Allocating Your Energy According to Goals
It is a truism for those of us not blessed with genius that we can usually only get ahead on sheer sweat and will power. Thus, one's success beyond that of our peers becomes a measure of how much more effort we put in to the job - or does it?
If we follow this logic, due to the fact that in Japan many people work from 09:00 to at least 19:00 or 20:00, this would mean that the successful people amongst us are those who stay until at least midnight or longer. Certainly some of these people do get ahead - but I've seen many others who seem to get the job done by dinner time and still pull in the results. How do they do it?
There are plenty of books written about time management, so I'm not going to give a discourse on the subject. However, I would like to share a few observations learned from doing business in Japan which may help you break out of the hamster wheel syndrome and get ahead.
Firstly, I always tell my new sales people that they need to divide their week into 3 parts; work for short-term goals, about 70% of the week; work for mid-term goals, about 20%, and work for long-term goals, about 10%. On a personal level, short-term goals mean paying the rent, eating, sending the kids to school, etc. Mid-term goals are those occasional events that punctuate life: trips, weddings, funerals, car and home purchases, etc. However, it's the long-term goals that generally define whether you have lived a successful life and which separate your good fortune from others' mediocre ones. I often think that having a single long-term goal qualifies it and isolates it from the "noise" of the short and mid-term ones.
OK, all very philosophical, but how does this apply to you? Well, first of all, the trick is to remember when you're in the midst of a new job and a new culture, not to get so absorbed that you lose sight of your mid and long-term goals. Indeed, it is extremely easy to follow the examples of your Japanese colleagues - many of whom it turns out, do very little to promote their goals. Yes, they dream, but they don't engage in concrete steps to achieve them.
What does this have to do with time management? Well, two things; First, at the beginning, you need to physically sit down and work out a personal schedule, which prevents those mid and long-term goal activities from being put off. This means possibly sacrificing faster promotion in your Japanese company, so that you can keep attending language classes or personally network with experts in your industry, for example.
However, over time, just like every good investment, your investment in activities contributing towards your mid and long-term goals will give you leverage. The better qualified or connected you are, the less effort you will need to achieve a work result, and more likely you are to get paid more and be promoted to positions of responsibility. I know that this is a simple argument used by every parent to their teenager about why they should get a college degree, versus taking a job, however, it's something that we need to keep reminding ourselves of.
Also, the principle of 3 layers of activity has a direct effect on the execution of your job as well. For example, take a sales person, do you spend your time going after a few high-end, high-profit jobs, or do you go after lots of little stuff and safely hit your targets each month? The answer is that you do both, in the measures that I mentioned before. The little stuff will keep you safe, but you'll also slowly go crazy with the boredom and/or depressed with the lack of personal advancement.
Another example is that of a manager. Do you spend more time focusing on sales for your business unit, or do you take care of paperwork, employee training, and reviews. The answer this time is perhaps not so obvious. However, I feel that as a manager you're being paid to "manage" not to "do". So 70% of your time should be spent on developing and supporting your team, 20% on your sales, and 10% on new products and positioning.
What about if you are in a professional position (manager, engineer, analyst, etc.) but you don't speak Japanese? Well, again the answer is clear to me. Since you are being paid to be an effective employee, your short-term one must be to hire a bilingual assistant or seek the help of bilingual colleagues (yes, a selfish but necessary act of survival), your mid-term one to learn Japanese, and your long-term one to network using your new-found Japanese skills and to eventually integrate into your professional segment of the market.