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Do you spend your time as carefully as your cash?

Endless meetings, deals to win, emails to send and respond to, calls to make, prospects, customers and employees to meet, dinners to attend, and constant travel, make business leaders naturally busy people.
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Yet, in spite of this blur of hyperactivity, we often question whether our time has been well spent. In these times of austerity, perhaps time as well as cash should be under scrutiny.

“Time-poor” is a common enough expression to suggest that this is a real issue, and the continuous evolution of mobile technology will only continue to exacerbate it further, unless we choose to take control. I’ve been in this cycle and have – hopefully – learned from experience, but I still see many people immersed in it and drowning. Work/life balance is one thing, but what about balance of priorities within the workplace?

I often challenge myself by asking: “Which aspects of our busyness are really adding value to our business?”

It does come down to a focus on what are they key priorities that will enable you to do a great job, and what are the activities you need to delegate – or just drop? My team has always been very good at helping me calm down on the number of new initiatives (surely the natural role of the CEO?), by maintaining a list of what we weren’t going to do. An exhausted leader is generally a poor one. They also taught me to recognise the impact of an exhausted team. Try asking yours.

The problem is partly about time management, because if the leader is a poor time manager, it will cascade through the organisation, stealing time and capacity wherever it lands. Clear signals of this “busy fool” scenario are meetings that are unnecessary and/or with no agendas or actions, deadlines missed, poor communication, overuse of e-mail, no clear objectives and accountabilities. 

If your diary is so full that you are running from meeting to meeting, with no spare capacity to think, if your e-mail inbox holds hundreds of emails you are “dealing with“, you are probably already in the high risk category.

In my view, the leaders of great businesses are like architects of awe-inspiring buildings. They build strong foundations made of value-driven cultures, a clarity of direction and purpose that everybody understands. The pillars that hold the roof up are honed around functional excellence and expertise. The roof is tiled with experiences of lifelong customers who are delighted to recommend you to others.

Whilst this might sound somewhat idealistic in a very tough trading environment, I’d argue that the tougher the climate, the more you need to maximise your capacity.

Martin Leuw is a serial entrepreneur and former CEO of IRIS, the UK’s largest private software house. 

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