No matter how hard you try, you cannot avoid seeing those patronising headlines. You know the kind. People who think they know the secret to finding the holy grail of success, money and happiness.
I do not like sweeping statements about how to do things. Life simply cannot be so easily generalized. One article in particular that made me laugh was “How Ashton Kutcher Manages His Email”. Well, it almost doesn’t even warrant me saying that Ashton Kutcher has a very different job, life and daily routine to most of us. His time management tips are very unlikely to be relevant to how I live my life.
A while ago I went on a stress management training course where we discussed productivity and time management, amongst other things. To my surprise, one of the trainers was insistent that how he manages his own email is the sole correct way (obviously fancies himself to be a bit of an Ashton Kutcher). No, it is not. If you are creating content all day, writing proposals or working on lots of complex spreadsheets, you certainly want to turn your email off and fully focus on the task at hand. By all means pick two time slots a day to deal with emails. But what if your job involves you being reactive to email? What if your main tool for communicating with clients or your team, is email? You’ll clearly need a different strategy and attitude towards email. Know your audience before giving advice on how to do things.
Whenever Jeff Bezos or Elon Musk say something, all social media channels go nuts over it – despite a lot of their advice being far removed from most people’s reality. I don’t think Jeff Bezos considered his warehouse employees when he talked about work-life balance at a recent event. But I do agree that you should leave a meeting if you either cannot contribute or cannot learn anything new in it. I think Elon Musk might have copied that from me.
Human beings used to run in groups, happy being part of a community. In recent decades this has changed. We are striving for individuality. I have not conducted any studies, so I’m not really qualified to make comments on why this is happening. I assume that the use of social media has certainly accelerated our need to display how individually ‘cool’ we are. Teens in particular are subject to this, often to the detriment of their psychological development and mental health; but that’s really another topic.
So, if we are so focused on showing the world how individual we are, why are some people driven to follow such general advice from people that they have never met, but may admire from a distance? I don’t know. Is the need to be a part of something bigger ultimately a human trait?
In any case, I do not think having a hero and admiring someone who is worthy of your time is wrong. I admired someone from a distance, I read her book and followed all her interviews and public appearances and somehow felt understood by what she said. When I joined the business she worked in and had the opportunity to speak with her I felt like it was the highlight of my career. But over time I recognised that she was just as flawed as anyone. In fact, the distance between her written word and her daily actions were, frankly, downright hypocritical. As my friend put it rather well when I told him my story: never meet your hero.
Where am I going with this? I am not saying ignore articles of people sharing what works for them. Absolutely not. Do read them and get inspired, but always take them with a pinch of salt. That woman I admired still had a very positive influence on me before I met her. I still recommend her book because there are some good points in it, whether or not the author plans on following any of the advice herself! Understand that what works for you does not necessarily work for others. Whether it is your morning routine, your diet, your exercise routine or how you manage your time.
Deep down we know exactly what’s bad and what’s good for us. So many of us have just stopped listening to ourselves and are ignoring our instincts. Many people have recognised this which has lead to the surge of “mindfulness” practices all over the western world.
Particularly in the US, there’s still this culture of “I need to work x many hours a day and fill every minute with activity in order to feel worthy”. This constant strive for a busy, heavily scheduled day from the point of waking up to going to bed, squeezing as many things as possible into your career and personal life to achieve some crazy goal is not going to make you happy.
There’s a good chance that the goals you set yourself are goals you may feel obliged to achieve and not what you really want anyway. By filling your day with a crazy long task list you are most likely avoiding something. There may be things that consciously or subconsciously you buried at some point in your life and being busy will keep it buried, it won’t come back up to the surface where you have to deal with it. It’s going to make you ill. Recognise your patterns and make changes before it’s too late.
What is the right solution for you? Well, I cannot tell you that. Only you can find out what’s right for you. However, a good coach can help you on your journey and support you along the way.