Darker Thoughts from an Old Friend


I bumped into an old friend in York last week. He was wearing a suit. And a tie. This was the man who became bored with dress-down Friday – and dress-down every other day of the week – when the rest of us were still learning not to wear a striped tie with a check shirt…

There was only one possible explanation.

“Congratulations,” I said. “You’ve finally made an honest woman of Claire. Where is she?”

He didn’t laugh. “Other end of the scale I’m afraid, Ed. Funeral. My second in two weeks. And both of them not much older than us.”

We’ve all been there: mentioned someone in conversation only to hear, ‘Hasn’t anyone told you? Last Thursday. No warning, nothing.” And inevitably the person being discussed was ‘not much older than us.’

That meeting with my friend played on my mind for the next few days. One thing I am sure of is that there is an ever-increasing level of stress in the average entrepreneur’s life. A few years ago people e-mailed or phoned. Now there is myriad of different ways of contacting someone: whatever you turn off, something else will bleep just as you sit down to dinner.

And we all know the dangers of stress.

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So that chance meeting with my friend stayed with me – not just because we’d been talking about someone close to our own age, but because the conversation posed a question that’s absolutely central to The Alternative Board.

You’ve started a business. You know what you want to achieve: you know what you’re capable of achieving. And you’re determined to get there.

So what do you do? How do you react when someone says, ‘haven’t you heard?’

Do you take it as a signal to run at 100mph in case the same thing happens to you and you never realise your potential?

Or do you stop and smell the roses? Pay attention to your work/life balance? Remind yourself that no-one’s last words have ever been, ‘I wish I’d spent more time at the office.’

The more I thought about it the more I realised I’d seen business owners – perhaps without even recognising it – struggling with the same dilemma. And not just as a one-off.

It’s a problem that raises it head, in different forms, at different stages of your entrepreneur’s journey.

What should I do? Put in the time? Re-invest the cash? And build a company that will really be worth something in 10 or 20 years’ time?

Or realise that I might not get there – and milk the business for all its worth and take my rewards in the here and now.

The answer, of course, is that there is no right answer. The right answer depends on your own individual personality and how you want to live your life. As everyone who knows me will recognise, I’m in the ‘building a business’ camp – and I’m determined to enjoy the journey along the way, sharing that journey with my family and my friends.

Yes, I could be in the office every minute of every day – but I remember waking up one Tuesday morning early in my TAB York days. It was a morning like today: early May and the sun was shining in through the window. I looked at the pile of paperwork on my desk and went off to play 9 holes of golf.

It was a moment when I suddenly appreciated the freedom the decision to start my own business had given me – and when I knew I’d made the right decision in Newport Pagnell service station.

Not every entrepreneur would have taken that decision: some would have ploughed through the paperwork. The important thing, I think, is to recognise what works for you – and what you want from your business.

Whatever choice you make – whether you take your rewards now or later – remember that the business is working for you. It is emphatically not the other way around.

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The Entrepreneur’s Journey: Taking the First Steps


So you’ve done it. You’ve pushed your breakfast round the plate, wondered why you weren’t with your family and said, ‘That’s it. There has to be a better way.’

And a few days later you’ve burned your bridges – or at least written a letter which can be boiled down to two words: ‘I resign.’

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You’ve committed yourself to the entrepreneur’s journey. Now you need to take the first steps: you need to write a business plan and you need to raise some money.

The chances are that you’d already ‘written’ a business plan before you wrote your resignation letter. I’ve seen potential entrepreneurs – for now, still employed – with business plans at every stage of completion: from neatly bound, carefully worded documents complete with a three year cash flow forecast – to four lines on the back of the proverbial envelope.

For some people the lead up to the resignation letter is calculated and carefully worked out. For others – as it was for me – it’s the moment when that gnawing sense of unease suddenly crystallises. When there really does ‘have to be something better than this – and it has to be now.’

Most of us know the basics of a good business plan – but I am always conscious that this blog is also being read by people who haven’t yet been tempted to tell the MD what they really think… So let me recap the essential details of a business plan:

· What are you going to do? Simply put, what’s the business about?

· What are your goals and objectives?

· Why are you the person to make it work?

· What’s the market? And what’s your marketing plan?

· Who are your competitors? What makes you different?

· If you’re designing and/or developing a product, what are your plans for that?

· Operations and management: how will the business function on a day to day basis?

· How much money do you need? If you’re investing money in the business, where is that coming from? And if you’re borrowing money, how are you going to pay it back?

· And lastly some numbers – projected profit and loss and cash flow forecasts

Those are the basics – but this is The Alternative Board. We’re about a lot more than the basics. We’re about keeping your work/life balance well and truly balanced. About the business working for you, not – as the vast majority of entrepreneurs find – you

working for the business. So your business plan needs to contain something else – something you need to get right from the outset.

Your business plan needs to contain two commitments – to yourself and to your family. To yourself a commitment that you’ll take time off, that you’ll make the time to keep fit – mentally and physically – and that you’ll invest time and money in self-improvement. Because if you don’t grow, your business cannot grow.

Secondly, a commitment to the people you love. That you’ll be there for them. That you won’t have your body at home and your soul back at the office. However high up the mountain you climb, the view is a lot better if you’re sharing it with someone.

I also like to see a business plan contain a statement of values: this is what we believe in, these are the ethics that underpin the business. Your business needs to be profitable: it needs to be one you’re proud of as well.

And now let me backtrack to the business plan. Because there at the bottom is the thorny question of finance. How much money do you need to start the business? Where is it going to come from and – if you’re borrowing the money – what are you going to use for security? Despite the increasing popularity of new initiatives like Funding Circle, Kickstarter campaigns and venture capital investors, the bank is still far and away the most popular option – and the bank will ask for security. Personal guarantees are never far away for the owners of most SMEs and in many cases, neither is your house.

This is the moment when the price of building your business really hits home. This is the moment when you say to your husband/wife/partner, ‘The house is on the line. The bank want some security and, I’m sorry, that means the house.’

That’s a difficult moment for your relationship. The house you bought together, where you’re raising your family: the house you have plans for… Suddenly there’s the spectre of someone else holding the keys: of a letter arriving from the bank politely inviting you to move out. However much someone loves you, that’s a difficult moment. It’s the moment you realise it’s not just you that will be paying the price.

Which is why that line in the business plan is so important. Time with your family. Yes, you’re building a business – but making sure you don’t miss the Nativity Play is every bit as important. Fortunately, you’re among friends: everyone at TAB UK is committed to making sure you’re sitting proudly in the front row.

If it Ain’t Broke…


You’re the one who had the idea.

You’re the one who persuaded the bank. Convinced your wife to put your house on the line.

You’re the one who went in early. Stayed late. Made sacrifices.

You’re the one who took the difficult decisions. Sat down with Bill and explained – as gently as you could – that his future wasn’t with the business.

You’re the one whose energy, drive, commitment – and sometimes your sheer force of will – has taken the company to where it is now.

And now, Sir or Madam, I am telling you to do nothing. Play golf. Have another day at York races. Walk the Pilgrim Way.

“What?” you splutter. “That’s ridiculous advice. I need to be there. Hands-on, constantly fine-tuning the business, ever-present.”

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No, you don’t. Let me explain…

Several times over the last few years I’ve had conversations with entrepreneurs along these lines: “I’ve got nothing to do, Ed. Everything’s under control. I could walk out for a day. For a week, a month even. Things would still run smoothly.”

Are the entrepreneurs happy about that? No, they see it as a sign of failure.

But it’s not failure. It’s exactly the opposite: a sign of success.

I’ve written about this before, but if you haven’t built a business you can walk away from then you haven’t built a business. Because one day you’re going to sell the business and if it is entirely dependent on you – if you are the business – then you have nothing to sell.

Entrepreneurs are driven, passionate, committed people. They love working and they love working hard. Secretly, they’re never happier than when they have to set the alarm for 4:30.

But businesses are constantly evolving. No business goes upwards in a straight line. There are always steps and plateaus. And one of those plateaus might suddenly see you with nothing to do. Trust me, it won’t last. Every time an entrepreneur has said, “Ed, I’ve nothing to do,” it’s been followed one, three or six months later by, “Ed, I’ve never been busier.”

In the short term, though, the hiatus can be a real problem for the entrepreneur. They’re conditioned to see doing nothing – not constantly running at 100mph, not being there all the time – as a sign of failure.

They start to feel guilty, start to think they’ve missed something. And sooner or later they start to make changes for the sake of making changes.

Tap ‘entrepreneur doing nothing’ into Google and the search engine doesn’t believe you. By the third listing it has defaulted to the norm: ‘Why nothing less than 100% can ever be enough.’

Once you’ve built your business to a certain size, your job changes. It’s another topic I’ve covered previously – and I’ll be writing about it again next week – but your job is no longer to work in your business, it is to work on your business. Clients and customers still need to see you, but they do not need to see you behind the counter – or whatever you equivalent of a counter is.

Working on your business means a lot more thinking time and a lot less ‘doing’ time. Initially, it can be a difficult transition – but let me repeat: resist the urge to meddle, to look for problems where none exist.

And if you do find yourself with nothing to do, remember it’s not a sign that your business is broken. It is not a reason for you to feel guilty. It’s a sign of success. So enjoy it. Take time off and re-charge your batteries. Spend time with your family. Give something back to your local community. You deserve the break – and don’t worry: you’ll soon be smiling quietly to yourself and re-setting the alarm clock…

It’ll Never be Time for the Pipe and Slippers…


Friday September 23rd. And after today, only 11 weeks of the year left. So yes, any minute now I’m going to start looking round the TAB boardroom table and suggest you start making plans for next year.

The time of year for looking ahead is approaching – but for some TAB members, ‘looking ahead’ is starting to take on a slightly different meaning. And it’s no surprise…

It’s more than six years since I started TAB York. As I check the boardroom tables, I see plenty of people who’ve become lifelong friends – but I also see rather more grey hair: or – in some cases – significantly less hair…

Yes, the thoughts of some members are turning towards exit strategies, what they’ll do when they’re not building a business and – ultimately – their legacy.

Well, maybe we should take a leaf out of Charles Eugster’s book…

Charles is 97, and holds the indoor and outdoor 200m and 400m world records for men over 95. He worked as a dentist until he was 75 and – despite a small pause in his 80s – has never stopped working. He still goes to the office in Zurich every day, before training in the afternoon. And Charles comfortably wins my ‘Positive Thinker of the Year’ award:

Even at 87 I wanted an Adonis body, in order to turn the heads of the sexy, young 70-year-old girls on the beach.

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Dr Charles Eugster (87) who has become one of the worlds oldest wakeboarders today when he was given his first lesson at the Ten-80 Wakeboarding School in Tamworth, Staffordshire. Credit: Shaun Fellows / newsteam.co.uk 25/5/2007

More seriously Charles Eugster says that he is “not chasing youthfulness. I’m chasing health.” Retirement, he says, “is a financial disaster and a health catastrophe.”

In many ways this was one of the most interesting articles I’d read all year – and I’d add ‘psychological’ to ‘financial’ and ‘health.’

The sentiments chime with what so many of my friends and clients are saying, and echo an underlying theme from the TAB Conference in Denver.

“I’m not intending to retire any time soon, Ed, if at all,” is a phrase I hear over and over again. No-one, it seems, is thinking of their pipe, slippers and Bake Off.

“I’m going to do a lot less in the business and a lot of other things,” is the consensus – with ‘other things’ covering charitable work, non-executive directorships, and mentoring students and start-ups.

I’ve just finished reading Finish Big by Bo Burlingham: ‘how great entrepreneurs exit their companies on top.’

Burlingham talks about entrepreneurs being defined by their place in the world: specifically by how they see themselves in the community. Unsurprisingly, 66% of entrepreneurs who exit their business “experience profound regret afterwards” – and a large part of that is the feeling that they’re no longer making a contribution.

Back to Charles Eugster and his Adonis body. He’s not ashamed to admit that he’s using his vanity as a motivating factor. And why not? Feeling that you’re valued and appreciated is an integral part of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs.

It’s no wonder that 66% of entrepreneurs experience profound regret. They’ve built a business, they’ve a wealth of wisdom, experience and knowledge and now suddenly – unless they plan for it – nobody wants to talk to them. Despite all they’ve achieved, they’re no longer defined by their business, they no longer feel valued.

So TAB York is not only about you and your business, or your work/life balance as you’re building the business. It’s not just about immediate problems and next year’s plans – it’s about what comes afterwards as well. It’s about leaving a legacy – for yourself and for the community.

PS I’m sorry, I had to check. Charles Eugster’s time for the 200m is 55.48 seconds. That’s three times longer than Usain Bolt’s time – but it’s roughly 8 minute mile pace. Well, well, there’s a challenge and an interesting ice-breaker for a few TAB meetings. Bring your shorts, ladies and gentlemen; let’s see who’s slower than a 97 year old…

I’m Lazy, I’m Fat and I’m off to Play Golf


The UK trade deficit shrank in July, down to £4.5bn from £5.6bn the previous month. The services sector rebounded sharply as the Purchasing Managers’ Index jumped to 52.9 from a seven year low of 47.4 in July. The construction sector is showing signs of recovery – but the British Chambers of Commerce has cut its forecast for UK growth this year, reducing it from 2.2% in March to 1.8%, citing uncertainty over the Brexit negotiations.

In short there’s been the usual mixture of good and bad economic news over the past couple of weeks. There hasn’t been the immediate post-Brexit apocalypse some commentators had predicted, but the negotiations to leave the EU have barely begun. None of us – including the negotiators – have much idea what the talks over the next two years will bring.

But none of this has stopped Liam Fox, the MP for North Somerset, current Secretary of State for International Trade and quite recently, possible successor to David Cameron.

Last week Liam Fox made his feelings known on British businessmen. The country, he declared, was “too lazy and too fat” with businessmen preferring golf on a Friday afternoon to trying to boost the country’s prosperity.

This country is not the free-trading nation it once was. We have become too lazy and too fat on our successes in previous generations. Companies who could contribute to our national prosperity – but choose not to because it might be too difficult or too time-consuming or because they can’t play golf on a Friday afternoon – we’ve got to say to them that if you want to share in the prosperity of our country you have a duty to contribute to the prosperity of our country.

Richard Reed, co-founder of Innocent Drinks, said that Mr Fox had “never done a day’s business in his life.” I suspect that several members of TAB York would respond in significantly stronger terms…

Of course the comments are nonsense. Of course they’re insulting to the overwhelming majority of people running SMEs – and worryingly they show an International Trade Minister alarmingly out of touch with… well, trade. But there are possibly even more important considerations than that.

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I’m not fat (said he, squeezing into the suit he got married in 18 years ago) and I hope no-one considers me lazy. I did, however, play golf on Thursday and I make no apology for that.

Since this blog started – more than six years ago now – I’ve repeatedly stressed the need for time away from work. ‘Work hard, play hard’ might be a cliché, but it stops burnout, keeps you fresh and, importantly, gives you a broader perspective on life.

I remember reading about Denis Healey criticising Margaret Thatcher for having no ‘hinterland:’ no breadth of knowledge of art, culture, literature or science.

You might argue that ‘hinterland’ isn’t important for business success: that a laser-like focus on your goal will get you there.

I wonder… As the worlds of technology and business continue to change ever more rapidly, then knowing about – and learning from – seemingly unconnected disciplines will, I think, become increasingly important.

Just as importantly, hinterland – and the associated work/life balance – is a lot of fun. Which brings me back to Master Fox and our politicians: when was the last time you saw one on a golf course? Too many of our politicians – other than the obligatory August photo op in Cornwall – don’t seem to have any concept of work/life balance: and our political life is poorer for it.

Rather than criticising people running businesses, perhaps our politicians could learn from them – not least in being able to take planned, productive time off. If I see someone who never takes time off then I see someone who’s heading for trouble. You only have to look across to the US to see the latest example of a seemingly ‘indestructible’ politician showing herself to be all too vulnerable.

So I’ll continue to encourage the members of TAB York to work hard and play harder. The idea that any of them opt to do less than their best is simply wrong: the moral obligation they feel to their businesses, their staff, their customers – and the work ethic that flows from that – is something I’m honoured to see on a daily basis.

The Next Level


I was watching the test match at the weekend. Specifically, I was watching Joe Root as – for the second time in the match – he got out playing a shot he emphatically shouldn’t have played.

Joe Root is one of the most naturally talented batsmen I’ve seen – probably the most talented if you only consider England players. And in his short career, he’s not been short of accolades. ‘Could be the best we’ve ever seen.’ ‘He’ll break every record there is.’

But I wonder…

Because as I watched Root casually swat a long hop from Rahat Ali into the grateful hands of Yasir Shah, I wondered if he really wanted to be one of the game’s greats. Or merely very, very good.

Whatever sport you watch, there are people with incredible natural talent. But talent doesn’t always translate into the record books. And everyone reading this blog has watched a sporting event and thought, ‘Why is this person not playing/competing at a higher level?’

Not for the first time, I was struck by the ever-present parallels between sport and business. There are some incredibly talented entrepreneurs out there: some of them right at the top of the tree – but some of them working ‘a long way below their pay grade.’

There are others who may not have been the sharpest tool in the box. But they’ve kept pushing themselves, kept learning, kept setting new targets.

I’ve written many times that the progression of a business is never a straight line. It’s never a graph going inexorably upwards. More often than not it’s a series of plateaus. Reach a level, consolidate, take the next step, reach a new level, consolidate…

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The more time I spend working with entrepreneurs, the more I think it’s the same for them. Reach a certain level – quite possibly the level that was the original goal – there’s a period of consolidation, and then one morning the light bulb goes on again: ‘I’m capable of more than this. I can go to the next level.’

Not for one minute am I saying that you must move to the next level. Goodness knows, no-one has written the phrase work/life balance more than me. But equally, you don’t want to watch the sun go down one day thinking, “If only…”

And my experience of working with entrepreneurs tells me that once the light bulb has gone on, you have to act. Otherwise frustration and boredom set in – and as I’ve written previously, they are few more dangerous forces than a bored entrepreneur…

Moving to the next level is one of the key areas where TAB can help. Yes, we’ll always make sure that your work/life balance stays well and truly balanced. But once you’ve decided to make that move, the support of your peers becomes invaluable – both consciously and subconsciously.

Clearly your fellow board members can help: there’s almost certain to be someone around the table who’s made the same decision: who’s asked themselves the same questions you’re now asking.

And rest assured I’ll do everything in my power to help. There’ll come a day when I’m watching the sun go down: rest assured that I have no intention of letting my mind drift back to any TAB York members and thinking ‘if only…’

But it’s the subconscious side that fascinates me…

I’ve seen this happen several times.

Someone around the TAB table makes a major announcement. They’ve clearly moved to a different level.

Across the table an expression changes. There’s a momentary raising of the eyebrows. Then the eyes narrow. The focus intensifies. The lightbulb goes on. ‘Good’ is no longer good enough. An entrepreneur has made the decision to move to the next level.

Let’s see if an England batsman makes the same decision over the next five days…

Why You Need a Longer To-Do List


We’re into April – and the Blog is approaching its sixth birthday. That’s something close to 300 posts and nearly 200,000 words.

Which three word combination has appeared most frequently? I’ve no way of telling, but I sincerely hope it’s ‘work/life balance.’ But there are three more little words that won’t be far behind: the ones that haunt all of us. Yep, I’m talking about the ‘to-do list.’

However you keep it – on your phone, in Evernote or on a pleasantly retro piece of paper – the to-do list dominates our lives.

Let’s leave aside for a moment the trap we all occasionally fall into – scoring a few quick wins at the bottom while the most important thing on it remains ominously un-ticked. Let’s also ignore the need to prioritise the damn thing and to make sure that ‘life’ is every bit as well represented as ‘work.’

Let’s just look at one thing: the sheer length of your to-do list. And let me now make the vast majority of you splutter on your cornflakes or hurl your coffee at the screen in annoyance.

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Because I’m going to suggest that your to-do list should be longer.

And that if it was, you’d be even more productive…

Let me use a simple example: ‘plan next year.’ Another three little words that will have appeared on all our to-do lists at some point in the not-too-distant past.

But what does ‘plan next year’ really mean…

Once you go to work you realise that ‘plan next year’ contains a series of questions:

  • What do we want to achieve next year?
  • So what are the quarterly targets we need to reach to do this?
  • What does this mean for staffing levels?
  • Do we need to cut costs? Or raise more investment?
  • What advertising and marketing do we need to do?
  • And how are all these plans going to impact on the cash flow?

All these points clearly impact on your to-do list: but suddenly one big task – made even more difficult because it is so vague – can be broken down into a series of small, precise, achievable steps:

  • Decide key targets/goals for next year
  • Determine necessary quarterly targets
  • Review staffing levels in light of targets
  • Plan advertising & marketing strategy for next year
  • Prepare business plan and cash flow forecast
  • Make appointment with bank

There are days when the to-do list fills everyone with dread: but the dread comes not from the length of the list, but from filling it with things we have no chance of achieving. If ‘plan next year’ is on the list with a host of client work and ‘Nativity Play at 2:30’ then you haven’t a hope of doing it. You won’t even start it.

You do have a hope of determining your key goals for next year. Or working backwards to your quarterly targets. What you’ll do by breaking your to-do list down into smaller segments is achieve something – instead of being overwhelmed by the enormity of what’s in front of you.

There are two other reasons for breaking the list down. If you go home at the end of the day and ‘plan next year’ is still on your list it’s going to cause you pain. And it’s going to cause you more pain when you see it again the next morning. But if you go home with your key targets identified and crossed off the list… That’s an entirely different feeling.

Secondly, your to-do list isn’t a wish list: it is – or should be – something that reflects your overall plan for the year or the quarter. And that plan requires specific actions – ‘decide key targets’ – not vague pipedreams like ‘plan next year.’

None of this advice is revolutionary. You’ve almost certainly heard or read it before. After all, it’s only eating the elephant one bite at a time. But we all slip back into bad habits and trust me, this works. It may be counter-intuitive but making your to-do list longer means you’ll ultimately get big things done faster and achieve more. And that’s what we all want…

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?

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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…

The Chef’s Recipe for Success


I seem to have become addicted to chefs. Barely a weekend goes past when I’m not reading about the latest culinary superstar. You know the story: started off washing veg in Macclesfield – 20th restaurant just opened in Macau.

This may have something to do with my continuing attendance at the Star Inn the City (don’t wait a day longer: go and eat the White Whitby Crab right now) or the simple fact that getting it right in the restaurant trade means ticking every business box there is.

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So this week it was Jason Atherton in the Guardian. And the journey was Skegness to Shanghai, so I wasn’t far out…

There were three comments in the article that really struck me…

I’m a big fan of David Beckham. He wasn’t the best player in the world but he worked like a dog on the things he was better at than the others and became the best footballer he could be. To be honest, I didn’t know where I was heading [as a teenager] but everything I did want to do, I wanted to be the very best at.

Doesn’t that go right to the heart of everything we all try and do? Whether it’s with our families, in our businesses or round the TAB boardroom table, ‘being the best you can be’ will take you a very long way.

I remember Beckham’s first season with Manchester United – a talented midfielder who scored a wonder goal in the famous ‘you win nothing with kids’ season. Looked like he’d go on to have a good career: but captain of England, owner of a Major League Soccer franchise, Unicef ambassador and net worth (as of June last year) estimated at $350m? Jason Atherton is right: in sport and in business, Beckham is a superb example of making the very most of your talents.

Once, I thought I was impressing him [Gordon Ramsay] by saying, ‘I’ve not had a day off in four months.’ He replied, ‘Then you’re stupid. A kitchen should run just as well without you as with you, Jason. I’ll look at you as a success when you haven’t got more bags under your eyes than I count at Heathrow.’

Another theme that runs throughout this blog: you haven’t built a business if that business can’t run without you. One day you’ll have to walk away from your business: and if the business can’t cope – if you haven’t trained your sous chef – then the business doesn’t have a value.

…And you can’t build a business if you’re exhausted. I see that some of the world’s top business people have just trekked to the top of a mountain in Davos to hear Sebastian Vettel tell them that you can’t drive an F1 car – or run your business – without sufficient sleep. Huh! They could have stayed in the bar with a gluhwein and read the blog…

Rather than go to school I’d sneak off to Boston to go fishing. My parents went ballistic when they found out, but it’d given me time to be alone and daydream and thankfully I discovered the idea of being a chef. I’ve always found daydreaming useful; nowadays I carry a Moleskine book to jot down ideas. A lot of people are too scared to follow dreams, therefore they don’t achieve. What I mean is, if you do have big dreams, don’t be afraid to chase them.

I’m not suggesting that there should be a few empty spaces at the next TAB meeting: “Sorry, Ed, they’ve all gone fishing at Filey.” But we all need space – and time – to dream. Then we all need the courage to follow those dreams – and it’s that courage which separates the successful people from the ones still saying, ‘Someday…’

To repeat the Tim Ferris quote from last week: ‘Someday’ is a disease that will take your dreams to the grave with you.

Let me finish with one more quotation from Jason’s interview – and it applies to all of us, whether they are ‘eating your food’ or buying your widgets…

I feel really privileged and honoured to have a job I love, a family supporting and enriching my life; that customers are eating our food and I have a great team with the same ethos as me. So that’s as good a work/life balance as I can think of.

…It’s also as good a definition of success as I can think of. Until next week: have a great weekend – and spend some time daydreaming!

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.