Editor's note: This article originally appeared in Alan’s weekly Forbes column.
None of us would would want to be incarcerated. Nor would we willingly choose to lose a marriage, lose our health or lose our valuable relationships with children, extended family and chosen and valuable friends. Are our actions taking us closer or further away from our intended goals?
Several weeks ago, I had the opportunity to listen to a presentation by Harvard Professor Clayton Christensen in Salt Lake City, as he discussed his newest book, "How Will You Measure Your Life?" I was anxious to hear his remarks, having just finished reading this amazing publication.
There were elements of his presentation and the concepts in his book that stopped me in my tracks. He spoke of his Harvard graduating class, full of life, energy and promise. He spoke of the fact that no one in that group of talented individuals had left business school with any desire to face an outcome such as going through a divorce, being unknown and despised by their children or going to jail. Yet as the class reconvened five years later — then in 10 years, 20 years and now these 30 years later — negative outcomes had occurred for a surprising number of graduates. In fact, one of his classmates, a highly known national executive, is now in jail for his role in a widely publicized corporate scandal.
With surprise and sadness, Christensen has also recognized that there are many other skilled executives and talented employees, far beyond his own Harvard classmates, who are living in hellish nightmares today as well. They too are facing the very outcomes they had so fervently vowed to avoid. What’s happening in corporate America?
Somehow over time, these dedicated workers have embraced money, power and glory over honor, wife and family. Those who had been taught to develop thoughtful business strategies for economic success had failed to also build a strategy for personal happiness and enduring fulfillment.
I agreed with every view Christensen espoused, but recognized that I too was not in full compliance with his message to American businesspeople. Subsequently, with this book in mind, my wife and I recently spent an evening together to discuss our use of time. Regretfully, we both agreed we are not spending enough time with each other to nurture and deepen our marital relationship.
We agreed that our heavy commitments to community, church, extended family issues and employment assignments have limited our time with each other. We both laughed and cried at the truth of our situation. Even our weekends, we agreed, are deplorable in terms of their statement on what we value, as evidenced by the use of our time. We asked, are we important to one another? Is charitable work or venture capital more valuable than our commitments to each other? Where on our scale of tasks does our marriage rank? Is it our highest priority or is it buried somewhere out of view?
When we are born, our mortal clocks begin to tick. None of us knows how much time we will have before this earthly life comes to an end. Some of us have quick exits, others endure for a season, while a few celebrate a century of life.
Our time here is perishable. Once a minute has past, we can’t retrieve it for another day. It’s gone forever. As each day passes, our pool of available time continues to diminish.
What then should we do with the time that has been granted to us? In my mind, we should maximize to the fullest every waking hour on what matters the most. A poem by Robert B. Baird written over a hundred years ago summarizes nicely the concept of time:
Improve the shining moments, don’t let them pass you by.
Work while the sun is radiant, work, for the night draws nigh.
We cannot bid the sunbeams to lengthen out their stay,
Nor can we ask the shadows to ever stay away.
Time flies on wings of lighting. We cannot call it back.
It comes then passes forward, along its onward track.
And if we are not mindful, the chance will fade away.
For life is quick in passing. 'Tis as a single day.
As we examine a typical 24-hour day, we spend a good portion of it sleeping, eating and traveling. We have about 12 hours each day to perform a list of given tasks or jobs. Our age, status and responsibilities determine to a large degree where we spend our time and energy. The youths of the world attend educational classes, engage in personal study, home chores or employment and enjoy some form of entertainment. Adults are at home with family duties or they are at work, engaged in caring for customers. Evenings are likewise busy with a host of activities and additional tasks.
All of us feel there is not enough time in a day to pursue the desires of our heart. I am just like you. My days are full, with a calendar of events that are never ending. I go to bed late at night wondering to myself if I am pursuing the right priorities. Am I spending my precious time on tasks that truly count?
As for our discussion, my wife and I concluded we were way out of balance. We also agreed it’s time we focused on each other, not on every request from the world around us. We started by agreeing that by 7:30 each night we would be together at home with no distractions, no phone calls, no emails and no meetings. A good plan, right? Of course it is. Sadly, we have not reached this important Utopian goal. Why not? It’s due in part to years of habit and a schedule that has not yet been cleared. Even so, we both consider this noble objective as noteworthy and recognize it will require dedication, discipline and a laser focus.
On my part, to remedy the situation, I have hired an experienced executive to manage my calendar. She is a gatekeeper with an assignment to prioritize my workload of meetings, speeches, books and newspaper columns. After just a few weeks of her effort, I am seeing great improvements. I have also delegated more effectively to other talented leaders the important tasks that I shouldn’t do.
I have seen immediate and positive results from this action. Are there other measures I should take? Yes, there are a few community programs that can survive without me, as well as a few board assignments I can forgo. As of last week, I have resigned from a longstanding bank advisory board position and chairmanship of a trade association. As I write this column I’m feeling lighter already. There will be more resignations to come. Learning to say “no” to assignments I don’t have sufficient time to complete without risking my very highest priorities is a new way of life for me. Practicing what I believe will be the challenge.
In summary, all of us must manage our time and energy wisely to achieve the things in our limited lifespans that matter the most. May we all do a better job in the coming year. I wish us all success in this effort, and as always, I welcome your opinions and thoughts.
Alan E. Hall is a co-founding managing director of Mercato Partners, a regionally focused growth capital investment firm. He founded Grow Utah Ventures, is the founder of MarketStar Corp. and is chairman of the Utah Technology Council.