Why not now?

Time is a bit of a funny thing to me. I’ve always used it a little bit like a professional secret weapon, and now I feel it might fail me (or I it).

I use time to meet my commitments: Where others were unwilling or unable to get things done in the allotted time, I’d slog through until the early hours. I use my time.

I use time to overcome challenges: no matter the hurdles I faced or the roadblocks presented, I’ve always felt that I could grind away and get there. I’d win through my persistence. It was never really a force of willpower, it was an investment in time. I pushed my time.

It’s gotten me this far. Now time is my challenge rather than my power.

By the time 9am Monday rolls around, my week is pretty full of client and internal meetings. Usually around 6hrs a day, and often 2–3 clashes deep. So while it’s not my entire week, it kills a fair amount of it. I’m not anti-meeting by any measure, I find it a reasonable way to get things done. I don’t go unless I think I have something to add, and if there’s no obvious delegate for me, I bring along a buddy who can learn to be the delegate next time. Still, 30hrs a week is a lot for someone with a day job.

When I’ve looked at the leaders around me and ahead of me I was impressed by many things in how the led their professional lives. These were people at the top of their professional game. The one characteristic which I found most impactful to the next generation was being genuinely present and providing them with your time.

I’d heard stories of amazing technical skills, persuasive personalities, boardroom presentations, deals won, jokes told, challenges overcome, charismatic and driven delivery — but it was the leader with time that won me.

I think so often of the appreciative colleague who told me with great surprise about how a senior leader he reported to always appeared to have all the time in the world. No matter what crazy thing was happening in his universe, when you made a meeting with him he didn’t cancel, didn’t postpone, and when you were there he was prepared and fully engaged. No phone calls, no deprioritisation of your meeting, no distractions. You had his time, he had yours, and it was a shared commitment to make the most of the time you’d promised each other.

The story of this senior leader must be from about ten years ago. Now I’m in his shoes, and while I don’t give a lot of thought to what people might say about me, I doubt endless time would be on the list. In fact I’m pretty sure I’m only demonstrating myself to be time poor at the moment.

I think my people know I have a commitment to them that I take very seriously, however I can’t execute it like I’d like to. I can’t get enough dedicated, prepared time with each person to really be the leader I want to be.

I disappoint myself when I am not that focused leader. When I can’t do it, when I can’t be the leader I heard about a decade ago. I don’t know how he did it. I did try to ask him once (we were in different cities). Ironically he said he didn’t have time to talk to me about it, that he was hyperfocussed on each of his tasks and couldn’t stretch to another.

That demonstrated a discipline of time management that I just don’t have. I don’t want the stopwatch on my conversation, I don’t want exact budget per person, I want to help and share wherever I’m able. I want to have the awareness to be able to reflect on where I’m being unbalanced with my time, and then I want to readjust. Without endless hours that is compromise.

I’ve been experimenting with my time a bit this year. I work for a few hours most nights to keep up with time lost during the day but now I’ll take the odd night or weekend off, act a little slower or less forcefully. For me this seems like a significant scale back in what I’m doing. I appreciate the headspace and find I work better with a little distance. I’ll still push really hard 3 or 4 nights a week. I haven’t seen others notice a difference and I don’t feel like it’s altered my output substantially. I think it’s that doing it on my own really isn’t the same value as working with others. My belated attempts to catch up and address the issues of the day meant a little less when it wasn’t burning quite so much. The machine kept rolling despite it all.

I think I’m (finally) discovering my discretionary time spend as a result. Until my team or my client isn’t getting what they need, I think I can even keep stealing time back.

I used to use my flattening laptop battery to control my short / sharp after hours time investment. Just tapping out might be better.

I try to learn something from everyone I work with, even those I don’t really gel with. I recall many years ago someone observing a more junior team member was really exceptional (I agreed) but couldn’t scale (I’d never noticed). The thing was he was a great individual contributor but he didn’t bring anyone else along for the ride. He could do exactly one human unit of output, and that’s all he had. He was a technical analyst designing a complex system, he couldn’t translate his thinking well enough to share but the output always was great. The junior team member didn’t last in the role, the observation was accurate. I think about him often too, not all time is equal.

The things I think this leaves me with:

  • I want to be an approachable leader with time to share.
  • I want to guard my discretionary time spend. This is mine to budget.
  • I want my extra “time” investments to be simple and transactional. It makes it easier for me to scale than if I was tied up in a major complex work activity.

My focus in the immediate term will be : Patience, Preparedness, Persistence, Perspective.

(FWIW I wrote this on my phone on a Qantas flight between Coolangatta and Sydney — good time spend!)