My First 100 Days


It’s not often I compare myself to Donald Trump – well, not this side of the psychiatrist’s couch – but he’s famously completed 100 days in the White House and I’ve now completed 100 days in my new role as the MD of The Alternative Board in the UK.

I haven’t pulled out of any climate change agreements, sacked anyone or threatened wholesale renegotiation of every trade deal that’s ever been made. Instead I’ve worked with some brilliant people and generally had the privilege of running an organisation that changes people’s lives. So thank you once again to everyone who helped to make it happen, and to everyone who keeps making it happen on a daily basis.

projects-100days

Quite obviously, I’ve had to get used to a few changes. I’m not driving round North Yorkshire anywhere near as much: I see a lot less of Costa Coffee at Clifton Moor…

I’m now in the office at Harrogate for 2½ days a week, working as part of a team of six. I didn’t realise I’d missed the office ‘buzz’ so much. That’s a bonus that I hadn’t anticipated.

…And I’ve discovered another, equally unexpected but far more important bonus. Every month Mags and I are in London, Birmingham, Newcastle and Manchester.

We always go on the train – and it’s a brilliant place to work. (But why, he asked innocently, could I get a mobile signal under Hong Kong harbour ten years ago but still can’t get one on the train between Huddersfield and Stalybridge? I’ll vote for whoever has that in their manifesto…)

As I was saying, a brilliant place to work – and to pick up on a point from last week, it’s a great place to work on the business. By definition you can’t work in the business, so Mags and I have time to discuss strategy, make plans and generally do all the things phones, meetings and the need to pop out for a sandwich stop you doing.

I’ve always liked working on the train. I’ve written before that if you want to think differently you need to be in a different physical location and I get some of my best work done on trains and in cafés, ploughing through as much paperwork between York and King’s Cross as I would in a full day at my desk.

Why is that?

Why do so many of us enjoy working in locations like that, and why are we so productive? And yes, I have been known to play a ‘café soundtrack’ on YouTube when I’m working in the office.

Early studies suggested that it was what’s known as ‘the audience effect:’ that we work better when we have someone to work with and/or compete with – witness the peloton in the Tour de France.

But according to an article in New Scientist, what applies to Team Sky doesn’t – for once – apply to us. The answer, apparently, is that hard work is contagious.

A study was done which involved sitting people doing different tasks next to each other: neither could see what the other was working on. When A’s task was made more difficult B started to work harder as well, as he or she responded to subtle cues like body posture and breathing.

I’ve often talked to TAB members who say their number one criteria for hiring another member of their team is work ethic: now it looks like there’s real evidence to back up that good old gut feeling.

…Except, of course, the evidence also suggests that I shouldn’t be on the train or in the coffee shop. I should be where people are working really hard. So I may hold future meetings in the library at Leeds University – and if it’s still the same as in my undergraduate days, on the same floor as the law students…

The Monday Morning Quarterback


It’s just about the perfect description. Instantly, we all know what it means…

So the wide receiver’s wide open. 20 yard throw straight into the end zone. Hell, even my six year old can do that. What’s he do? Tries to run it himself. Gets sacked. Turnover. And it’s game over. Season over. See you in September.

There isn’t an equivalent phrase in the UK, but no office is short of an expert round the watercooler on a Monday morning.

Seriously, he thinks X is a centre back? He needs to buy Y. And no wonder Z didn’t try an inch. My mate’s brother says he’s been tapped up by City.

Whichever side of the Atlantic you’re on, no sports fan gets a decision wrong on a Monday morning. Hindsight is a wonderful thing – and it guarantees you a 100% success rate.

Sadly, the entrepreneur doesn’t have the benefit of hindsight: he has to make decisions every day – and he’ll get plenty of them wrong. As a recent article in the Harvard Business Review put it, ‘The problems entrepreneurs confront every day would overwhelm most managers.’

636080696667368455-c02-siemian-0823

…And – just like the QB on a Sunday night – entrepreneurs get plenty of decisions wrong. Any entrepreneur who gets 50% of his decisions right first time is doing remarkably well. Fortunately, TAB members can improve on those numbers. They can bring their problems to the monthly board meetings – and rely on the collective wisdom, experience and insight of their colleagues: the Tuesday/ Wednesday/ Thursday quarterbacks. Once a problem – or an idea – has been run past seven people instead of one, the chances of a correct decision increase exponentially.

But I’m aware that not everyone who reads this blog is a member of TAB York: plenty of readers are just starting their journey as an entrepreneur. So here are three of the most common problems, proposed solutions and – ultimately – mistakes that I’ve seen in my business life. I hope they help – and don’t worry if you tick all three boxes: every successful entrepreneur has done exactly the same.

  • No-one else cares like I care. The only answer is to do it myself

That’s true. It’s your business: no-one will ever care like you care. But you cannot do everything yourself. That way lies fatigue, burn-out and your wife telling you that she needs to talk… Embrace the division of labour: we live in an age where everything can be outsourced online. Your job is to manage the business: let someone else do the tedious stuff that takes away your creativity and your productivity.

  • There’s no more money in the budget. The only solution is to throw more hours at it

Let me refer you to one of my favourite books, Rework, and page 83: ‘throw less at the problem.’ As the authors say, the solution is not more hours, people or money. The solution is almost always to cut back. You cannot do everything and, as I wrote last week, success comes from a focus on your core business – not on trying to please all the people all the time. Besides, more hours simply means a second, more serious, talk with your wife…

  • Fire people: hire people

When you’re starting out you’ll be a small team: that breeds closeness – and loyalty. But not everyone who starts the journey with you is capable of finishing it. Sadly, at some stage you’ll learn just how lonely it can be as an entrepreneur: one day, you’ll accept that Bill’s just not up to it any more. You have to act: if you don’t, you’ll cause resentment among the rest of Bill’s team – and risk losing people who are up to it. And when you hire Bill’s replacement, don’t be afraid to hire someone smarter than you. See above, your job is to manage and lead the company, not to be the expert on every single aspect of it.

 

When I write this weekly post I sometimes ‘let it go cold’ for an hour and then give it a final read through. That’s what I did this week and I need to correct myself. The three mistakes above are mistakes we can make at every stage of our business journey – not just when we’re starting out.

It’s all too easy to slip back into bad habits, to think ‘it’s easier to do it myself’ or ‘If I work through the night I’ll have cracked it.’ We’ve all done it. But at least you won’t make the mistakes for long: those quarterbacks round the TAB table will be watching you…

New Year: New Quotes


Good evening/morning – and a very, very happy new year. I hope you had a wonderful Christmas and that you’re now ready to enjoy a truly stellar year.

…And if I sound enthusiastic and positive, it’s because I am. I don’t think I’ve ever looked forward to any year as much as I’m looking forward to 2017. (Ah – damn it. Apart from the year I got married, of course. Only four lines into a new year and I put my foot in it…)

For me – and I hope for all of us – 2017 is going to be full of challenges and opportunities. And isn’t that what life and business is all about?

So let’s start the year with some inspirational words. Anyone who’s been in business for a while will have read all the standard Steve Jobs/Henry Ford quotes: so I’ve done a little digging to see if I can find some you might not have come across before. Hopefully one or two of them will kick-start a very successful year for you.

deep-quote

The first one is from Jake Nickell, the CEO of Threadless. I try not to make any decision I’m not excited about.

I couldn’t agree more. If I turn to someone in a TAB meeting and they say, “I’ve had this idea. I think it’s OK and it might make some money,” then I guarantee that in six months it will have been quietly shelved or – much more likely – it will have turned into a problem and be losing money.

If, on the other hand, my Board member is so excited she needs to stand up when she starts talking about her new idea; if she’s waking up to make notes on it at three in the morning – then we might just have something that changes a business and/or a life. You’re an entrepreneur: having ideas is what you do. You only need to act on the ones you’re passionate about.

The vast majority of us will have seen ads for Under Armour when we’ve been watching sport. Here’s what founder and CEO Kevin Plank has to say: There’s an entrepreneur right now, scared to death, making excuses, saying, “It’s not the right time yet.” There’s no such thing as a good time. Get out of your garage and go take a chance and start your business.

Or as Seth Godin, author of Permission Marketing, put it, If you wait until there’s another case study in your industry you’ll be too late.

There are 101 reasons not to do anything new in 2017. Worries about Brexit. What will Trump do? Elections in Europe. The possible collapse of the Chinese credit boom…

But there are 101 reasons not to do anything in every year. If you’ve had a great idea; if it keeps you awake at night; if you have the support of your peers round the TAB table… Then, as the iconic Nike ad said, Just do it.

Who’s up next? Indra Nooyi, Chair and CEO of PepsiCo. I cannot just expect the organisation to improve if I don’t improve myself and lift the organisation. That [is] a constant.

I’m not sure there’s much I can add to that. Today – more than ever – you simply have to go on learning and improving. If you stand still your business will stand still – and as I’ve written many times, once a business stands still and starts to stagnate, it’s the beginning of the end.

Fiddlesticks. I’m going to have to admit defeat: I can’t get away without a Steve Jobs quote after all. But here’s one you might not have come across.

Jobs was giving a small, private presentation about the iTunes music store to some independent record label people. At the end of the presentation they were all bursting with ideas and features that could be added. “Wait,” Jobs said. “I know you have a thousand ideas. So do we. But innovation isn’t about saying ‘yes’ to everything. It’s about saying ‘no’ to all but the most crucial features.”

Why do I like that story so much? Simply because you can take ‘innovation’ out and replace it with ‘success.’ And if you want a recipe for success in 2017, that’s it. Make decisions that excite you, don’t wait to put them into action, constantly improve yourself – and above all, say ‘no’ to everything that’s not crucial to your own success and the success of your business.

Why Being Ill is Good for You


I bumped into an old work colleague at the weekend.

I use the word ‘colleague’ in its loosest possible sense. Brian was a man whose success at office politics was exceeded only by his opinion of himself: whose survival skills were in directly inverse proportion to his business skills. And for whom the expression ‘pompous oaf’ (or stronger) might have been invented.

But Season of Goodwill and all that. I smiled my welcoming smile…

“Edward. How goes the world with you? Still doing just enough?”

My smile slipped a little. “I’m managing, Brian. And you…”

“Never better. Just been ill. Best thing that ever happened to me.”

bigstock_teddy_is_sick_682694

I made suitable sympathetic noises while wondering why your phone never rings when you need it to.

“Gastric flu. Wiped out. Five days. Never been so ill in my life. But now, marvellous. Cleared out my body and – ” Brian jabbed me to make sure I understood the next point was important – “Cleared out my life as well.”

I indicated that I was grateful to be drinking from the well of such wisdom. “Yes. Could have swanned off to Switzerland and paid thousands. Did it all myself. Even a man of my talents can take on too much. You won’t have heard the expression – some American or other – but they call it ‘the thick of thin things.’”

And mercifully, at that moment, my phone did ring. “Mis-sold PPI?” I said. “Thank you so much for calling…”

As most of you will know, if there are 30 people in a room there’s a better than even chance of two of them sharing a birthday. With the massed ranks of TAB York, there must be equally good odds that one of us will, like Brian, be ‘wiped out’ in the run up to Christmas.

And much as I disliked the man, I had to admit that he was right. Sometimes, being ill can be good for you.

If you’re running your own business – or you’re in any position of authority – switching off is one of the hardest things to do. At home with the children? Date night with the wife? Ordering lunch on the beach… Even then, there’s either a problem that won’t go away or – because you’ll always be an entrepreneur – an idea that pops into your head.

For me – with due apologies to my wife and hopes that she’s already bought my Christmas present – the most totally relaxing thing I do is play squash. I’m physically and mentally engaged. Work couldn’t enter my head if it tried.

But Brian – proving the ‘broken clock’ adage – was right for once. Being really ill for a few days is a superb way to detox your body and your life.

The last time it happened to me was six years ago. I couldn’t do anything. The ominous shivering: the slow crawl into bed. Extra blanket. Dressing gown on top of you. Nothing works. And you all know the rest…

When I emerged back into the world I was washed out. Body emptied: mind emptied. I’d drunk nothing but water for five days: I was totally detoxified. But I was also more focused: much more clear about what I needed to do – and completely astonished at the mental clutter I’d allowed to accumulate before I was ill.

The first thing I did was tidy my office: then I abandoned my notebook/planner/to-do list and started a new one. I was acutely conscious that I didn’t want to drift back, to let the same clutter build up again.

Ultimately those five days I spent shaking and sweating turned out to be five of the most productive days I had that year.

So if it’s your turn this year, see being ill as a positive experience – at least in the long term. It can refresh your brain, detox your body and help you break bad habits.

And as the font of all wisdom pointed out, look at the money you saved by not going to Switzerland

Why you Should Make Big Decisions in the Morning


“I’m a morning person.”

“I’m totally useless in the morning. Can’t do anything until I’ve had three coffees.”

We’ve all heard people make those claims: I’ve no doubt the vast majority of people reading the blog would file themselves in one of the two categories.

But there’s increasing evidence that what your Granny told you was right. The early bird does catch the worm. Early to bed, early to rise and there’s only one possible outcome…

In simple terms, we’re at our cognitive best in the morning. I can vouch for that: without question, I’m better in the morning. I’m sharper, more alert and I’m conscious that I’m making better decisions.

good-morning

But enough of the anecdotal: what about the analytical?

Researchers in Denmark studied the performance of two million 8 to 15 year olds in standard tests, taking the time of the test into account. The results showed that for every hour after 8am results declined by 1% – apparently equivalent to missing ten days of school.

As lead researcher Dr Hans Henrik Sievertsen said: “Our ability to focus, make decisions and react is affected by cognitive fatigue.”

So if your teenage son comes home clutching his exam timetable and beaming because his exams are all in the afternoon, he might be paying a high price for sleeping in.

It’s not just students. An article in the Scientific American cited the fact that doctors are more likely to default to simply prescribing antibiotics and prescription drugs as the day wears on.

And judges become less lenient…

In one study, 1,112 bench rulings in a parole court were studied. The data showed that as judges advanced through a day’s cases they became more likely to deny a prisoner’s request and accept the status quo. The proportion of favourable rulings started out high early in the day, at about 65 per cent. By the time the court broke for lunch, favourable rulings were close to zero.

Scientific American draws the same conclusions as Dr. Sievertsen: “the demands of multiple decisions throughout the day erodes their mental resources and leads to inappropriate and all-round bad decisions.”

I think this is fascinating – and it’s got real implications for business. Clearly, we need to be making our big decisions in the morning. Granny was right again: ‘sleep on it’ – because you’re going to make the best decisions when you’re fresh.

It also looks like we’re more creative in the morning. As the day wears on – as cognitive fatigue sets in – both the judges and the doctors were more likely to revert to the status quo, the easy option. If you want to think ‘outside the box,’ you need to be doing it over breakfast. After all, we know what you get if you ‘do what you’ve always done…’

It’s not just making decisions and being creative: there’s the experience of the prisoners and their parole – or lack of it. Clearly, you need to ask for things in the morning as well: if you have to negotiate, then negotiate at nine in the morning. (Preferably not with a judge though!)

So with the analytical and the anecdotal in full agreement, one of my commitments to myself for next year is to be even more of a morning person. Dan and Rory are getting older: we don’t need to be quite so ‘hands-on’ as they get ready for school – so there’s more time for tea, toast, planning the day and feeling in control. I know that benefits my business and my TAB York members.

And there’s a work/life balance bonus as well: with work planned and organised and the big decisions made, evenings are there for my family – not for my laptop.

Five Days Good, Four Days Better


I’ve written about the length of your working week two or three times this year. Specifically, I’ve discussed the difference keeping Monday mornings free has made to my effectiveness and my weekends – and the simple fact that ‘throwing hours at it’ is never the answer. Once you go over 50 hours a week the evidence is very clear: you become less, not more, effective.

I’m not alone with my ‘Monday mornings’ – or Fridays as they are for several Board members.

So I was intrigued when I came across this article in Cap X: ‘Why a four day week isn’t good for your health.’

The article is by Allard Dembe, Professor of Public Health at Ohio State University. The four day week is the Holy Grail he says: it gives more leisure time and family time – and significant cost savings for business.

201504_1038_gbfde_sm

He points out that many big companies have tried the four day – or ‘compressed’ – week. It’s not just Amazon and Google, Professor. Plenty of businesses I work with in North Yorkshire encourage flexible working, recognising that they’re in the results business, not the hours business.

In his article Dembe concedes some of the advantages of the four day week: but ultimately maintains that the evidence suggests it isn’t good, either for employees or for companies.

He states – rightly – that the same amount of work needs to be done. In simple terms, five days of eight hours translate to four days of 10 hours. And it’s the extra two hours – tacked on at the beginning or end of the day – that draw his fire. “All hours,” he says, “are not created equal,” citing studies showing that longer working days can contribute to ill-health later in life. And he questions whether a ten hour day is worth it if it means losing time with your children for four days of the week.

And as you’d expect from a professor of public health, he also points out that workplace accidents happen when we’re tired.

I’m not going to put Professor Dembe’s article in the same category as Liam Fox’s assertion that we’re all ‘fat, lazy and off to play golf’ – a claim I note he didn’t make at the Conservative conference – but I do fundamentally disagree with it, especially for the entrepreneur.

He makes some valid points, but there’s a simple fact: flexible working is here to stay. The challenge for anyone running a business is to find working arrangements that work for all the members of your team. You have to do that: the top talent that you want – and need – is increasingly demanding flexible working.

But even more importantly, I think flexible working is essential for you: for the entrepreneur.

Yes, we carry our phone and our iPads and we access Dropbox. And yes, that means work is never more than a couple of taps or clicks away. But it also means we have far greater flexibility – that we can both work when it suits us and work around family commitments and our work/life balance.

Earlier this year I mentioned the tendency to think in the same way if you’re in the same place. It’s almost impossible to think strategically about your business if you’re at your desk, ensnared in what Stephen Covey described as “the thick of thin things.” That’s why I’m an absolute advocate of spending working time away from your desk, be that Friday, Monday morning or whenever best suits you.

Working at home – or in the coffee shop – gives you space to think and to emphatically work ‘on’ the business not ‘in’ the business.

As the Scottish poet said, “’Tis distance lends enchantment to the view.” As the English business coach says, “’Tis distance lends perspective to the business.”

And that perspective is one of the most crucial factors in making your business a success. So don’t be afraid to work from home one day a week or to shorten your working week: in the long run it can only benefit you and your business.

You Don’t Need to be Outstanding


…Or ground-breaking. Or develop a wonder-drug. Or an app that no-one’s ever dreamed of before.

If you want to be successful in business, you don’t need to do any of those things.

You just need to be 10% better than your competitors.

And now let’s travel back in time. The year is 1985. The place is Seattle. A husband and wife are having a conversation…

Wife: This is madness. I’m pregnant with our first child and you want to throw in a good job and start a business based on a trip to Italy!

Husband: Yes

Wife: And how much do you need?

Husband: $400,000

Wife: Do we have $400,000?

Husband: You know we don’t

Wife: So you’re going to borrow the money. You’re going to risk everything – including the future of our child – because you want to open a coffee shop. Like the world needs another coffee shop. For God’s sake, Howard, you have a good job with Starbucks…

If you haven’t guessed, the husband was Howard Schultz – then just about to sink $400,000 of borrowed money into Il Giornale, a coffee shop based on a trip to Italy – where they sold excellent expressos, where coffee shops acted as meeting places and where there were 200,000 of them. Two years later the original Starbucks management decided to focus on Peet’s Coffee and Tea and sold its Starbucks retail units to Schultz and Il Giornale for $3.8m. The rest, as they say…

But in many ways, Mrs Schultz was right. The world didn’t need another coffee shop.

The world didn’t need another operating system either. Windows? IBM, Atari – about half a dozen companies already had operating systems.

Neither did it need another social network. It already had Friendster and My Space.

And with seven search engines already operating, the world most certainly didn’t need Google…

But Howard Schultz – along with Bill Gates, Mark Zuckerberg, Larry Page and Sergey Brin – knew he could do it better.

And that’s true of 99% of the business successes I’ve seen. For every one ‘why has nobody thought of that before’ idea, there are 99 businesses that have succeeded by simply doing it better.

best

Unless you’re a creative genius, the very-high-chances are that the business idea you’ve just had has already been thought of. In fact, as soon as you’ve had the idea you’ll find that everyone is doing it.

That is not the time to be discouraged. Exactly the opposite: all you’ve done is proved that there’s a demand for your idea. Now, you simply need to go out there and consistently deliver a better product or service.

Starbucks isn’t significantly better than its rivals. But – as I’ll describe next week – the remorseless attention to detail that Howard Schultz ingrained in the company’s DNA means it is that crucial 10% better in several key areas.

Let me finish by returning to that conversation between Mr and Mrs Schultz. The numbers and the business may be different, but I’ll wager heavily that a lot of people reading this blog had exactly that conversation.

And no – the world didn’t need your business. But like Howard Schultz, you had the drive and the vision to believe that you could be 10% better: the 10% that makes all the difference.

The world didn’t need another peer-to-peer business coaching company either. After all, anyone can get together with a few friends and create a mastermind group. Just make sure the group is a good fit, commit to meeting each month, find someone to coach you and you’re away…

Except it’s not quite that easy.

Like Starbucks, Google and Facebook, I absolutely believe TAB does it that crucial 10% better. It’s what makes our business model so successful – and if you’re not a member of TAB York, it’s what could add the vital 10% that would make all the difference to your business.

40 and Out


I suppose you shall have the full day off. But I consider myself ill-used. Paying you for no work at all. I should dock your pay by sixpence. And just make sure you’re here all the earlier the next morning…

…Or words to that effect, as Ebenezer Scrooge grudgingly gives Bob Cratchit Christmas Day off.

I’m not sure how poor old Ebenezer would have coped with the 40 hour week and 25 days’ annual holiday – even less so if Bob had suggested he’d be more productive if he worked from home…

640.40BetterHoursSerifBLUE

But the spirit of Scrooge lives on. There are still plenty of employers muttering ‘be here all the earlier the next morning’ – and thinking that the way to guarantee success is to be the first person in the car park every morning.

But I’ve never felt that more hours is the answer. As I have written so many times on this blog, it’s not more hours you need, it’s better hours – a view endorsed by my TAB colleague, Tom Morton.

I was listening to a radio programme to this effect as I drove round North Yorkshire the other week. When I was back in my office, I did some research – and found more and more evidence suggesting that the macho dogma of ‘throwing hours at it’ is simply counter-productive.

The US is famous for its culture of working long hours. A recent survey there – conducted by John Pencaval of Stanford University – found that more than 50% of people said they worked more than 50 hours a week. Not surprisingly, there was clear evidence that the internet, e-mails and mobiles were lengthening the working day.

But the research also showed that productivity falls sharply after 50 hours of work. And that it falls off a cliff after 55 hours. Most significantly, someone working 70 hours a week achieves no more than someone working 55 hours – apart from greatly improving their chances of seeing a divorce lawyer.

Working these extra hours may give a short term boost to productivity. But you – and/or your team – need to recover. So you’re essentially paying for that short term boost with reduced productivity further down the line.

There’s another reason why you shouldn’t work more than 55 hours a week. I’d like you to keep reading the blog. I don’t want anything to happen to you. The medical evidence against working long hours is overwhelming: if you work 55 hours a week – as opposed to the traditional 40 hours – your risk of a stroke increases by 33%. Not for me – or for any of my friends hopefully…

…But there’s even worse news for the Ed Reids of this world. Research conducted in Australia recently suggests that once you’re past 40 the optimal number of hours to work is 25 per week: apparently that’s the right amount of time to keep the brain stimulated, but avoid exhaustion and stress.

But surely, you’ll say, we’re all knowledge workers now? Those rules might have applied when work included a high percentage of manual labour, but surely we can apply our brains for more than 40 hours a week? After all, I’m pretty hot in the pub quiz on a Sunday night…

The answer is no: the reverse is true. Studies show that creativity and the ability to solve problems is even more affected by fatigue. Yes, grinding out solutions works – if what you want is inferior solutions. And nothing contributes more to inferior decision making than lack of sleep.

Of course, there are exceptions to the rule: people who can genuinely manage with very little sleep – who can work ridiculously long hours. But sadly, there are far more people who think they’re exceptions to the rule. For the vast majority of us, the graph of perceived productivity vs. actual productivity once we go past 40 hours would be a sobering lesson.

I repeat, the answer is not more hours, it’s better hours. If your solution is simply to throw hours at a problem then in the long run you’ll damage your health, your business and your relationships. That can never be a price worth paying.

And with that sombre message I’ll leave you to a sun-kissed bank holiday weekend. I’ll be back next Friday with the business lessons you can learn from your Fitbit…

At the End of the Day


10 Things Successful People do Every Morning!

12 Things Famous Entrepreneurs do Before Breakfast!

15 Things…

Fifteen? Either Richard Branson gets up at four in the morning or he rolls into the office at lunchtime.

If you want to learn how to get your day off to a flying start you’ll find millions of words on the subject – including on this blog. But that message has sunk in now. Who doesn’t start the day with a 10k run while listening to the latest business podcast? Then come home to fruit, nuts, seeds and a healthy sprinkling of motivation…

This week, I’m more concerned with the end of the working day – a time when my internet search suggests that even our famous entrepreneurs are far less busy. According to Google the most they can manage is ‘3 Things…’

Then again, we all have a tendency to ease off towards the end of the day. You’re getting tired, it’ll keep until tomorrow and, besides, no-one’s going to return your call at ten to five…

That’s a shame: the last time I checked, the pound you earned at 4/30 was worth exactly the same as the pound you earned at 8/30. “Do a full day’s work every day,” as my first sales manager remorselessly drummed into me.

So here’s my attempt to redress the balance. Five things that I try – or tried in my previous life – to do at the end of every working day.

Say goodbye and ‘thank you.’ I could never get my head round bosses who just disappeared at the end of the day. As soon as people were reporting to me I made a point of saying goodbye to them every day, and of finding a way to end the day on a positive note – whether it was simply saying ‘thanks for your efforts’ or more specific praise for something they’d achieved. It was a two minute time commitment that cost me nothing – and went a long way to building team spirit.

End the day with something positive. See above, perhaps, if you’re in charge of a team. But supposing you’re not? This is where work/life balance becomes important. For me, ‘something positive’ doesn’t necessarily mean a new member of TAB York or even an appointment with a prospective member. ‘Everything’s crossed off my to-do list and now I’m taking the boys to rugby’ is a remarkably positive end to a day – and reinforces why I started my own business.

Review the Day. I like to spend five minutes going back over the day – and there’s one question I always ask myself: ‘What could I have done better?’ Did I handle the Board meeting as well as I could have? Did I find out what that potential new member really wants out of life? It’s a lot like my golf – there are always one or two little things I could improve on…

Plan the next day. For me this breaks down into two: firstly, reviewing my appointments and/or meetings and making sure I’ve done all the necessary prep work – or that I’ve definite time set aside for it tomorrow.

Secondly, I want to see my day from someone else’s point of view. Whether I’ve got Board meetings or 1 to 1’s, I’m going to be seeing people. So as I’m writing my prep notes, I want to spend a few minutes in their shoes. What do they want from the meeting? What’s the ideal outcome for them?

3358481053_622e03e159

You don’t need to be running Alternative Board meetings or having client 1 to 1’s for this to work for you. A sales call, an appraisal meeting with one of your team: 60 seconds thinking, ‘what do they want to achieve’ can make all the difference.

And finally, stop work. Yes, just that. Actually stop work. That sounds ridiculous, but today it is far too easy to carry on working. ‘Half-time in the boys’ rugby match, I’ll just check my e-mail.’ ‘I’ll just see if there are any messages on Facebook while my wife finishes in the bathroom.’

Don’t. Stop it. Never mind all the studies now showing that too much screen time late at night harms your sleep, you owe it to yourself – and your family – to let your mind de-clutter: to finally come out of work mode. That’s why I’m so pleased with my Monday morning routine: it absolutely guarantees that I stay relaxed on Sunday night.

There you are: five things that I do every night which set up the next day, contribute to my success and give me a better work/life balance. And not a mention of red wine among them…

A Swedish Lesson in Working Less


If there’s one subject I’ve written about more than any other in this blog it’s work/life balance. I make no apology for that. I hope everything I do is directed at two simple ends: helping you build a successful business – and making sure that you stay in control of the business, not the other way round. How many men have said, “I missed my children growing up?” No business is worth that: there has to be balance to make the journey and the destination worthwhile.

But where work/life balance is concerned, I’m only a beginner.

Compared to the Swedes – and their national obsession with the subject – I’m a rank amateur. But even I thought they were taking it a bit far when I saw this article on the BBC website.

1399911687_Flag keyboard

A six hour working day? How can you possibly achieve anything in a six working day?

But company boss Jimmy Nilsson doesn’t have any doubts. Quoted on the BBC he says: “It’s difficult to be focused at work for eight hours. But with six hours you can be more focused and get things done more quickly.”

His team work from 8/30 to 11/30: take an hour for lunch and then start another three hours at 12/30. Crucially they’re asked to stay away from social media in the office and to leave any personal calls or e-mails until the end of the day.

Do people want to work fewer hours? Of course they do. Look at the stellar success of the 4 Hour Work Week. But in my experience what people really want is to work more efficiently and more productively.

We all have days at work when everything goes perfectly; everything’s crossed off your to-do list, everyone’s in when you call. Result: you go home at the end of the day with more energy than when you rolled into the office at 8/30. And then there’s the other day: nothing gets done, constant interruptions, constant problems. You drag yourself through the front door and collapse on the sofa, beyond exhausted.

Maybe we’re the architects of our own exhaustion – and maybe Jimmy Nilsson is right about social media. How many of us ‘work’ with Cricinfo open so we can check the cricket score? Or quickly check the fan’s forum to see if our team has signed anyone? According to a recent article in the Telegraph, the average worker wastes an hour a day on Facebook, online shopping and browsing holiday sites.

Small wonder that many business owners are increasingly favouring part-time staff – and reporting that they get as much done between 9/30 and 2/30 as their full time colleagues do in eight hours. No doubt part of that is people responding positively to work hours which really suit their lifestyle and family circumstances. But as Nilsson suggests, maybe the shorter working hours lead to increased focus as well.

After all, what’s the one day in the year when you get the most done? When you’re totally, one hundred per cent focused and you sail straight through your to-do list? We all know the answer: the day before you go on holiday.

As I’ve said many times, we’re in the results business, not the hours business. All too often longer hours simply mean lower productivity per hour. The average British worker does 1,647 hours in a year: the average German, 1,408 – and yet there’s no doubt which country has the higher productivity.

The same holds good if you’re running a business. It’s not hours you need to throw at a problem, it’s focus – and that means absolute focus. Your profit and loss account will never reflect the hours you spent in the office – or the hours you missed spending with your family. It will reflect your focus – and your results.