We All Could Use a Little Homework
When I stepped down as Groupon’s CEO, I felt like I needed a bit of a break. I had been running pretty hard for three years, and I was craving some balance; so I decided to adjust my work schedule.
Instead of working 11 hours a day for five days in a row, which had been my routine for the past 20 years, I would take Fridays off and stay home. Essentially, I would turn every week into a three-day long weekend and force myself to find some personal time.
And so I did.
For the first few weeks it was awesome. I worked out, I played a little tennis, I went for long walks. I even ate lunch like a normal person – meaning sitting at a table instead of at a desk.
But the craziest thing happened along the way… I got a little bored.
So I started working a few hours a day on Fridays; nothing too strenuous, just answering some emails, taking some time to get to stuff I didn’t get to during the week.
And pretty soon a few hours turned into a few more, and then a few more. And eventually, I found myself working most of the day from my office at home.
Now the days aren’t as hectic as a typical workday. I start later. I end earlier. I still run out for lunch. I take a walk.
But when I’m not doing something I want to do, I’m in my office – working.
As crazy as it sounds, it’s become far and away the most productive day of my entire week. I get more done in six or seven hours on those Fridays than I do in twice that time in any one day at my office.
And when you think about it, it actually makes a ton of sense.
When you do what I do for a living, which is largely manage people and problems, your entire day is consumed by others. You run from meeting to meeting. Everybody wants your time. Everybody wants your input. Everybody wants you to weigh in.
You’re needed. And being needed, while nice, is also time consuming. People come in and ask you questions. When they see you have a free half hour, they grab it. When you’re not on the phone, they want to pick your brain.
You bounce around all day long weaving in between other people’s issues and other people’s problems.
Now I’m not complaining (I mean I am, but if I say I’m not it makes me feel better). I love what I do. I’m just saying it’s hard to find productive alone time in the office.
But when you work from home, it’s easy.
And here’s the punchline – the value of productive alone time is really high.
Just as homework is an essential part of a student’s ability to ingest and retain information, it’s equally essential for managers to disconnect from the daily grind of meeting after meeting so they can sit at a computer or on a couch and do something they don’t do very often – think.
Thinking is magical.
And forcing yourself to work alone is the best means of forcing yourself to think.
It creates the space that’s necessary to contemplate, to reflect on what you’re trying to accomplish and how best to get there.
Executives could take a lesson from their kids. A little homework goes a long way…