FOURTH SECRET OF TIME MANAGEMENT

H.H “Breaker “Morant (1864-1902) is credited with having said “Live every day as if it was your last, because one day you will be right.”

He was spot-on as on February 27, 1902, at the age of 38, he was executed after conviction for murder during the Second Boer War (1899-1902). He became an Australian folk hero (despite the fact that he was actually English), with a major movie about him having been made in 1980 and which is still considered a classic today.

I am sure however that his notoriety is not based on his advice on time management.

There is no question that his advice is sound, it’s just very hard for people to live their lives as though they really did believe that their life span was seriously limited without actually casting a dark veil over their existence. In actual fact we all tend to live a large part of our lives as though we were indestructible, which does help to explain the kamikaze style of driving one finds in most of Europe.

I believe that the more realistic advice is to live every day as if it was in the last week before going on holidays.

I am always amazed at how much can be achieved in just one week as people focus on finishing off all the things that have lain dormant on their to-do lists for months, just before they set off for their annual 4-6 weeks break (usually starting in August here).

For some, they could actually achieve most of their annual goals by coming in to work just for the latter part of the month of July.

I believe that this is driven mainly by the fact that most people seem to feel that they will not be able to relax completely on vacation if they still have items that have not been crossed off their list of outstanding tasks. The fear that somehow this list will then rob them of sleep with nightmares of things like business plans not written and performance reviews delayed.

Even more compelling seems to be the fear that coming back to all these, now even more delayed, tasks will mean that they will be already behind their work schedule on the first day that they come back from vacations, rather than allowing themselves to just get more and more behind over time as a natural part of their working life.

There seems to be a visible build-up both at work and at home, of making sure that that the time to vacation departure exhibits better planning, better focus, and significantly better use of time available to finish off outstanding tasks.
Imagine the amazing increases in productivity that could be gained if everyone worked like this every single week of the year.

I am therefore of the opinion that companies would be better served if instead of allowing a single 6 week vacation break, they forced their staff to actually take three lots of 2 weeks annual leave spread across the year, as at least that way they could guarantee at least 3 weeks of focussed activities per year rather than just the one.

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VIVE L’AUTOMNE (AUTUMN)

I love the autumn in France.

It is the time of the grape harvest which is an exciting and frenetic time in the Bordeaux region, and it means that we get to go to some great harvest lunches, which take place in the Chateaux that still hand pick rather than machine pick the grapes. You eat the same meal as the pickers, either sharing their tables, or being close by, and the menus tend to follow very traditional lines. These dishes need to be low salt and ones that don’t generate needs for loos as these are in short supply in the vineyards themselves. For us these include lunching with dear friends at Chateau Meume in Maransin and Chateau Leoville Barton in St Julien-Beychevelle, both being events that we really look forward to each year.
Even though we have lunches with these same friends at other times during the year, the harvest lunches have an ambiance that makes them unique and very special, particularly during a great vintage as both 2009 and 2010 have been.

The autumn here is also a time when most of the tourists have gone home, so the roads are not clogged up with Dutch caravans (I have never been able to understand where they park them all when they get back to Amsterdam), the German tourists are back home and have stored their Birkenstocks and short black woollen socks for another year, and our house is free from the annual winter migration of Australians and New Zealanders, who have departed leaving us with a renewed supply of Vegemite and a seriously depleted wine cellar.

SYDNEY, NSW - JANUARY 25:  A jar of Vegemite is pictured January 25, 2006 in Sydney, Australia. Vegemite, an Australian culinary specialty, is concentrated yeast extract originally made from a by-product of the beer brewing process. An estimated nine out of ten Australian pantries contain at least one jar of Vegemite, with 46% of Australians having eaten Vegemite at least once during a calendar week. The Vegemite sandwich, a staple of Australian school lunch boxes, was immortalised in the Men At Work song 'Down Under' in 1982. The nation will celebrate Australia Day on January 26.  (Photo Illustration by Ian Waldie/Getty Images)

An added bonus is that everything is now actually open again. The French are serious about their holidays and love to take them in August and September, even those who service the tourist industry, despite the fact that with the crowds around at this time of year one would imagine that this should be the busiest and most lucrative time for restaurants and hotels for example. I guess that they just love to take holidays with everyone else so that they too can fight the traffic congestion and indulge in elbow fights with Parisians for the last table in the local country village bistro. Paris empties in August and the 8 residents who are still there are only there because of medical travel restrictions (visible by the zimmer frames). Paris in summer is only inhabited by overseas tourists trying to find the one open restaurant in their arrondissement, or someone who actually speaks French as a first language, so they can try out their high school French on someone who will find it painful.

The days are still pleasant with temperatures in the 20s, even though we can get a bit of rain, but by now, if the harvest is over, the rain is welcome as the gardens can do with some serious re-greening after the heat and dryness of summer. The restaurants aren’t crowded and you can drive out to Cap Ferret for a lunch on the water without having to face bumper to bumper traffic there and back, nor the hordes of Parisians who arrive in Cap Ferret in August armed only with their swimsuits, having left their good manners back in Paris together with their business clothes.

Having lived in Singapore for 6 years prior to coming to France, we also love the change of seasons, and the vibrant colours that you get as the autumn leaves appear. Last October we flew to Boston and had two weeks in New England spending time in Massachusetts, New Hampshire and Vermont just to see the “fall leaves”, and whilst they were spectacular, and we had a chance to catch up with some great friends, the colours here are pretty damn close in splendour. Nevertheless, I have found that in the same way that wherever you go there is no such thing as bad weather, only good weather that you have just missed, there is no such thing as a bad time to look at autumn leaves. It’s only that the best week for great leaf colour is always the week just before you arrived to see them.

If you want to see France at its best (rather than just at its warmest) don’t come in summer. The weather may not be as good the rest of the year, but as someone once said “There is no such thing as bad weather, only the wrong clothing”.

THIRD SECRET OF SUCCESS

Being able to update your resume (curriculum vitae) every year is an important part of success.

I am not suggesting that you update it and put it out on the street, just that you need to be able to update the contents every year, and that you should also set up a formal process, and allocate time, to make this happen. (See “Second Secret of Time Management” posted 30/9/2010).

You have to ask yourself “What do I know today that I didn’t know a year ago, what can I do today that I couldn’t do a year ago or what can I do measurably better today than I could do a year ago ?”

If you can’t answer positively to at least one part of this question, then you have not only just wasted a year of personal growth, but you have actually gone backwards, as those that you compete with may not have let the time pass so unproductively.

I am not just talking about competition as being the sole concern of those that are seeking to climb the corporate ladder, but I am including all elements of business, politics, study and life in general.
It is just as true for a corporate executive, a wine maker in Bordeaux or an MBA student, and it also holds true for retirees, despite their supposed non-compete status.

As the Rolling Stones say “And time waits for no one and it won’t wait for me”.

I also believe that you do need to do this personal review as a formal process, as just doing it whilst you drive to work, or navigate your tractor through the vines, makes it too easy to gloss over details and so delude yourself into believing that you have actually achieved a year of personal growth. A formal process implies that not only will you need to list these “upgrades” to your skills and/or knowledge, but that you will also be able to document evidence that these upgrades have actually occurred.

I find that it also helps to seek outside confirmation from for example peers, subordinates and superiors (in a work context), or partners and friends (in a personal context) that they have also seen visible evidence of these changes, and would be prepared to sign off (if asked) on the changes in your resume.

It’s also not enough just to list a promotion, as climbing a rung on the corporate ladder is not in itself a sure sign that you have actually advanced your skills or knowledge in the last 12 months, only that you have been chosen as the best of what is available in the selection process.

Some promotions are more an indication of the lack of skill of the promoters rather than a sure sign of skills in the one promoted. In the latter half of the 20th century, the IT industry grew massively each year, and became a breeding ground for promotions of the “most visibly able” rather than the “truly capable”, as in many companies the growth in the number of management positions to fill was greater than the growth in skilled candidates. It was only towards the end of the 1900’s that tough times showed that many had titles that far exceeded their true abilities, skills and experience to actually effectively fill the role.

These are generally the people who are first to go when culling processes start, and we should have learned by now that in this century the regular corporate cull has become a fact of life.
True learning and skills development, and putting this knowledge to use, is not only a key element in corporate life preservation, but is also what makes life more interesting and worthwhile.

The Olympic motto in Latin is “Citius, Altius, Fortius” which translates to “Higher, Faster, Stronger ”.
To this we should add “Acutulior” which means “cleverer”.

Seoul Olympics, group of runners racing, focus on legs

VIVE LE FRENCH HEALTH SYSTEM

Spike Milligan (1918-2002) has an epitaph written in Gaelic on his tombstone which says “I told you I was ill”.

If you’re going to be ill the best place to do it is in France according to the World Health Organisation, who at their last ranking study (albeit in 2000) put the French Health system at #1 of 191 countries (Italy was 2nd, UK 18th, Australia 32nd, US 37th

At the same time, I am somewhat dismayed at the habit of over-prescription that does exist here.
In Australia if you have a cold, the doctor will tell you to have a hot cup of tea and whisky and go to bed for a few days.
In France you will be given a nasal spray, medication for the cough, tablets for the pain, something else for your chest and so on. I am sure that some people arrive at the pharmacy wearing hernia belts in anticipation of the heavy load to carry home.

I questioned my local doctor in our small village about this and he said that the reason is that doctors who don’t prescribe lots of medication are considered inadequate by their patients, and so they will then go and seek a different medical practitioner. We told him that we were from a different culture that believed that the less our doctor prescribed the healthier we must be, and he has adjusted our medication levels accordingly.

The rest of the health system, even if there are indications that it may be financially unsustainable, works with impressive precision. I have to say that it would be sad if the French health system went the same way as the English NHS, about which my English friends never stop complaining.

One aspect that I found interesting was that apart from my village GP, all the specialists were women. In both the lead-up to and the hospitalisation itself, the only male I encountered was the orderly who wheeled me into the operating theatre. I have to admit that I saw this as just being another positive element of the whole French health system.

portrait of three female medical personnel

By the way, it was not all free. I did have to pay €35 to have telephone, TV and internet access in my hospital room.

THIRD SECRET OF TIME MANAGEMENT

Many of the executives that I know seem to have a common problem in that they try and keep their weekends free, but always feel as though they don’t get a great deal of time to do what they enjoy, don’t actually get enough time with their families as everyone is too busy doing different things, and they always end up having to compromise their time (see “I HATE COMPROMISE” posted September 6, 2010).

It’s interesting to see how many people do feel that compromise is the only way to ensure that everyone gets something from their time available. Trade-offs such as “I get to play golf on Saturday morning if I agree to go and visit your parents on Sunday afternoon”, are common and tend to be the norm, particularly in families that live close together.

I have always been fortunate in enjoying the reality that “It is wonderful to have a large family … all living in another city”.

Based on my dislike of compromise, I believe that there is a better way to plan weekends and for people to get more quality time with their families, with everyone involved getting a better shot at doing things that they really enjoy.

The starting point is to get everyone in the family to separately list the “10 things that they enjoy most in life”. The reasoning is that if you can spend more time doing the things that you love, you will actually get more enjoyment and satisfaction from the time available.

You then have the family (works for couples also) match their lists to look for the similarities, and then try and plan the weekends as much as possible around the things that everyone has identified as being pleasurable.

I know it sounds a bit simple, but it actually works.

One exec that I worked with would always play golf on Saturday, while his wife took his 2 girls to horse riding school, these activities taking up most of the day. On Saturday evenings, he and his wife would head out to things like the opera, theatre, movies or concerts while their daughters, who were too young to be on dates, would tend to stay home to watch TV, or read or whatever young people do when left at home. Sundays were taken up with catching up on sleep and morning chores, and the afternoons with visiting whatever ageing relatives were next on the roster. Sunday evening was generally spent with everyone getting ready for the new week.

The weekends passed quickly and with no one feeling that they had had a great time of it, and all feeling that they had not “seen a lot of dad”.

When they did the “My favourite 10” exercise, they found that there were 4 things that they all had in common. These were picnics/eating out, music and theatre, discovering new places and sport.
They therefore started to build their weekends as much as possible around these things that they all loved to do.

Every Saturday morning they would head out somewhere different for breakfast/brunch/lunch within an hour or so from where they lived, and then spend the rest of the day exploring the area.

Saturday evenings they started including the girls in their “culture” events, as the girls had reached an age where these events, if carefully chosen, were of interest to them as well.

Sunday mornings were spent doing sporting events that they could all enjoy like cycling, hiking, skating or canoeing and then they would have a pub lunch somewhere before heading off to do the obligatory visit to the relatives, which now just didn’t feel quite as bad as before, as getting there and back was more fun than before.

Sunday evenings was personal time, but at home together with a family meal.

They all tried to keep the things that they did alone to midweek, keeping the weekends focussed on what they could all do together. He played golf with some like minded friends twice midweek teeing off really early in the morning, but only 9 holes each time enabling him to still arrive at the office in good time. His wife and daughters started going horse riding after school rather than on weekends. It took a bit more planning but it worked for them.

If you talk to his daughters today, they will tell you that while they were growing up, their father worked really hard and travelled a lot, but that he always had the weekends available to do fun things with them.

Like all things that are worth doing in life it takes some thought and some planning to make it worthwhile, but in the end it does give you greater control of the time you have available.

YOU ARE WHAT YOU EAT

Earlier this year we spent a couple of weeks in Canada for some family skiing. We had one of our daughters, her husband and 2 grand-daughters from Australia with us at Sun Peaks Ski resort. The mountain is great and skiing conditions were near perfect. The only problem with Sun Peaks is that there is absolutely no night life and the restaurants are terrible. As a result you tend to spend most evenings in your rented accommodation self catering and watching TV. The TV shows are a mix of Canadian and US programmes and are the general fare of re-runs or reality shows where people bleed emotionally in front of millions of viewers.

What I found most interesting however is the blend of TV advertising.

There is no question in my mind that TV advertising is a window to the National soul.
In France, where we live, a vast majority of the TV ads are about food. Not a surprise based on this being a national obsession.

Fish Terrine with Shrimps

In Australia it should be no real surprise that a lot of the TV ads are for beer. The ads for “XXXX” beer are considered national treasures and art forms.
I have always believed that one of the major differences between the US and Australia was that the Americans invented drive-in banks, and the Australians invented drive-in liquor stores.

In North America, a vast majority of the ads seem to be for either fast food or below the waist medications, presumably the first one being one of the major causes of the need for the second.

Young boy picking french-fries from a plate with a hamburger

I sat in front of the TV one morning waiting for my family to get ready so we could head out for another day’s skiing, and watched consecutive ads for different products to help with bladder leakage, which were squeezed between numerous ads alternating solutions for both constipation and diarrhea, as well as ads for hamburgers, Pizza and French Fries. It was a continuous procession of put it in one end and we will help you move it out the other. I wondered whether I was the only one who could see this connection.

I do understand that there is an ageing population here in the USA and Canada, as there are also numerous ads for Alzheimer’s medication and retirement homes, but I am getting the impression that the locals could be a lot better off if they understood that the French have given the world more than just fries.

At least in France, bowel habits seem to have attracted very little need for TV attention despite the equivalent ageing population.

Anthelme Brillat-Savarin wrote in 1826 “Dis-moi ce que tu manges, je te dirai ce que tu es”. (Tell me what you eat and I will tell you what you are), and he hadn’t even heard of fast foods.

close-up of a plate of hors d'oeuvre

SECOND SECRET OF SUCCESS

“The illiterate of the 21st century will not be those who cannot read and write, but those who cannot learn, unlearn and relearn.” Alvin Toffler

I am often amazed that so many people seem to not understand that learning is a journey and not a destination.

You should never stop learning, whether it is for new skills or new ideas, and you need to be prepared to adjust both elements as the world changes around you. It is also important these days to differentiate between information and knowledge, and to understand that information may be interesting for conversations at dinner parties but little else if not applied, and that knowledge that is not translated to actions has little value, as knowing what to do is less important than actually doing what we know.

Too many people seem to believe that there are distinct stages in their lives, with very little overlap:

  • Ages 1-25 “Learning” phase (School and University)
  • 25-65 “Doing” phase through working (25-55 in France … see “Vive l’avantage” posted 27 Sept 2010)
  • 65-85+ “Resting” phase (for many the “TV watching” phase … see “Vive la France” posted 25 June 2010)

    Two men and woman sitting on sofa, watching television

There is a pervasive attitude amongst many senior, well educated people that once they have graduated with their PhDs and MBAs that they are now past their learning phase and that from now on they will just absorb anything extra by osmosis as they just go about doing things. I have always seen early formal education mainly as a way to learn how to learn, and as acquiring a “hunting license” in the job market. However, just because you have a license to do something doesn’t actually mean that you will get the opportunity to actually do it, nor does it mean that you already have the skills to do it well. In most cases these skills need to be developed and honed over a lifetime before they can be well deployed. To become proficient, learning and practice must continue forever whether formal, on the job, through coaching and mentoring, reading and trying, and failing sometimes just to not get too overconfident. (See “First Secret of Success” posted on 16.09.2010).

This belief that they already know enough tends to be truer of people in management roles, as individual contributors, such as engineers, at least have an understanding that their science keeps changing with each new breakthrough in their field. Managers have to go through this same process of learning, as the science of management changes with the changing expectations of each generation. Management styles of “command and control” may have worked with my father’s generation, but already didn’t work with mine, and certainly don’t work with today’s generation who see a much more collaborative style of management with much more involvement in things like job definition and measurement. (See “Quality of Management for the Future” posted 02/09/2010).

It is our ability to continually redefine ourselves as the world changes around us at an ever more rapid rate that will define our ability to keep on succeeding.

As Charles Darwin so succinctly puts it “It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor is it the most intelligent. It is the one that is the most adaptable to change.”

I have less problem convincing younger people of this, but am amazed at how many board members of major companies resist ongoing training, some even seeing this need for further learning as being a visible show of weakness to subordinates. It may be acceptable to have a noted university professor come in and talk to the board on some related subject as this can be seen more as an intellectual exercise rather than a learning one, but I have found significant resistance when I have suggested that a corporate board could do with some serious training on, for example, how to function effectively as a board.

At least I am fortunate that in my retirement I get to mix with lots of younger people. I could not imagine a more terrifying existence than having to spend all my time just with people my own age, as I have long believed that it’s what you learn after you know it all that really counts.