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10

Jan

Working to live or living to work? Achieving the work-life balance we all dream about.

It’s the start of a new year, the holidays are over, and people are returning to the office en masse. January is often a time to set goals for the year ahead, identifying those personal and work-related resolutions we want to achieve over the next 12 months.

For most of us, achieving a work-life balance is at – or near – the top of the list. Typically that means doing enough work to give us the time and resources we need in order to create opportunities for recreation. Or, as some people like to say, they would prefer to “work to live,” not “live to work.”

Here in New Zealand, that work-life balancing act is firmly tilted towards work. Last year, a Labour Department work-life balance survey found almost half of all respondents working between 40 and 50 hours a week, and 19% worked more than 50 hours. The most recent census puts it even higher, with a quarter of employees – 35% of men and 13% of women - saying they worked more than 50 hours a week. Other countries report similar metrics.

If this trend continues, and we work 20% more than we’re meant to, are we ever going to achieve the work-life balance? How can we reduce the number of hours people are working each week, to allow them to do what they want to do, not what they have to do?

For those of us in the technology industry, we often have a simple response: Use technology.

Realistically, technology alone won’t fix the problem. The reality is that, at the very least, any technology solution needs to be accompanied by changes to behaviour – at both an individual and organisational level – and the processes that are employed by those people and their technologies. Together, people, processes and technology work together – and this triumvirate is critical to driving change and improvement.

That said, there is an emerging breed of software solutions that are designed to help people execute – to get things done more effectively, helping individuals and teams to achieve what they need to do, and to finish what they start.

Software solutions such as ActionThis (www.actionthis.com) are designed to help people in a number of key ways. The premise of this particular solution is a simple one: people are great at starting things, but are lousy at planning. For managers, the impact of this is simple: they spend most of their time following up and chasing people to find out if something has been completed, instead of focusing on strategic and long-term planning. In other words, they end up being reactive and not proactive.

And while there are many tools in the market that help people plan and collaborate, they all have fundamental weaknesses:

  • Traditional project management and planning tools are often complex, and don’t often reflect reality. The onus is on a single person, usually the project manager, to update the plan and ensure its currency – usually requiring more follow-ups.
  • Collaboration tools help people work together, but don’t drive outcomes. Using these tools we can collaborate in the same way we might hold a meeting, but unless someone drives outcomes, these end up being a never-ending party.

ActionThis takes the best of both these traditional approaches and adds some smarts to help inform and update people about what they need to do, to ensure visibility of activity and workload across a team, and to drive outcomes from tasks and activities.

Unlike web-centric tools, ActionThis also works with the tools we all use every day. Users can create and manage action items (ActionThis’ version of tasks) alongside their email messages in Microsoft Outlook, without having to learn a new tool. Similarly, they can download and analyse their action items in Microsoft Excel. And soon they will be able to synchronise their Microsoft Project plans with ActionThis, so that project managers no longer have to chase people to update their plans – as their project team updates their ActionThis action items, these updates can be synchronised back into the main project plan.

So how does ActionThis help us achieve that elusive work-life balance?

As individuals it helps us manage and have control over the tasks we need to perform – including tasks we have assigned ourselves, as well as those assigned to us by other people. What’s more, ActionThis will drive the completion of these tasks. No loose ends to worry about. Visibility into everything that’s going on. No surprises.

And if we have asked other people to perform tasks, we don’t need to spend as much time following up and chasing people; ActionThis will do this for us. In the meantime, we can use this time to deliver on those things we have to do.

The theory is simple: the more efficient we are, the more likely it will be that we reclaim some personal time and therefore shift the work-life balance away from work. And, if we need to do more work, then we can simply get more done in the time we have available.

Disclosure: Intergen is a supplier of a range of services to ActionThis.

Posted by: Tim Howell, Marketing Manager | 10 January 2008

Tags: Project Management, ActionThis, SaaS


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