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.

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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…

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Work/Life Balance: It’s Not Just You…


Let me introduce Helena Morrissey, non-executive chair of Newton Investment Managers and campaigner for greater gender diversity in the boardroom. Oh, and mother of nine children…

Someone sent me the link. ‘What does this say about work/life balance, Ed?’ she wittily added.

I won’t tell you what I thought. Nine children and a city career? Despite the fact that husband Richard is a full-time, stay-at-home Dad, Helena Morrissey still describes herself as “chief laundry lady, story-reader, times-table-tester, cake-maker, present-buyer, holiday and party organiser.”

That’s an impressive list by anyone’s standards – although I’m obviously disappointed to see she’s not coaching rugby as well…

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Work/life balance – the underlying and perennial theme of this blog – was much in the news over the festive period and, with due deference to Ms Morrissey, the stories largely focused on men. In particular the BBC featured this article – with nearly half of working fathers saying they’d like a less stressful job if it meant more time caring for their children. Even more significantly, a third of working fathers would be prepared to take a pay cut in return for more time with their children.

We’re entrepreneurs: we choose to do what we do. But that doesn’t mean it isn’t stressful and – as I wrote last week – the problems and uncertainties the entrepreneur faces every day would overwhelm the vast majority of managers.

Why do we do what we do? I’d say that for most of us there are two principal reasons:

  • Providing the very best we can for our families
  • And providing for our own drive and ego: we have to do what we know we’re capable of doing: we don’t ever want to look back and think ‘if only’

But balancing those two aims is one of the hardest jobs you’ll ever do. ‘Providing the very best’ doesn’t just mean material things, it also means time. Quality time doesn’t have to mean the zoo, the swimming pool or a football match: one of the most important lessons I ever learned was that to a small child quality time with Dad is just time with Dad.

“I missed my children growing up” is one of the saddest sentences in the English language and it’s one that too many men are still saying. It’s emphatically not something I ever want to hear around a TAB table.

But as employers, ‘work/life balance’ runs deeper for us. Because we have a duty not only to ourselves, but to members of our team as well. Running your own business brings tremendous pressures – but it also brings control over your own diary. When you’re employed and your boss says, “You need to be in Aberdeen next Thursday,” then you’ll be in Aberdeen, whether it’s sports day or the nativity play. If you run the company, you do at least have the option of thinking, ‘When do I want to be in Aberdeen?’

Not everyone wants to start their own business: but everyone wants to spend time with the children. Entrepreneurs need to be aware of that – and realise that their businesses will benefit as result.

There are now any number of studies showing the benefits of flexible working, for both the employer and the employee: put simply, people who work flexibly are happier and more productive. As technology advances – ‘Alexa, run through the cash flow figures will you?’ – flexible and remote working is going to be on a par with working in the office. Embrace it. Recent results from a Vodafone survey – with 8,000 global employers – saw 83% of respondents say that flexible working had boosted productivity, with SMEs the main beneficiaries.

As businesses fight to recruit and retain key staff, flexible working is going to become as important as someone’s pay packet – and it offers everyone running a business a tremendous opportunity. You can help your team with their work/life balance, improve the quality of their life – and boost your bottom line at the same time.

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.’

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…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…

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.”

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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

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.

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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.

The Knowledge Economy


“What do you do?” I asked someone I’d just met.

“We’re in the knowledge business,” she said. “My company adds knowledge to knowledge.”

We’ve all asked the ‘what do you do’ question a thousand times. And we’ve heard every reply imaginable. But I’d never heard one as intriguing as ‘adding knowledge to knowledge.’ I couldn’t help but ask her to explain.

…And I couldn’t help thinking about it afterwards either. Because we’re all in the knowledge business now.

When I started in business – not that many years ago despite what my sons think – people had stock: they had inventories. The auditors would turn up and spend a week stocktaking. Now, I look round the offices of so many of the TAB York members and all I see are the serried ranks of Apple Macs. Yes, there are honourable exceptions, but they’re becoming increasingly rare: those of us writing blogs may soon need to find a replacement for the apocryphal widget maker.

So everything’s fine: we’re all knowledge workers and whether we vote to Remain or to Leave (see next week…) then the future for our businesses is rosy.

Perhaps. I came across this article in the Harvard Business Review recently: it certainly bears out what I see – and what various TAB York members tell me. A bank of Macs is not necessarily the answer to all your problems: in fact the modern office throws up almost as many challenges as its Rolodex and Kalamazoo counterpart…

Interruptions

There’s a great line in the HBR article: I think it’s safe to say that at least some of the work of your company requires sustained focus of longer than two minutes.

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Absolutely: and yet we seem to go out of our way to encourage interruptions to our work. An e-mail flashes up: there’s an alert on your phone: your computer starts cheering – someone’s scored a goal in the Euros. (Yes, yes, I plead guilty to the last one.)

But if the knowledge economy demands anything, it demands concentration. All the studies show that your work takes longer if you’re constantly interrupted, and that you produce lower quality work. There are plenty of techniques for keeping you focused – from the Pomodoro upwards – but they all depend on you turning off interruptions. (And recognising that it really doesn’t matter if Croatia take the lead against the Czech Republic…)

The Design of the Office

Hand in hand with the banks of Macs have come open plan offices. As Maura Thomas describes in the HBR, they’re a double-edged sword. Yes, open plan offices bring increased collaboration, sharing of ideas and a more social working environment. But they also bring distractions, noise and a loss of privacy.

I’m in two minds on this one: I can see the economic argument in favour of open plan offices – but sometimes adding knowledge to knowledge needs silence, focus and being unsocial. In my experience those offices that work best are the ones combining the best of both: where there’s a shared purpose, where you can collaborate – but where can also disappear when that report simply has to be finished by 5pm.

Absent Friends

As I wrote last week, my eldest son has just turned 14. With 8 or 9 years to go until Dan enters the workplace, I wonder if he’ll ever work in a traditional office? It’s much more likely that he’ll spend a large amount of his time working remotely – keeping in touch with colleagues via whatever’s replaced e-mail, WhatsApp and Basecamp by 2025.

But we don’t have to wait until 2025: remote working is a trend that’s already well established. I do wonder, though, if the vast majority of businesses are getting the most out of the team members that aren’t in the office. If it’s not ‘out of sight, out of mind,’ all too often it’s ‘out of sight, out of the loop.’ Success comes from keeping everyone involved and taking all your team on the journey – wherever they are.

…And with that, my thoughts turn back to the Brexit debate. By the time you read next week’s post we’ll have voted. The polls will be closed and if we don’t know the result, we’ll have a very good idea. But next week I’m going to ask a simple question. Leave or Remain: will it make any 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…

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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…

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.

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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.

The Man who Loves Monday Morning


Scene I

A lounge in a ‘young executive starter home.’ The young executive is stuffing papers into a briefcase. He’s simultaneously on the phone. A baby is crying in the background.

Ed (on the phone)

Sorry to ring on a Sunday night, John. I need the figures for last week. If you could … brilliant. It’s just I’ve got to be at head office to do the presentation. What? You must be joking. Nine o’clock…

(Now shouting to his wife)

I’m going about six. I’ll try not to wake you. Yes I know you’ll probably be awake all night with the baby. I’m really sorry. There’s nothing I can do. I should have travelled down today…

(His wife’s reply can’t be heard. Which is just as well…)

Scene II

A golf club bar. Four golfers at a table. They’ve clearly just finished a round of golf.

Golfer 1

Well, I’d like to stay for another but duty calls. Paperwork, more paperwork and an early start in the morning.

Golfer 2

Me too. Seven o’clock kick-off for me. It’s no sooner Friday night than the weekend’s over…

Ed

What about you, Tim? Time for another one?

Tim

Can’t, Ed. I’m in the same boat. Due to report to the board at nine. Sunday night in the study for me…

Alright, I accept that I don’t need to get excited about ‘Best New Screenplay’ at the BAFTAs but those two episodes illustrate a central part of my life: I am now The Man who Loves Monday Morning.

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If you’re a regular reader you’ll know that I’ve written about time management a lot – both the Pomodoro technique and using Toggl to monitor my time. (If Toggl doesn’t work for you, try Asana or Trello instead.)

My experiment with Toggl – and at this point let me say a simple ‘thank you’ to my TAB colleague Tom Morton for introducing me to Toggl – lasted four months. Apart from demonstrating how easy it is to waste 15 minutes on LinkedIn, those four months showed one thing very clearly. I didn’t have enough time for myself: I didn’t have enough time to reflect, plan and prepare. To use the old cliché, I needed more time to work ‘on’ the business instead of ‘in’ the business.

So I took a significant decision: every Monday morning from 9/00 until 1/00 is ‘my’ time. No client appointments, no Board meetings unless it is absolutely unavoidable.

I now have four hours where I can work on my marketing, do all my preparation work, make any phone calls I’ve been putting off and generally feel that I’m in control of the rest of the week – rather than the other way round. So four hours, with at least two of them being spent working ‘on’ the business.

And there’s another benefit of this approach to Monday morning. See scene II above: my weekend lasts from Friday afternoon to Sunday night. I enjoy all of Sunday, knowing that whatever needs to be done, I can do it on Monday morning. That’s a significant step in keeping my work/life balance very balanced.

I remember once reading an article about Gerry Robinson, the former Chairman and CEO of Granada. At the time he was aggressively building the company through mergers and hostile takeovers – but what I remember from the article was Robinson’s assertion that he only worked, and would only work, 40 hours a week. For once Google has failed me so I can’t find the original article – or the exact quote that stuck in my mind. But it was along these lines: ‘If you can’t do it in 40 hours, you can’t do it in 50, 60 or 70 hours either.’

Like everyone reading this blog, Gerry Robinson was emphatically in the results business – and to achieve your results you have to be proactive with your time management: you cannot let the week’s events dictate to you.

That’s why my Monday mornings have become so important to me – and to my business. I’m planned, organised and focused for the week ahead and I’ve had the best possible weekend with my family: and the guys at the golf club as well – until they have to leave…

Quick! Have Another Holiday


If you can fill the unforgiving minute / With sixty seconds’ worth of distance run / Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it…

Regular readers know that quotation from Kipling is one of my favourites. Written in 1895 and first published in 1910, If is parental advice to the poet’s son, John. I’m sure Kipling didn’t mean it, but those three lines are also some of the best business advice around. If you can fill the unforgiving minute with sixty seconds’ worth of productive work you will undoubtedly succeed, my son.

So why am I going to use this week’s post to recommend that you fill the unforgiving minute with sixty seconds’ worth of lying on the beach?

Vacation Home

“Damn it, Ed, most of us have just come back from holiday. September to December: four months of solid work is what’s needed now. All targets achieved, everything in place for an even more successful 2016.”

Yes, you’re right. But just make sure that you have a break between now and December – and that ‘everything in place for 2016’ includes holidays.

…Because there is more and more evidence that going without holidays is seriously bad for you.

  • People who don’t take proper holidays have a substantially higher risk of heart disease
  • A British/Finnish survey linked long hours to a much higher incidence of depression
  • Swedish research found that taking regular holidays and short breaks boosts creativity and cognitive reasoning

It’s another of those cases where a quick internet search throws up more results than you can handle – but here’s the original article in Quartz that triggered this post.

There’s a link here with last week’s post about staying in control. It’s tempting to think that the office can’t function without you and that the only way to stay in control is to stay in the office. There are two simple answers to that point: firstly if the office can’t function without you then you haven’t built a business and, secondly, you and I both know that the longer you stay in the office without a break the less you’re in control.

If you want to see the law of diminishing returns at work in your business, cancel your holidays and work through the weekends.

Maybe we should ‘do the math’ as my American colleagues would say. If you work 40 weeks of the year and work 40 hours at maximum efficiency you’ll have 1,600 productive hours in the year. Work 50 hours for 50 weeks at 60% efficiency and you’ll have 1,500 productive hours – and every chance of visiting A&E sooner than you should.

The longer I’m in business – and the more I work with people running businesses – the more I think holidays and breaks are vital. It’s about working efficiently and productively. None of us are in the hours business: we’re all in the results business.

And you can’t produce the results if you’re stale, tired, depressed – or in a hospital bed.

Let me finish with what I think are two key points:

Record your time – or do something to check that you really are being productive. I still remember the shock when I first used Toggl and realised how much time I was wasting. I think the maths above is perfectly valid: but it’s only valid if you really are working productively.

Secondly, don’t waste your holidays, breaks and weekends. ‘Work hard, play hard’ is a dreadful cliché, but I do believe in ‘work productively, play productively.’ The holidays/breaks that leave me really refreshed are the ones where I’ve done something specific or learned something new. Maybe it’s my age (or maybe it’s having children!) but lying on the beach doesn’t do it for me any more.

With that I’ll leave you to enjoy a productive weekend – hopefully in every sense of the word…