cycle, not a straight-line path. It really is about learning and continuing to test your ideas back against what you've been thinking about, and then kick it back into the world, take some action, gather some new information, gather some new data, and then again bring it back into reflection.
TANYA OTT: Should I be embarrassed that on my calendar I actually have scheduled “Think”? Like, there’s an hour says “Think.” It’s kind of sad, right? But on the other hand, if I don’t schedule that hour to just think about my industry or think about my organization I often don’t do it because I run, run, run . . .
MAGGIE WOOLL: That's all the living in the shoots, right? It's like you are constantly acting, and never getting a chance to figure out what it all meant, and bring it back and realize that you've actually learned some really important things, or that there is a new direction for you to take that would be really productive. But you miss that connection if you never have that time to think.
DULEESHA KULASOORIYA: What you’ve done is an example of a new practice that you’ve developed in order to step away from the constant busyness.
MAGGIE WOOLL: What you highlight there is really important, which is one of our messages: These practices don't have to be big practices or complicated practices, and it's not some elaborate plan. It's starting to just take small actions. Using your calendar is a great way to do it to start just building that space.
TANYA OTT: What are some of the other small actions like that that you think are particularly helpful to keep us grounded, but also to keep us thinking about how we can progress?
DULEESHA KULASOORIYA: Quite a few that we've come across we've tried ourselves. One of the other ideas we came across was this idea of digital detox: stepping away from our devices for some period of time. The first thing the founder of Digital Detox told me was, the easiest thing you can do is get a dumb alarm clock, something that is not connected. You know those bright red lights? The reason to do that is we've become so accustomed to using our phone as an alarm clock—I do it myself. The problem is, as soon as you pick up that phone as an alarm clock, you go into automatic mode to check your email, to check your Facebook, to check all those things. And that whole world immediately takes over everything. You have no time for reflection or no time to even think about what you might have processed in your sleep.
TANYA OTT: So Duleesha, you self-identified as the shoots guy in this equation. Have you done a full digital detox?
DULEESHA KULASOORIYA: We tried. We as a family tried to do Sundays.
TANYA OTT: How’s that working for you?
DULEESHA KULASOORIYA: Well, we also realized that our digital devices are also nannies for our kids, and we don’t get a break.
TANYA OTT: How old are your kids?
DULEESHA KULASOORIYA: We’ve got seven, three, and three.
TANYA OTT: Oh wow.
DULEESHA KULASOORIYA: So we couldn't keep it up ourselves. But I think we'll keep coming back to the practice. It’s a lot like saying, OK, if we can’t do a day, then we do a half a day. If we can’t do a half a day, do we do it over dinnertime? When can we actually practice digital detox?
MAGGIE WOOLL: It seems so basic, you know. Another reason people have had to name these things, like digital detox, is because the technology becomes so pervasive that you need this external authority to help you come up with a reason for why you’re going to limit the use of the technology at the table or whatever it is.
TANYA OTT: When my oldest daughter was in middle school, we discovered she was having a problem with texting too much, so we tried to take the phone away for a night. Quite honestly, you would have thought that she was a huge junkie and going through major withdrawal. There was a lot of screaming and shaking involved in that process. Maybe those of us who were all grown up don't react in exactly that same way, but it can be a little bit disconcerting because you feel like you're going to miss something.
MAGGIE WOOLL: I think we’ve all had that experience where we lose our phone or it’s dead for a while, and you really do feel disconnected because we’ve lost track of how we used to connect with people or how we used to keep track of our time and our days.
DULEESHA KULASOORIYA: Try to take away a phone from an executive for an afternoon and see how they react. Inwardly they will be exactly like your daughter. Externally they may hold themselves back a bit.
TANYA OTT: Yeah. Have you seen that happen before?
DULEESHA KULASOORIYA: Another experiment we tried was to create a locker with chargers where you can charge your phone outside the room. So you're going into a digital detox room where you don't take your devices with you. And it just wouldn't fly―couldn't get people to agree.
TANYA OTT: They were like, “No, not going to do that”?
DULEESHA KULASOORIYA: They’re too attached to being constantlyconnected.
TANYA OTT: So digital detox is one life hack that you have. What’s another one that you think is really useful?
DULEESHA KULASOORIYA: There’s a shoots one that I’ve been doing for a while now, which has given me a lot of positive feedback. Anytime I go for a conference or a meeting or to do some talks or anything like that, if I'm traveling to a new place, as much as I can, I'll try to add an unscheduled day or a half a day or a few hours. That way, whatever comes up during that time that I'm there, I get to extend it and explore something new. One of the big things we are finding is that people are so busy―our calendars are completely full―that when you come across something that's really exciting, you actually don't have any time to dive deeper. And if you have to wait for two weeks to get that free time to dive deep into it, you've already lost that momentum.
MAGGIE WOOLL: The problem when we go traveling for meetings, or conferences even, is that people tend to book in all of these conference calls and everything with the office back home in between their sessions. That really stops [us from] having any ability to connect with people more casually in between your formal meetings.
One thing I found―and this was from a few years ago, actually, from John Hagel and John Seely Brown's book The Power of Pull―is this idea of when you go to a conference, either choosing conferences that you know nothing about, or at least choosing the sessions that you know nothing about as a means of actually really expanding your learning. Just like when you go shopping, you pick out the shirt that looks very much like the one you're wearing, [instead of going] to conferences where we should be learning, we go to the ones where we actually feel like we're at least halfway expert in some of the subjects.
TANYA OTT: Isn't some of that about just wanting that comfort of feeling like an expert because we're afraid to fail? We're afraid to perhaps admit that we don't know something about something, or perhaps struggle to understand something new.
MAGGIE WOOLL: Right. So it's comforting, but it's missing such an opportunity to really find out about something that maybe is connected but that you would never know about, and to really be in that uncomfortable position of maybe not knowing the terminology and not knowing who the players are.
DULEESHA KULASOORIYA: The big premise for the roots and shoots, all of what you practice here, is that there's a mind-set of unlearning and learning. You want to have that curious mind so that you are trying to figure out which things are no longer relevant and which things are new. When you have that mind-set, then it absolutely makes sense to explore something new that you don't know about. But if you don't have that mind-set, if it is about being the expert, then you shut down that part of curiosity.
TANYA OTT: Thank you so much for your time today. It’s been wonderful talking with both of you.
MAGGIE WOOLL: Thank you, Tanya.
DULEESHA KULASOORIYA: Bye!
TANYA OTT: Maggie Wooll and Duleesha Kulasooriya’s paper is titled
Unlocking human potential: Proactive practices for individual elasticity. You can find it—and a whole archive of shows and thought pieces—at deloitte.com/insights.
What’s your New Year’s resolution? Tweet us at @DeloitteInsight and let us know what you’re planning to tackle this year. Also, let us know what topics you’re interested in hearing about on the show.
I’m Tanya Ott for the Press Room. Thanks for listening!
This podcast is provided by Deloitte and is intended to provide general information only. This podcast is not intended to constitute advice or services of any kind. For additional information aboutDeloitte, go to Deloitte.com/about.