Investing My Time
I’m not one to drift through life without a plan of action, even at school and university I was always focused on doing just enough work to succeed, but not too much as to curtail the rest of my life. So one of the first things that I did when I started working was to segment my time to reflect the balance that I wanted. I thought of my time and energy as investments that I wanted to make, investments in my work, my children, my relationships, my health. I’ve continued to ‘rebalance my investment portfolio’ every 6 months or so for probably 20 years and it’s worked out pretty well. When I look at my portfolio now it’s changed a lot over the 20 years, some periods required intensive investment in work, others in family. I make my biggest investment in my physical and mental health, with my work and family getting most of the rest. Take a look deeper into any area and things get a little bit more interesting:
- My main investments in work are focused on finding areas that others are neglecting, picking important not urgent work that no one else is focused on
- My investments in health are on mental resilience and activities that keep my body moving but also allow me to do research into health, work or relationships at the same time, by listening to podcasts or watching videos on my exercise bike
- My main investments in family are in supporting Debbie while she’s back at university and taking most of the burden of running the house and looking after it and the garden; strengthening my relationship with her as the kids gradually fly the nest and keeping a role in the kids lives as they become independent
In simple terms you can see this segmentation strategy at work in how I carve up my time. For example early in my career I decided that I wouldn’t work after 7pm and at weekends. Now my focus on health means I have a highly segmented life:
- Two weeks a month I focus on work:
- I spend my mornings doing research, curation and knowledge sharing
- Two afternoons a week meeting people face to face for coaching or focused group discussions
- Two afternoons doing scalable creative work, writing, video presentations and reviews.
- One week a month I take a holiday, 4 weeks with my family and 8 weeks on my own, hiking, cycling or in meditation retreat. During my holidays I still spend a lot of time doing research, but I also read and listen to a lot of fiction.
- One week a month I dedicate to a ‘think week’ a time for relaxed refection and research
At work I’m always looking to design organisations and systems that are well balanced and where that balance doesn’t come naturally, I force it by segmenting our investments. For example I might carve up an organisation to make sure we have w% invested in operation, x% in optimisation, y% in differentiation and z% in imperatives. It’s all too easy to invest in operation or imperatives and neglect the rest.
My commitment to this approach was recently further inspired when I read ‘How Will You Measure Your Life’ by Clay Christensen, a leader in the field of disruptive innovation. Clay points out how seductive focusing all of your investments of time and energy on work can be:
Our careers provide immediate evidence of achievement. Every day you can put your hands on your hips and look at something that you accomplished. But in raising family, on a day-to-day basis, the relationships with our spouses and relationships with our children don’t provide any immediate achievement. It takes 20 years to raise a child. It’s a very long investment.
He then goes on to describe his personal approach to finding balance:
And so people with a high need for achievement systematically under-invest in their families and overinvest in their careers. And the way that my wife, Christine, and I — the way we wrestled with that problem — we decided that Clay is an incorrigible driver of achievement, and he’s never going to change. And so let’s put a boundary around that. So we decided I would never work on Saturday. That’s for the family — and Sunday for God. And I wouldn’t work past 6 p.m. Those were kind of the rules that we made a commitment for. Then, when I worked for BCG, about a month after I started, the leader of my team came to me and said, “Clay, we’re going to meet on Sunday at 2 p.m. because we’ve got a big presentation on Monday, and this is what you’ve got to be ready for. So we’re going to do a dress rehearsal.” And I told Mike, “I can’t do this on Sunday,” and explained why.
And he just went bonkers, and he said, “Everybody works on Sunday.” And I said, “I just can’t. We made a commitment to spend that day for God.” And so he blustered away really mad. And he came back, and he said, “Look, I talked to the rest of the team. Let’s meet Saturday at 2 p.m.” And I said, “I can’t do that either. I’m sorry.” And, boy, he was mad at me. So then he came back, and he said, “Do you happen to work on Fridays?”
And it was a very important decision for me to make because the logic is just this once, in this particular extenuating circumstance, it’s OK if I do this. The problem with that logic is that your life is filled with an unending stream of extenuating circumstances. And that was just a little decision in a life of tens of thousands of moments of decisions like that. But if I had given in that once, then the next time it comes up it’ll be easier for me to get in again “just this once” until just this once isn’t once. And I decided that if you set a standard it easier to keep the standard 100% of the time than it is 98% of the time.
Most mornings I like to read and write in Caffe Nero, which is a short walk from home. Instead of taking the direct route though, when I’m well enough, I will take the long route along the sea front and I get to enjoy the magnificent views. I took the photo adorning this post today and it’s particularly striking.