It’s About Time or How Would You Like to be Remembered?

First appeared in ‘Family Business’ (U.S.A.)

As a family business owner, you’re usually pressed for time. More often than not, the problems stem from the very reason you decided to set up the business in the first place — to work with your family.

Even though you own the company, you never have time for anything you really want to do. You spend your working hours surrounded by family, but there’s no quality in it — you never seem to talk about anything significant. When you see your children, it’s only to take them somewhere or bring them back.

What can you do about this? In my view, time management training is not the solution. The books are generally dry as dust — suggestions for time logging, impractical hints for dealing with telephone calls, e-mail tips that assume you’re about 12 years old. None of them seem to work.

Instead, try this exercise. Imagine that you’re a guest at your own funeral. One by one, people you love get up and talk about you and your contribution to the world. What do they say? I can bet all the money in my pocket they won’t be wishing you’d spent more time at your desk.

Next, look at the scenario slightly differently. How would you like to be remembered? That’s your starter. Don’t worry if you haven’t got all the answers (or any of them) yet. As long as you’ve started to think about it, you’re on the right track.

The key exercise comes from Stephen Covey. Imagine a bucket. Put three or four big rocks in. Is the bucket full? “No,” you reply. Put some smaller rocks in to fill the gaps. Is it full now? “Not yet.” So add some sand, then some water. Now it’s full.

So what’s the lesson here? It has to do with the order. What would happen if you’d reversed it? Put the water in first, then the sand, then the small rocks. There would be no room for the big rocks. These big rocks are the important things in your life. You must schedule them first. Don’t try to squeeze them in after arranging the water (pointless meetings), sand (unnecessary travel) or small rocks (meetings that take three times as long as needed because no one is properly prepared). Once these things are scheduled, fit the rest of your work around them.

There are lots of hints about time logs, to-do lists, phone calls, meetings, e-mails and paperwork. Have a look at each one — then discount 80% of them. If you’ve heard of them but are still not following them, my guess is you never will. If they are new and intriguing, try them.

But never forget the big picture. Why save ten minutes handling paperwork if you’re only going to spend it trawling through useless e-mails? Remember: You can’t save time; you have only so much of it. You know that. So now, what do you want to be remembered for?


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