In 2003, I had to have a serious conversation with my business partners – one that would end up having lasting implications. This was well before my move to Scottsdale, when I was the CEO of a consulting and education company, and Shahinool and I were just coming to terms with the seriousness of her cancer diagnosis. I knew my priorities were about to be drastically realigned. So I had a talk with my partners.
I explained that I simply could not continue to put in the number of hours I had been doing to that point. I would continue to deliver my workshops, but I would not be flying off to meetings or spending long days at the office. I would be at home, where I could be with Shahinool for breakfast, lunch, and dinner and I would work while she rested.
To their credit, my partners did everything they could to accommodate my new arrangements during a critical point in the company's evolution. And I set out to learn a new way of working. If I had to decrease the amount of time I could spend at work, there was only one approach to take: I had to increase the value of each hour.
I went through my calendar and systematically removed all the “hooks” that kept me from moving forward swiftly with my agenda. I had the department heads come to my home regularly and I spent my time focusing them, so they were empowered to do many of the things that up to then I believed only I could do. Instead of worrying about every little thing every person was doing, I deputized them to worry on my behalf. I stayed focused on the big picture strategy.
Over the next three years the company achieved its greatest growth, doubling the business and nearly tripling the workforce. I'm convinced that a big reason for that is because I was forced to identify the “rocks” – the things that were vitally important – and focus on those things only. It became obvious that the way I had been spending my time was an issue, because things changed as soon as I empowered the people around me to put out the fires. I examined each request for my time and if it wasn't absolutely essential to my goals, it didn't make it into my field of vision. I was ruthless about protecting the value of my time. As a result, each hour I worked felt energized, focused, and rewarding.
As human beings we are always surprising ourselves with what we can do when we really have to. I had no choice about making that change, and I may never have done it if I wasn't forced to.
The lesson here is simple: It's the value of your time that counts, not the number of hours. And you do have a choice about what goes into those hours. You also have a choice about who you have on your team and you have a choice about how you empower and focus them. Although, if this story is any indication, maybe you'd be better off behaving as if you didn't have a choice.