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Hamster in a wheel (Adrin Shamsudin/Getty Images/iStockphoto)
Hamster in a wheel (Adrin Shamsudin/Getty Images/iStockphoto)


Getting off the hamster wheel takes some planning Add to ...

If your life is a frenzy, try some cool time. That’s the relaxed, non-rushed approach that Toronto-based consultant Steve Prentice has been preaching to his clients and in his books over the years. Pace yourself. Give yourself enough time to go through life at a sensible tempo.

It takes more than a calm mindset and discipline, however. It requires planning. And that’s why Mr. Prentice recently has been promoting a version of the 80-20 Rule: Spend 20 per cent of your work time planning so you can unleash a more productive and less harried approach to the other 80 per cent of your day.

The math initially seems daunting and off-putting. Most of us would be reluctant to take 8 hours from a 40-hour work week – or 10 hours from a 50-hour work week – and throw it away on planning. We’re usually scrambling to find extra hours, not give them away.

But Mr. Prentice says the planning involves more than just plotting what you will do in the remaining hours; it involves enriching your communications, and influencing others. He also insists it works, for him and his clients. “You can get more done – and make more money – if you take 20 per cent of your time to plan. Planning allows for greater productivity in line with your metabolism and all the other factors in your business,” he says.

The idea flows from his background in project management, where a maxim is: “If you fail to plan, you plan to fail.” Project managers not only prepare an extensive plan initially, but they also make adjustments daily, reviewing the progress and obstacles encountered. He’s not alone in urging us to slow down enough to take time at the start and the end of the day to plan and review – but usually the prescription is for 10 to 15 minutes.

However, he is urging more than planning. For instance, if you feel like you’re a hamster on an endlessly rotating wheel, take some of your planning time to reach out to a mentor who is particularly well organized and chat about how you might improve. Or if you notice that your day involves back-to-back meetings, call the chair of the second session and advise you may be a little late, allowing you a cool-time adjustment period to regain your balance after the first meeting.

You can also use the planning time to deal with work-life balance by developing a better relationship with your boss, so he or she can understand you better on a human level. That may open an opportunity to negotiate a longer time at lunch to work out or practise yoga, as the boss understands the benefits to you and the business if you’re rejuvenated in the afternoon, and accepts you will compensate for the hours out of the office.

Mr. Prentice spends much of his work life explaining these ideas in companies, where the culture might then change to facilitate these approaches. He acknowledges it’s easier if there’s office-wide buy-in, but he still believes you can adopt these ideas yourself, as long as you use your 20-per-cent planning time to communicate the benefits and influence others to support your efforts. “Explain to others what is in it for others,” he says. “If you intend to shut your door from 10 to 11 every morning, tell them in an emergency they can interrupt but also that at 11 you will give them your undivided attention.” Similarly, save time – and frustration – by providing an exact voice mail message every day, indicating the best time to reach you.

In a world of e-mail, he frets that relationships are atrophying. Use your 20 per cent time to reinvigorate your relationships. That may involve long conversations with mentors, bosses, colleagues and clients, but it also can be as simple as an occasional phone call instead of an e-mail reply to a request. More is conveyed – and the bond strengthened – through such communication. Even if you simply leave a voice mail message, your tone of voice and demeanour enhances a relationship more than a typical, terse e-mail. “It builds a credit rating with those people who are expecting things of you,” he says. “People are emotional beings. All financial transactions are made first on emotion and then on logic.”

But 10 to 12 hours a week seems huge. Won’t there be too little time to get everything else done, I wondered? So like any addict, I started to bargain, asking Mr. Prentice if I could opt for 5 per cent instead of 20 per cent. “Sure, whatever is helpful to you,” he replied. “Start building a habit, and see how it feels and develops.”

Following this advice could build in some cool time – putting aside enough time so you can proceed through life calmly and without breaking a sweat, mentally or physically. In his book Cool Down, Mr. Prentice gives the example of Frank and Calvin, who are both catching flights that day. Frank worked to the absolute last minute in the office before grabbing a cab and paying the driver double to get to the airport as fast as possible. Calvin left his office an hour early to negotiate traffic and airport security without pressure, and has been able to get an hour of focused work completed in the lounge without interruption. Calvin is calm and cool. Frank’s blood pressure is soaring. If Frank’s style is all too familiar, use your 20 per cent time to plan an alternate approach.

Harvey Schachter is a Battersea, Ont.-based writer specializing in management issues. He writes Monday Morning Manager for The Globe and Mail's T.G.I.M. page, management book reviews on Wednesdays and an online work-life balance column on Fridays.

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