One of the hardest things about being an executive is managing your time. How do you square working 60 hours a week with the desire to be a great spouse and parent? How can you pay attention to helping to build a better community when you are pulled in a thousand different directions already? Where, if anywhere, does your faith fit in? How can you stop being a victim of your own life?
We all wrestle with these issues every day and there are no easy answers. In my case, I decided years ago that five things were most important in my life: my family, my faith, my work, my community, and my own personal well-being. Taking care of all five simultaneously was important to me. But to do that, I had to develop a practical approach that would work in my everyday life. What follows are a few of the practices that have helped me (in no particular order). I hope they are helpful to you.
Set up "Yes" filters at work.
Not all fires are created equal and you don't have to put them all out yourself. I use three questions to sort through the matters that require my direct and personal attention. 1) "Is the issue on strategy?" — in other words, is it an important part of what we are planning to accomplish? For example, someone comes to me persuaded that an innovative new product will sell well in Brazil, and we have not yet targeted Brazil in our strategic plan, then I say "no." Conversely, if the new idea makes sense for a geography we are targeting, I say "yes, go for it." 2) "Is the issue material to the business?" — that is, can it affect our business in a sizable way? A material issue could be, for example, a product supply problem that means we can't make enough Chicken Noodle soup or Goldfish crackers to support a major promotion. 3) "Is it a matter of principle?" — might there be an ethical issue involved? If someone is mistreating an employee or misappropriating funds, I need to know about it no matter how small the issue may appear to be — and make sure everyone in the organization understands our Code of Conduct.
Use your calendar to drive your agenda.
Have you ever noticed that if you book an important date — say, an important medical procedure or your child's graduation — that date gets carved in stone? To honor my commitment to my family, I set aside 16 days in the summer (two weeks and the three weekends around those two weeks) for vacation. When I first did this years ago, I didn't know whether I could get away with taking this much time off. I had a feeling the business would completely fall apart in my absence. But I took the vacation, and to my surprise the world didn't come to an end. So every summer since then, I book the same time off — and disaster has never struck (although on a few occasions I have had to devote a few days to work-related issues). I also try to book some time every year to give myself a much-needed mind-vacation where I can reflect on how I'm managing my time and my life. This may only be a day or two, but it makes a big difference.
The lesson here? Declare your commitment to the date. Then over-prepare, trust your people, and make sure they know how to reach you if necessary. I'm betting that 9 times out of 10, it won't be necessary.
Kill two birds with one stone.
When my now-adult middle son was very young, I added some volunteer time to my church schedule to honor my commitment to my faith and my family. I was already at church anyway, so I tacked on another 45 minutes during the coffee hour to volunteer as my son's junior choir assistant. I couldn't sing, but I could help out and spend some special time with my son. Similarly, over the years I have also made a point of volunteering for organizations that dovetailed with my work. I've worked closely with The Conference Board, the Committee Encouraging Corporate Philanthropy, and Students in Free Enterprise. That way, I can help build a better world and also learn best practices, gain insight into the international marketplace, help young people, and advance our corporate recruiting efforts at the same time.
Finally, I combine time for exercise with "management-by-walking-around" by strapping on a pedometer and my athletic shoes and trying to walk 10,000 steps every day around our headquarters between meetings to check in with our people. This not only helps keep me in shape, but also helps me stay in touch with what is really going on in the company.
Get up a little earlier.
As a leader, it's critically important to have a quiet moment in the day in which you can center yourself. I'm a morning person, and I decided years ago to get up 30 minutes to an hour earlier every day to make some coffee, sit quietly in our garden and get ready for the day ahead before my wife and children woke up. To do this, I go to bed between 9:00 PM and 10:00 PM and get up between 4:30 AM and 5:00 AM in the morning. Over time, the extra 30 minutes or so in the morning has made a profound difference in my life.
As I have applied these practices, I have found that my life has slowly but surely become more fulfilling. I feel better able to take charge of the things that matter and I feel less pulled apart. All that having been said, each day brings a new challenge and I know a chaotic string of events can be lurking right around the corner . . . but, that's what makes life interesting.