Editorial: Personal liberation

May 30, 2014

Feel trapped at work? Four suggestions from Mark Zweig to help you have a saner lifestyle.

It’s interesting – and frustrating as well – to see how many A/E/P and environmental firm owners and managers feel trapped by the firms they work in. It’s easy to understand how this can happen to any of us. We work in project-centric businesses. Client demands from outside the organization have to be met. If they aren’t met, we aren’t needed – we become unemployed and our firms go out of business. But the truth is, all demands on our time are not coming from outside. The higher up you go in the hierarchy, the more time you spend on firm management. There are so many meetings and requests for information. Personal stuff can be hard to fit in, too, especially in families with two parents who work outside the home. Picking up Johnny from school, taking Sally to her softball game, and running your car to the dealer 30 miles from home all take up our limited time and contribute to us feeling trapped. So how can we be liberated? Here are some thoughts:
  1. Get capable people working for you. The second-in-command(s) and the direct reports to each of us are extremely crucial to the quality of our lives. Yet, A/E firms seem plagued by a culture of what I call “The Full Employment Act of the A/E Industry,” where we act like we’re obligated to keep whomever comes to work for us employed forever, regardless of their capabilities or performance. You have got to stop thinking like this because you are the paying the price with your very life.
  2. Learn to say “no.” I’m not encouraging you to become a negative jerk but I am suggesting you simply cannot say “yes” to every request you get, especially when it may be something that you just don’t have time for. You don’t need to say “yes” and sign up for every committee in your professional association. You don’t need to say “yes” to every request for an “informational interview” from job seekers you know you wouldn’t hire. You don’t need to say “yes” to those who want only 30 minutes of your time to sell you something. There are many, many more of these kinds of time wasters and you have to say “no” to more of them.
  3. Get control over your email. Email can take so much of your time if you let it. Unsubscribe. Don’t feel obligated to reply to every “reply” you make. Don’t copy everyone and then get their copies. I’ve even gone as far as requesting I not be included in threads that I don’t need to be involved in. And, allocate a certain time every day to file your inbox so it doesn’t build up too much.
  4. Don’t take on the extra “job” of Facebook, Twitter, etc. I’ve said before that I have found both Facebook at Twitter to be effective marketing tools for both ZweigWhite and my design/build/development business, Mark Zweig, Inc. I’m not a fan of LinkedIn but it, too, can be a great recruiting tool. That said, I also know their downsides. They can take up a lot of your time. It’s easy to make a Facebook post about a project and then get sucked into 20 minutes of looking at your wife’s postings of pictures of your kids, what your neighbor ate for dinner last night, and what particular cause or complaint one of your former college roommates is ranting about. Take control and say “no” to this stuff.
All of these things – and many more – will work to liberate you and help keep you from feeling trapped. Want to add to this list? Send me a line and we will try to publish your comments. Mark Zweig is the chairman and CEO of ZweigWhite. Contact him with questions or comments at mzweig@zweigwhite.com. This article first appeared in The Zweig Letter (ISSN 1068-1310), issue #1058, originally published 6/2/2014. Copyright© 2014, ZweigWhite. All rights reserved.

About Zweig Group

Zweig Group, three times on the Inc. 500/5000 list, is the industry leader and premiere authority in AEC firm management and marketing, the go-to source for data and research, and the leading provider of customized learning and training. Zweig Group exists to help AEC firms succeed in a complicated and challenging marketplace through services that include: Mergers & Acquisitions, Strategic Planning, Valuation, Executive Search, Board of Director Services, Ownership Transition, Marketing & Branding, and Business Development Training. The firm has offices in Dallas and Fayetteville, Arkansas.