#147: Make Your Time Count

Those who make the worst use of their time are the first to complain of its brevity.”
― Jean de La Bruyère

Good morning friends

I hope that you’re well today.

As you know by now, last Sunday, South Africans Nomcebo Zikode, Zakes Bantwini, and Wouter Kellerman won a Grammy for Bayethe.

I was pleased to hear South African President Cyril Ramaphosa recognise them in his State of the Nation Address. Unfortunately, his speechwriters missed a few other successes.

In December Parisian modern art museum, Centre Pompidou added Houtlander’s Hlabisa bench to their collection. The January edition of Architectural Digest featured Viola Davis and Julian Tennon’s home, and there, occupying pride of place, was one of Johannesburg-based Nandipha Mntambo’s magnificent Agoodjie warrior bronzes. Given, the success of Davis’s The Woman King, it is no surprise that she’d want this work to bless her home. Also in January, leading design authority Wallpaper, ranked Zizipho Poswa’s show, ‘uBuhle boKhokho’,  at Southern Guild Gallery, Cape Town one of the world’s top 10 must-see art shows in 2023, putting her alongside giants like David Hockney and Takashi Murakami.

These creatives remind us that South Africa once helped the world imagine new possibilities and that beneath the grime of recent years that inspiration is still alive.

/ strategy – be intentional

Although we say time is money, we rarely apply the same disciple to time that we do to budgets.

However, time is both powerful and finite. How we allocate it determines the types of companies and lives that we build.

In his leadership classic, The Effective Executive, Peter Drucker wrote,

Effective executives do not start with their tasks. They start with their time. And they do not start without planning. They start by finding out where their time actually goes. Then they attempt to manage their time and cut back unproductive demands on their time. Finally, they consolidate their ‘discretionary’ time into the largest possible continuing units”.

Record time, manage time and consolidate time. A three-step process to effectiveness.
In 2018, Harvard Business School’s Michael Porter and Nitin Nohria, deepened Drucker’s insights and wrote How CEOs Manage Time.

Although not all of you are CEOs, many of you are executives responsible for dozens, sometimes hundreds of people, with budgets running well into the billions. The principles still apply.

You might be neither a CEO nor an executive, but we all know the feeling that there’s not enough time. The principles still apply.

Porter and Nohria tell us that the CEOs worked on average 9.7 hours per weekday, and then 80% of the time put in another 8 hours over the weekend. Your workweek may be shorter – be grateful – but the principles will still apply.

The CEOs in their study spent 45 minutes a day exercising. They comment that “to sustain the intensity of the job, CEOs need to train—just as elite athletes do. That means allocating time for health, fitness, and rest”.

In our rush to serve work and family demands, we often neglect to maintain our own energy. We make it a binary trade-off – “I must spend time with my family or myself”.

It is counterproductive. You, your health, your body, and spirit are the foundation of all that you need to achieve. If you aren’t strong, healthy, and at peace, you will be less effective – at work and at home.

(If you want more on this theme, read The Making of a Corporate Athlete.)

This is also true for professional renewal, development, and strategic reflection. Porter and Nohrai comment that this “was often the biggest casualty of a packed schedule”.
Drucker published his book in 1967. You’ll remember that in PWC’s 2023 Global CEO Survey today’s CEOs also felt they weren’t spending enough time on strategy. If you’re struggling with this, breathe, you’re human. It also means that if you get it right, you’ll have a powerful advantage.

Their study showed that CEOs spent 28% of their time working alone. However, most of it (59%) was fragmented into blocks of an hour or less. Only 18% was in blocks of two hours or longer.

We need big blocks of time to allow the everyday noise to subside. It’s only when our minds quieten that we can do deep creative and strategic thinking.

Amidst all the busyness, keep some time aside to allow for spontaneity. Yes, when you’re busy you need to plan for spontaneity.

Booking yourself into back-to-back meetings to connect with everyone might seem like the right thing to do, but if there’s no space to spend time with someone who has an unexpected crisis you become seen as inflexible and inaccessible. Your good intentions bite you! So, keep some space.

You’d think with a sixty-hour week everything is optimised, but Porter and Nohrai discovered that wasn’t true.

11% of the CEOs’ time was spent on routine ways of working and seemingly inescapable ‘have-to-do’ duties. However, on closer examination, much of this could be delegated, automated, or reduced.

The same is true for all of us. We do things out of habit. A periodic assessment of our routine processes can unlock time and energy.

Unsurprisingly, 72% of a CEO’s time is spent in meetings but even there, habit had a stranglehold.

Many meetings simply followed an organisational norm about how long they should be. On closer examination, some could have been shorter, and some would have benefitted from more time.

In both instances, observing themselves and adjusting their behaviour unlocked efficiencies. It’s all too easy to fall into time-wasting routines.

The most effective CEOs clarified their strategic priorities and spent their time accordingly.

Importantly, they shared their objectives explicitly and often with their leadership teams, thereby ensuring that the whole business remained aligned.

We can, and should, all do this. Prioritise, communicate, and spend time accordingly.
Do a quarterly review of your time use.

Inevitably, old habits and distractions creep in. By pausing to assess reality we give ourselves the opportunity to improve.

You can do it now, review January. How did you spend your time? Does it align with your priorities? Take a look at Feb’s plans, do they align?

(If you haven’t yet set 2023’s priorities, give this exercise a try)

/ self – make it count

I know almost nothing about football, other than Ronaldo and Messi are big deals. Such big deals that there is even an app that compares their performance.

By the beginning of last year, Messi has scored a staggering 424 from his left foot. Right-footed Ronaldo had scored 109 of his then 807 club goals with his left foot. Messi is so strongly left-footed that by the end of 2022, more than 80% of all his goals came from that foot.

Superficially, there’s nothing surprising there. Each play to their strong side and achieves success. But imagine for a moment that Messi poured all his time into trying to score as many right-footed goals as Ronaldo. What would happen?

Of course, Messi can and has scored with his right foot, as Ronaldo has with his left. But, overwhelmingly each player, and their teams, are better off playing to their strengths.
You’re the same. Find your strengths. Invest your time in making them your superpower. It’s the best return on time invested that you could make.

/ soul – the power of AND

Finally, meet Traffic Officer Andisiwe Gxabuza.

She reminds us that even in the most stressful situations, with a little creativity, we can integrate duty and humanity. There is always a choice about how to best use our limited time.

All the best


PS: If you’d like to work with me, you can find out more here and subscribe to this letter here.