I once received a last-minute invitation to visit Ireland's most famous band, U2, in Dublin along with a long week of parties and concerts. To call it a once-in-a-lifetime experience is an understatement. As if I needed more of a reason to be excited, a couple friends offered me front-row tickets. My wife is a huge U2 fan (as any red-headed Irish girl should be), and I had it all planned out. Only one glitch. I couldn't go. My schedule was too booked and I had to turn the tickets down. The problem was that I had let my schedule get too filled up with little things that became big things.
We are all busy. When the economy is tight, we take on extra work to save payroll costs. When the economy is great, we are so flushed with work that it's a full plate. Each year seems to be busier and more time-consuming than the last. The lie we tell ourselves -- "When I finish this issue/event/project, I'll be free to work on that project" -- almost always plays out differently. Something always comes up and we get too engrossed in our fires to focus on what we need to. So, instead of taking advantage of a great new opportunity, we're mired in mundane tasks than we could have passed off to others but that we didn’t.
This situation I was in was unacceptable and had to get fixed. It started at the front row at U2. What will I be too busy to do tomorrow? An important client meeting? A speech to a large group? A dance recital for my kids? A family emergency? I'm wasn’t sure, but damn it, I'm was not going to find out!
So, what was an entrepreneur to do? In order to force myself to get more things off my plate (and thus to free up more time for bigger things) and be available for bigger issues, I took more and more off my plate. My goal was to get to a point of having no more than 10 planned hours of work every week. That way I would have the rest of the time to focus on big issues. There are always big-picture items to tackle, and the only way to be free to focus on them was to remove the little things. I had done a good job at hiring and had a good team in place to handle smaller issues, so I was able to let go without fear. If I needed more help, I could hire more great people.
A few years later, when I was in the process of selling my company, I had an opportunity to spend the day with Richard Branson. Virgin American asked me to travel with several entrepreneurs and Sir Richard as they started service to Toronto. Although I was incredibly busy with the sale, I didn’t want to miss out again. I had learned my lesson, and I was able to take two days away from the office and take an unforgettable trip.
A great book on this topic is Greg McKeown’s Essentialism and shows a great way to cut much of the clutter in your life.
Now that I’m back in start-up life, this plan of cutting down to 10 hours of planned work is proving harder than ever… But I know that it is the secret to success and happiness.