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Chitra Anand Headshot

Forget the What, Focus on the How

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We all are caught in the frenzy of busyness. We are struggling to find time to do all the things that we need to get done and barely have time for the things that we want to do.

And for most of us, the path to these things are dictated by a schedule that is almost auto-populated by work or even our families and friends. This is how I approached my life until recently. I would accept my days as they were defined by my work schedule and what my family obligations were that needed to be fulfilled.

What I started to realize, however, is that when it comes to actually getting things done and optimizing your time in the areas that are important to you, there is a much better way to do things.

It all comes down to shifting your focus on the HOW vs. the WHAT.

Let me explain.

I was eight and a half months pregnant with my first child when I was being headhunted for a job with Microsoft. I am a fairly small person, so for those people who don't know me, I could still hide my stomach under my baggy clothing. Before I went to the interview I asked my husband, "should I hide my belly?" He said no, absolutely not. After a vigorous interview process, I was offered the job to lead all public relations and communication activities for Microsoft Canada.

The opportunity was amazing, and after several conversations with my husband and family, I decided to take the job. In Canada, the entitled maternity leave is one year but I had decided to condense my maternity leave to two months. This was my decision. I knew that the role had been vacant for some time and opportunities like this in Canada are rare. I knew I had to go for it, but needed to figure out how I was going to balance new motherhood and a big career. I had just read the book Lean In and in the back of mind heard Sheryl Sandberg's quote repeating itself: "Don't leave before you leave. The months and years leading up to having children are not the time to lean back... but the critical time to lean in."

I knew that I needed to find the right way to do this. I spent hours reading and thinking and came up with the notion of it is not what you do... it is how you do it.

This idea is really about developing a system of optimizing and simplifying activity around work and life. Since then it has become my mantra. Here is how it looks in real life:

  • Block your time. I allocate certain blocks of time to certain activities. The first block would be reading and research. In the early morning for one to two hours, I do all my morning reading (news, social media etc.) and email. Next block is my workout time. I dedicated 30-45 minutes for my workouts. Next block is office time. This block is broken out in sub blocks of desk work vs. meetings. For this time I am laser focused and do not allow myself to get distracted because I know I have a finite amount of time.
  • Use your technology in the right way. It is an art to know how to create a balance on using your technology in your life. I have been to many meetings where people are on their phones thinking that they are multitasking but in reality they are doing several things poorly. First of all it is poor etiquette to be on your phone while in a meeting and secondly there is something to be said about being fully engaged and in the moment. This is when your best work is done and fewer mistakes are made and not having to revisit incomplete thoughts or work. Do it once and do it well. In my personal life, I come home and put my phone away. I used to be one of those persons who would check my phone every minute... it was maddening to my friends and family. I was so distracted all the time. I now only check my phone every two to three hours. Instead of checking it 40 times an hour, I do it once every couple of hours and answer anything that is urgent that requires my time. This frees my mind to be fully focused and engaged on my personal time without being distracted. We need to establish the boundaries and rules for ourselves.
  • Surround yourself with the right people. This is true both in your personal and business life. I have found that by finding likeminded people in your business life sets you up for success. These people are so important because they could be your confidants, your supporters, your collaborators, and we all need this. In my personal life, I don't have a lot of free time, therefore it is extremely important for me to be around people that I enjoy, who have my best interest at heart and that I can learn from.
  • Fall in love with the how. I've found that rethinking the way you do things allows for good planning and your system allows you to make good progress. This will require you to initially slow down a bit to think things through, but you will eventually see that the how will be much more important than the what.