Warren Buffet and Bill Gates have more in common than their wealth. Since their first contact in 1991, the two have cultivated an intense friendship in which they learned a lot from each other. Bill Gates for instance learned the art of time management from Warren Buffet. This doesn’t mean meticulously filling the very last gaps in the calendar, but rather saying no and focusing on the important things. Both of them see great value in regularly using part of their time to sit around, read and reflect. An hour a day (five hours a week) is said to be worth it to the two (and to some other very successful people). And now the crucial question at the start of a new year: How do you feel about your time?
Sustainability could be defined as a principle according to which no more should be consumed than can be replenished, regenerated or made available again in the future. Usually we think in macroscopic dimensions of our environment when it comes to sustainability. For me, however, sustainability begins on a much smaller scale, with myself and the sustainable use of my own personal resources, such as time, energy and knowledge. It is time to talk about relics from the industrial age and especially about how effective and sustainable the strict temporal and spatial separation of work and life (as if work were not life!) in terms of eight-hour work days really is.
Knowledge work requires concentration. To this end, universities have libraries in which one can focus on studying. In most of our companies there are no such zones for uninterrupted work. The credo there is teamwork and its highest value is communication. The results are working days that consist mostly of scheduled or spontaneous meetings with blocks of work in between that are too short for any meaningful in-depth work and are only used to respond to the flood of e-mails accumulated during these meetings or that are more or less entertainingly wasted on the smartphone. All this in open-plan offices with noise levels that reduce any form of concentrated knowledge work to absurdity anyway or only make it tolerable through isolation with noise cancelling headphones.
We really don’t lack opportunities and choices. There are always more ideas than can actually be implemented. This is true at the level of the individual as well as for teams and organizations. The fact that technology makes our world turning ever faster and that our world is becoming ever more volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous, i.e. tending more and more towards VUCA, leads to an unprecedented wealth of opportunities and ideas. This makes it all the more important to focus which is the responsibility of leadership. And focus begins with the apparently forgotten art of saying no.