Want success? Pencil the time into your schedule
Francis Wade Sunday Business COLUMNIST
While it's commonly known that superior results require an investment of time, very few professionals go the next step and actually block out the hours in their schedule to produce these results.
Instead, setting a vague intention is often felt to be enough.
This example taken from successful marriages is one that applies to every company that wants more than mediocre performance.
Dr William Harley is a relationship counsellor who repeats his unpopular advice to couples in trouble: you must spend 15 hours per week together if you hope to maintain a healthy relationship. He reports that his advice is usually met with scorn, especially when he explains that the time together must be spent awake, and free of distractions, so that a real conversation can occur. His clients often do a quick calculation before arguing right back that it's impossible; there is no free space for that, they complain, pulling out diaries and smartphones which are already, apparently quite full.
Based on his four decades of experience, he is likely to be blunt: "If you want to have a marriage that works, you must spend the time."
Then he reminds them how much they enjoyed being together when they were dating, when 15 hours seemed to be a drop in the bucket. If that doesn't convince them, he adds a kicker, saying something like: "If you were involved in a hot, illicit affair right now, wouldn't you be able to carve out at least 15 hours per week with your lover?" This often shuts them right up.
Harley explains that after the wedding, other priorities creep in, such as buying a home, having a baby, soccer games, managing finances, investing in a career and enjoying the company of friends. Unwittingly, time spent alone together dwindles to nothing at all.
The process happens slowly but steadily as minor disagreements escalate into big fights that never get resolved because neither party has the skills to navigate a heated argument with skillful speed. Instead, they need lots of time to work things out - which they can't find.
The truth is, when they finally look to Harley for advice, the idea of spending hours together seems to be painful: the accumulated effect of past wrongs spoils everything. After all, they ask, what is there to talk about?
Don't think for a minute that this is only about marriage, however. The idea of proactively investing a minimum amount of time each week in areas of importance is one that is practised by people who are successful in all areas of their lives.
In my last article, I mentioned the fact that effective executive teams even budget time the way they budget money, measuring how many hours are spent on critical corporate priorities.
This doesn't happen by chance. It takes careful coordination by professionals who view their time as extremely valuable: a tool used to accomplish their goals.
This is very different from the way many people manage their days: They open up their email early in the morning and fight fires from 8-5 without ever making a plan. According to them, their lives are too hectic to think very far ahead.
The best they can do is react to whatever comes up. This behaviour is precisely what gets couples and companies alike into trouble. Harley's advice on relationships lines up with that of management expert Peter Drucker - you must track how you spend your time and measure it against minimum standards you set for yourself. Here's how it can be done.
1. Focus on business relationships:
If you are a business owner or manager, make a list of the key people you interact with each month. Then, determine the minimum number of hours you need to spend with them in one-on-one situations to keep the relationship clear of misunderstandings.
Finally, turn to your calendar and schedule time to connect with them. Schedule reminders to call them in future months, treating this activity as if it were a check-up at the dentist - something that is a routine requirement.
2. Focus on high performance: Discover how the company's best performers organise their schedules and use it as a template for others who are struggling. Studies show a wide variation between time usage of best and average performers - take advantage of success and share it in a systematic way.
These are just two ways of making time investments that are uncommon, but proven. However, they only apply to managers who plan their days ahead and keep detailed schedules that reflect their most important priorities.
Consciously investing time in order to make systematic improvements isn't a fancy, flashy concept requiring the latest technology, but it's a requirement - a must-have - in order to make steady progress to being a success in all areas of life.
Francis Wade is a management consultant and author. To receive a document with a summary of links to past columns, or to give feedback, email: firstname.lastname@example.org.