There you are, 13 or 14, having a game of cricket with your mates or fixing your bike – or plucking up the courage to talk to the girl next door.
“Edward,” your mum says, “Time to come in and write your thank you letters.”
You sigh. Was there ever a bigger waste of time? After all, your auntie will cough up again next year. And at Christmas. She has to: it’s in the rules.
What’s emphatically not in the rules is taking time out of your day to wish someone happy birthday nearly thirty years later. But several of you did – so thank you. I had a lovely day on Wednesday and I really appreciate all the messages – even the less complimentary ones, pointing out that the years may have taken their toll…
I was going to write about testimonials this week but somehow the words wouldn’t come. I managed the electronic equivalent of a great many screwed up pieces of A4 – so let’s consider wasting time instead.
Shortly after I started my first job the sales manager took me to one side. “You want to be successful, Ed?” he said.
“Yes. Absolutely. Definitely. Yes. Obviously,” I said, eloquence not being my strong suit at that point in my life.
“It’s simple,” he said. “Do a full day’s work every day – including Friday. And that’ll put you ahead of 98% of the people out there.”
At the time I didn’t pay too much attention. I may even have been a little dismissive. ‘Do a full day’s work every day?’ That was obvious. How did you become a manager if all you could do was trot out the obvious?
Over the years I’ve realised that ‘do a full day’s work’ is probably the best business advice anyone ever receives. It might even be the best advice for life in general – as Rudyard Kipling pointed out:
If you can fill the unforgiving minute
With sixty seconds’ worth of distance run
Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it…
…Which was fine when If was written in 1895. It was even fine when my sales manager gave me the advice a hundred years later. But it’s not fine now – because since then the internet has come along and the ‘unforgiving minute’ has very definitely become the distracting minute.
Had the Dark Lord spent a large slice of eternity on a project to disrupt your work he could hardly have come up with a better plan than the internet. It will be there all the time in the background, my Lord. With everything on it that they’re interested in. Instantly. At the click of a button. ‘Have a look at this recipe. Why not check the cricket score as well? Here’s your favourite song: it’ll only waste three minutes…’
I’m as guilty as anyone – my particular bête noire is online banking (how many times, Ed? You do not need to check the cash flow every day). Then there are everyone’s updates on LinkedIn, the cricket scores, football, the BBC Sport site…
Staying focused shouldn’t be a problem. But, increasingly, it is. So I’m always interested in articles that look at time management, productivity and getting things done – and last week I came across this one, promising that we can all get the same amount done in half the time.
It’s a subject that I haven’t written about for a long time, and maybe I should return to it – especially as “finding the time to get it all done and still see my family” is such a recurring theme round the TAB boardroom table.
So let me finish this week with two very simple questions. What’s the website that wastes the most time for you? (Please remember this is a family blog – and yes, of course there’s a prize for anyone who replies TAB York.) And what’s the technique/trick/habit/act of will power that most helps you stay focused during the working day?
I’ll look at one very simple technique next week, and then I’ll pull all the collective wisdom together in the following post. In the meantime, enjoy the weekend and please rest assured that sitting back with a glass of wine very definitely does count as ‘sixty seconds’ worth of distance run…’