Advisory | | Sep 03, 2020
During an interview with Bill Gates and Warren Buffett a few years ago, Gates was asked what he has learned from his fellow billionaire. Gates discussed the time Buffett showed him his paper appointment book, which was mostly empty.
Buffett believes that successful leaders shouldn’t fill every block of time in their calendars, as if this somehow validates how important or serious the person is. Instead, leaders need to be careful about how they control their time and set aside time just to think.
If thinking is one of the most important tasks of a senior executive, far more important than sitting in endless meetings, shouldn’t thinking be given the time it deserves?
As Buffet points out, he can buy just about anything he wants, but he can’t buy more time. He has the same amount of time as every other human being, so he better use it wisely.
I always believed my best ideas came to me in the shower. I used to think it was because I was awake, alert, and rested, but I’ve realized it was the only time of day when I wasn’t on a call, in a meeting, or dealing with different issues at our firm.
In reality, this was the only time I had to think with no distractions. If you could expand your “shower time,” so to speak, think about the ideas you could cultivate and problems you could solve, personally and professionally. The first step, however, is to respect, safeguard, and value your time.
Time: Your Most Precious Commodity
Unfortunately, you can’t save time in a bottle, like Jim Croce used to say. There is no time machine, at least not yet. You have to use the time you have when you have it. It’s the most precious commodity you have.
Think about how time is viewed and valued in the workplace. The concept of flex time used to mean that you can arrive at work and head home at a time that’s more convenient rather than having the same schedule as everyone else. Today, flex time means your schedule could change each day to accommodate doctor’s appointments, soccer practice, and other family obligations. During the coronavirus, pandemic, flex time has also been necessary to support virtual learning.
When we finally get beyond COVID-19, expecting everyone to go back to the traditional work schedule – Monday-Friday, 9-5, all in the office – is unrealistic. Why would people accept what amounts to going backward, especially if they’ve proven that they can be productive and provide more value when they have more control over their time?
Speaking of productivity and value, think about how your company bills clients for services. Accounting firms, like many professional service organizations, have traditionally billed clients by the hour. People paid us for our time.
Suppose new technology, artificial intelligence, automation, and improved business processes allow you to deliver more value in the same amount of time. Instead of spending that time performing the same process, however, you are spending it identifying new ways to help your clients succeed. If anything, shouldn’t you charge more for delivering better results?
At Prager Metis, we’re going to continue the shift towards value billing based on results, not time.
Highly successful people and organizations understand the art of leverage. An effective leader may hire another team member or purchase technology to perform a task for less than what that leader could earn while that work is being done.
So many of us stress over tasks that aren’t necessarily the best use of our time – many of us are unable to really drill down on the highest priorities that we should be accomplishing with our daily hours. Everyone has a role to play in the organization; delegating or shifting workloads in a way that best utilizes everyone’s skillset and available time is an essential cornerstone of effective leadership.
Making Time for Life Beyond Work
Millennials have taught us older workaholics the importance of work-life balance. We need to make time for friends and family, find purpose, and pursue passions outside the office. We must all stop leaving vacation time on the table.
As someone who hasn’t taken a truly unplugged vacation in years, I’m probably not the best messenger, but that doesn’t mean I don’t understand how vacations are critical to your relationships and your mental and physical health. At Prager Metis, we recently researched how much vacation time was being used by our partners and the percentage was ridiculously low. Even when people do take vacation time, they’re still accessible and plugged into what’s happening at the office. To combat this, we are requiring that all partners and team members use their vacation time and, when using that time, are unplugged from the office. This time belongs to each employee, not the firm or our clients.
Time Is a Gift
If someone gives you their time, you should appreciate it. If you give someone your time, they should appreciate it. Think of time as a precious gift that is often in short supply, both at work and at home. Nobody should spend time on anyone or anything when that time is not valued.
Of course, if you’re going to give the gift of time to someone, start with yourself. After all, the busier you become, the more you realize how precious your time is.
Years ago, I was on a river cruise and struck up a conversation with a woman from the UK who must have been about 80 years old. We were talking about the aging process and how much time we have.
She said, “You know what Glenn? The less toilet paper on the roll, the faster it spins.”
Don’t wait until your time is about to run out. Respect your time. Safeguard your time. Value your time. Make sure others value your time and vice versa. Make the best possible use of your time at work. Schedule downtime and set aside more time for yourself, your family, and your passions.
Time is more than blocks on your calendar waiting to be filled. It’s the most precious commodity you have.