Preparation and Time Commitment
I mentioned in my book that I believe that one of my keys to career success was preparation and the amount of time I dedicated to preparing for the next day/week/month of business activity.
How do you effectively prepare, and how much time does that require?
For me, effective preparation required adequate time and a quiet environment. Ideally, for me, that preparation took place in my den at home with the door closed, so that I was not distracted by noise, interruptions, or TV broadcasts. Oftentimes, that took place in the evenings during Monday thru Friday, or for me, Sunday afternoons or evenings. I tried to avoid using early mornings for preparation unless it was a critical activity, since I strongly believe that a good night’s sleep is a requirement to be sharp mentally the next day. And to me, that sense of being adequately prepared helped me sleep well versus going to bed knowing that I had a lot of prep to do early the next morning before going to work.
There were times at work between meetings where I had a bit of time for preparation, but I never counted on my day being clear at certain times for prep, since it seemed to me that there were always issues that cropped up that cut into that time that I thought was available.
My typical schedule for Monday thru Friday was something like:
6:15 – wake up, shower breakfast, dress
7:00 – depart home for work
7:20 – 8:00 – final prep for day’s meetings usually beginning at 8:00
8:00 – 6:00 – work activities
6:00 – drive home, dinner, relax
8:00 – run/exercise time
8:30 – review emails, prep for next day
9:30 – watch TV, decompress
10:00 – go to bed
My typical Saturday was ‘Dan time’—no planned work activities, try to spend time doing something with the family or something I enjoyed if the family was not available, although sometimes work priorities required some time commitment or even going in to work for dedicated work time.
Sunday – I usually reserved from 3:00 p.m. until mid-evening for prep time for the coming week, catching up on emails, reviewing the schedule for the next two weeks, and planning my priorities, revising my prioritized ‘to-do’ list, etc.
Your reaction might be, “Wow, I don’t want to have a job like yours! You must have been a workaholic!”
Well, that is one opinion, but I can tell you that each and every week, I had other non-work activities I wanted to accomplish or enjoy, and I did those things, as well, including time with family, hobbies, golf, yard work, etc. It was not as if I preferred working to my hobbies or my family. In fact, it was just the opposite. But I also came to learn that I was supporting a family, and that I had an important job responsibility that I was being well-compensated to perform. This sort of dedication comes with the territory if you want to be a leader or manager in the white-collar world.
Can’t you be successful and better balance time commitments between work and family? I am sure that is possible, and I am sure there are others who were smarter than me at getting things done more productively, freeing up more personal time. But for me, I needed to invest this kind of time in order to do my job well and to be the kind of leader that my team respected and depended upon.
I recall one time when my son was nine years old, playing baseball in little league. He made the local all-star team, which was a huge deal for him, and of course, we were proud of him. I tried to make all the all-star games and watch him and the team. There were about fifteen boys on the all-star team, so with nine field positions and multiple pitchers, I fully expected that all the boys would get playing time. After all, all fifteen boys were voted to the team by the league coaches. There was only one practice before the all-star games began, so there was little time for the all-star coach to assess talent. But in the first game, my son sat the bench and never played. I knew most of the other players on the team and knew that Cory was one of the top five players on that all-star team. The second game, he played in the last inning in right field. I could not believe it. I saw the look on his face after the second game, and I felt so bad for him but was mostly angry that this coach was impacting some of the boys in a very negative way.
I told Cory to wait for me while I talked to the coach. I did not know him all that well, and this was the first and only time I ever approached a coach to stand up for my son or daughter, since I made sure that my children understood that they needed to speak for themselves, and that sports was a great way for them to learn the lesson that things are not always fair.
But this situation was different. This coach was teaching some of the kids on the team the wrong lesson. I asked the coach why not all the kids were playing. He said that his job was to win, and that he was trying to play the best players. I asked how he could assess the talent on the team in one practice, and I made it clear to him that ALL of these kids were all-stars who had practiced hard all year and should have been proud about making the team and showing their parents and family what they could do on the field and at bat. I told him that he was teaching my son a lesson I did not want him to learn, that a coach sometimes doesn’t really have the best interests of the team in mind.
He got very defensive, but I made it clear that I was very disappointed in what he was doing, and that I could not understand why his son played every inning, while my son played one inning in fourteen innings, while they were both all-stars.
Magically, the next game, my son started in left field, got three hits, and came in to pitch in the third inning and shut out the other team the rest of the game. And this was a boy who ‘was not one of the better players on the team!’
I vowed to myself right then and there that even though I could not dedicate myself to coach any of my children’s sports due to travel commitments of my job, I would be the sort of ‘coach’ at work that would be fair and would treat everyone with respect and make sure that I was teaching them the right lessons. At work, I tried to treat all on my team as all-stars, deserving of my time and deserving of respect and deserving of the kind of leadership that would enable them, as much as possible, to go home at the end of the day feeling good about the contributions they were making.
Being a solid leader and manager is a lot like being a solid coach!