Make Time for Patience

Patience is a subject I’ve touched on before and I hope that you haven’t become too wound up waiting for me to readdress the topic.

As the first of the summer cricket test matches start this week the art of patience is again at the front of my mind. I am sure that I don’t need to remind anyone that a test match can last up to five days and so winning is as much a game of discipline and patience as it is technical skills.

While cricket may not be everyone’s cup of tea there are many lessons for life and business it can teach, particularly about the power of patience.

And, in business, patience also means refection.

Exercising patience is more difficult than it was a generation ago. Communication technology has improved so much that it is difficult to be out of contact and buy a moment or two to reflect. It may difficult for many of you to remember the days before email, smartphones, messaging and WhatsApp but there was such a time.

Then, when you left the office that was your day done until the next morning when you were back at your desk. Hardly anyone kept staff home phone numbers and when a letter arrived (remember the Royal Mail?) you could take a day or week to respond, not least because it took at least a couple of days to get a hand-written letter typed in the pool.

All those delays put reflection and patience into a system which is missing today. Today’s problem is all about how you find this buffer and find time when time is stacked against you.

I know it is not easy and so much harder for anyone brought up exclusively in the world of new technology.

If you don’t have a plan and don’t take control, you will be overcome by technology-induced pace and your life will become uncomfortable and almost unmanageable.

Yes, without control, you will always be checking your phone for messages and everyone will know, because Viber and WhatsApp show that a message has been read, that now, at least, you have been tagged.  Probably, also, you will be expected to respond, immediately. There are people in my life who give me about 6 hours before the follow up is sent.

The problem is that the new technologies are taking away your opportunity to demonstrate patience.

When I started work there were many role models but one I remember specifically in this context was Vic Luck who finished his career at PwC as a global partner. Vic managed his time better than anyone else I have met. He was always in the office early and worked fast and accurately to clear his desk. Meetings were also early and precise. This left him plenty of time to address and deal with his management issues.

More importantly, Vic was also very clear to his staff about the deadline to finish a task, so he could fit its review into his schedule. He organised his time more successfully than anyone else I ever met. Doing this he set the agenda.

Even though it was in a pre-smartphone era, there is a lesson that can be learnt.

There has been much discussion on the oncoming impact of AI and just as with the smartphone revolution you must take control of the technology and not become its servant, and that has always been the way to manage technology.

But we have failed with the smartphone.

You know the trend without seeing the statistics but, today, the telecoms regulator Ofcom, released data showing 78% of all UK adults now own a smartphone, up from 17% 10 years ago and on average, people check them once every 12 minutes during their waking hours.

The average daily time spent on a smartphone is two hours 28 minutes, and 7 in 10 commuters use their smartphones on their journey to work.

We have let technology take control of us. How wrong is that?

If you set the agenda, it shouldn’t matter that you inundated with emails, messages and WhatsApp requests. If you manage the technology, manage time and create the chance to exercise patience, you will find the time to reflect and make better decisions.

There is an adage in cricket that you can’t win the game in the first two sessions, but you can certainly lose it. Technology can help you win in business, but you can be rushed by it, and then you can certainly lose.

The Art of Juggling

One of the first directors I worked for at Coopers & Lybrand, Peter Burnham had many attributes, but time management was never one of them. I remember his secretary, Vivien, telling me that a 9:15 meeting was going to be delayed because Peter was already running an hour late. How he managed to lose an hour so early in the morning I didn’t understand nor did I have the energy to ask how.

Peter’s problems with time management did help me improve other consulting skills.

One day Vivien asked me to stand in for Peter because, as always, he was delayed on something else and overrunning. She said I was to go to the Ministry of Defence and stand in for him at a meeting with an Under Secretary.

There were obvious questions to ask such as, what were we meeting about, what were the expectations of the meeting, was Peter going to join us later, and what authority did I have to commit to anything?

‘No idea,’ she said. ‘he just gave me a name, an address and a time. Now off you go.’

She shuffled me out onto Gresham Street, where the taxi she had booked was waiting for me, making sure I had my pad, pen in pocket and the address. Fear was already growing. I can’t remember the outcome, but I survived, and I learnt the lesson of flexibility and phlegm. Thereafter, the prospect of very few client meetings has phased me.

I can’t be sure if it was these experiences but throughout my working career not being late has become important. Simply, it is just impolite to be late for anything, I would much rather be early and wait than be late. If I  had planned my time sensibly and all went to plan, I could use the unneeded contingency as extra time for research or go and have a coffee.

Sometimes even contingency doesn’t help. If I am going to be late, I try and phone in my apologies as early as possible to give the other party a chance to reorganise their time and even cancel the meeting.

I am not as manic in my planning as brilliant Scottish comedienne, Susan Calman, who will rehearse a journey a day early by making it. Although catching the bus the day before may be pushing planning, she has a good point. A mental rehearsal doesn’t just improve planning and performance but also time management.

The art of management, I was once told is like the circus skill of juggling. The skill is to quickly throw all the tasks back from where they came, but each time higher and higher. Sadly, what no one ever tells you is that the further and higher they go, the faster they come back.

More so than ever, juggling is a key and essential life skill.

I was thinking about this today as I faced the numerous projects that I have underway. There is this essay to write, two books to edit, one to finish, a final book of children’s poems to get illustrated and a letter to Sasha. There may be enough hours in the day but not enough creative energy.

However, my task list is nothing compared to that of many especially those working mothers who have to juggle complex home and work schedules. It is one of the male stereotypes that we can’t multitask and when I hear what some women have to manage I can understand how right that may be.

This is not one of those pieces that reveal the top ten life hacks to manage your time better. Those are all over the internet and you can waste your own time finding them.

On the other hand, let me give you one thought.

A computer is said to be thrashing when the memory becomes so overloaded that it is paging all the time. It brings applications into memory and then immediately moves them out without doing anything. It spends its time preparing to work and never doing any. Computer performance collapses.

Sound familiar?

There are times in our life when the to-do list becomes so overwhelming and there is so much to do that we end up doing nothing. Don’t recast your list but just sit down and do something. There are always times when something is better than nothing.