Is your team “time-poor”? Here’s how to upgrade everyone’s workday.
“When we feel time-poor, we respond to what’s urgent, irrespective of its importance,” author Cassie Holmes says in conversation with The Workback. “It doesn’t allow us to take the time actually to strategize and think deeply and broadly and future-oriented.”
Cassie Holmes is having what you might call a moment.
The UCLA management professor and author of Happier Hour: How To Beat Distraction, Expand Your Time and Focus on What Matters Most has been landing accolades across the spectrum of leadership, lifestyle, and self-help since the book came out in late 2022. By the end of the year, Happier Hour had proven to be a hit. Amazon, Time, the Financial Times, and The Washington Post put Happier Hour on their best-of lists. The book is also a Wall Street Journal bestseller (and the subject of an article in the paper). Gwyneth Paltrow even interviewed Holmes about the book.
Holmes’s life is chronicled in the book, from her time as an overworked and overscheduled professor at Wharton University to when her then-fiancé broke off their engagement just before the wedding. Familiar frameworks, like Abraham Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, are viewed from the perspective of working professionals, and Holmes helps make sense of those needs for this era.
If you take nothing else from her book, take this: Happiness is a choice. How one decides to track their time and thereby think of hours like dollars is one way to decide to be happy. People rich with time—say they have a month to finish a project—have very high expectations of its success. Meanwhile, those who are time-poor—maybe they only have a week—have much lower expectations of the project’s success. This is because people with a month incorrectly assume they will spend much more time on the project than they actually do. It’s not about how much time one has. It’s about how one spends it.
The Workback spoke with Holmes last fall before the accolades began to land. In the below interview, she outlines which messages in Happier Hour are best suited for leaders at the enterprise level.
“When we feel time-poor, we respond to what’s urgent, irrespective of its importance,” Holmes tells The Workback. “It doesn’t allow us to take the time actually to strategize and think deeply and broadly and future-oriented.”
Happier Hour is peppered with practical advice for workers that asks them to make easy choices—like something as simple as going outside. “Whether it’s while exercising or where you choose to take a call, see if there’s a way you can move that activity outside. There you’ll enjoy a mood boost and some fresh air,” Holmes advises.
The book’s central messages on overcoming distraction and finding focus and value apply to just about anyone who reads it. But it holds a special value for those who manage big chunks of the lives of others: Enterprise executives.
How can business leaders make time more meaningful for their employees?
It is something vital to address for business leaders. You want folks not just to be reactive. You want them to be able to think strategically. Carve out “no-meeting time” when workers are not responding to emails and are disconnected enough for strategizing and deep thinking.
Why is time carving important?
Employees need time to reflect and get into a flow state. If you’re in between meetings all day, there’s no way you’re going to get into that flow state and get that really deep, creative work done that’s leveraging your employee’s skills.
Your book notes that free time is critical and explores how to get more. What should business leaders do with this information?
Business leaders need to protect time for folks [so they can] leave the office [and] have some time outside of work [to] become disconnected. [Otherwise] business leaders won’t get the benefits of those breaks.
Do those benefits have an impact on the bottom line?
This is also important to note: Happiness is not frivolous. … The data show that happy employees are more engaged, they’re more productive, they’re less likely to exhibit absenteeism, less likely to exhibit burnout, and less likely to leave that company. They’re more adaptive in their problem-solving, more creative; they’re nicer. The business absolutely should care about employees’ happiness. It absolutely comes back to influence the business’s bottom line.
How do leaders make sure that their teams collaborate even if they don’t have the same immediate goals, and how does happiness connect to that?
Happiness is a choice for us as individuals. We have agency in deciding what we can do to take care of ourselves so that we are more open, creative, and adaptive when we show up. If you are showing up time-poor, stressed out, and unhappy, then you will not be motivated to collaborate—at all.
If you have silos or teams where it’s us vs. them, that’s will not work. You have to make a we. The whole organization has to be we. Then you’re going to work and be aligned on those shared goals.
That’s interesting. How do leaders get there?
I talk about urgency vs. importance. One thing we often forfeit if we’re time-poor is taking the time to build those interpersonal relationships. But if you don’t have that interpersonal relationship, then that collaboration is less likely to happen, particularly across teams.
It’s worth the time to have that cup of coffee with them, so it’s not just an email sent from a faceless person to a faceless person. How was your weekend? How are the kids? Then you’re much more likely to be collaborative. It’s the role of genuine social connection.
You write in the book that pleasure motivates us, but accomplishment motivates us, too. How important are shared, transparent goals for an organization?
Very. We as individuals need to have goals and a clearer sense of our purpose. Then, we know what activities we should take on to get closer to achieving those goals. Even those unplanned activities can motivate us to spend time on those endeavors.
Sometimes a break from work can sharpen the focus on work. What about the importance of goals for teams?
The business absolutely should care about employees’ happiness. It absolutely comes back to influence the business’s bottom line.
—Cassie Holmes, author
Your team will waste time and resources if they don’t have a clear guidepost or Northstar. It’s unfulfilling because there needs to be a sense of progress. If you don’t know what you’re trying to progress toward, any wins along the way [aren’t as fulfilling]. There needs to be more clarity.
What’s even more lovely is the extent to which an organization is clear about its mission. It’s easier for individuals to align their personal goals and purpose with that mission. As I share in the book, when you know what your purpose is, it’s so much more motivating. It’s clear there’s progress being made.
How can leaders keep their teams motivated when facing intense macroeconomic headwinds?
It’s even more important to have that clear sense of purpose during challenging times. It’s not always going to be easy—both at the task and organizational levels. If you know where you’re going and the point of it all, then it motivates you to muscle through. That’s where you get the persistence, determination, and resolve to know that it is worth it.