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Posted: February 22, 2011

The best investment you’ll ever make

Here's the return that keeps on giving

Todd Ordal

"The only reason for time is so that everything doesn't happen at once."
-- Albert Einstein

In business, we talk a great deal about "return." Return on investment, cash-on-cash return, return on equity and return on invested capital are a few. However, whether you're a CEO or a sales rep, perhaps your most important measurement of return is your return on time.

Most of you reading this column have a good deal of discretion as to how you spend your time. It's unlikely that someone forced you to read this. You decided that at this moment, this is what you should do. (Hint: If this topic has no interest to you, stop now and move on.)

The $59 time-management seminar I went to 30 years ago started off with this statement: "Regardless of who you are, we all have 24 hours in our day." I don't recall anyone jumping up to argue. This obvious point still holds true today. However, we now have 537 cable channels, Facebook, cell phones, email, You Tube and much more traffic to contend with. I watched The Jetsons as a kid and thought about how cool it would be to have all of those gadgets and a robot maid so I'd have more free time. I'm still waiting.

I've worked with many leaders and often had conversations with them about how to best spend their time. As a result, I came up with Todd's Seven Timely Tips for Increasing Return on Time.

1. Clarify your values. A great place to start taking control of your time is by identifying your values and then determining whether the activities and time you're investing (or squandering) are consistent with these values. (If you want a vehicle to examine your values, email me and I'll send you a free exercise.)
2. Be assertive. You don't need to have a relationship with everybody who rings your doorbell or calls you on the phone. Trying to be nice to everyone prevents you from doing what you should be doing. A talented client who's CEO of a large company recently said, "I don't want to be seen as a jerk, but I just can't go to lunch with everyone who asks." Some will see him as a jerk, but he's right.
3. Plan. If you don't plan, how can you know what's most important? If an activity doesn't take you closer to your long-term objectives, do you need to do it, or did you get sidetracked? (It's OK to look at shiny new things occasionally.)
4. Use "comparative advantage" to your advantage. (If you aren't familiar with the economics term "comparative advantage," look it up. I swear it'll be a good use of your time.) If you love to mow the lawn, great! If not, get someone who's faster and find a better outlet for your time. I had a client who swore he could do everything better than all of his employees. He probably could, but he was miserable and couldn't grow his business as a result.
5. Define wealth in terms of discretionary time, not money. This causes you to think differently about your activities and what has value. The guy above was financially very wealthy but couldn't take a vacation even though he could afford to buy a jet to do so! I'm writing this on a Monday. I'm skiing tomorrow because there's supposed to be a foot of new snow. (Admittedly, it might be a late night tonight!) Tomorrow, I'll be wealthier than the guy with the pile of money.
6. Recognize that longer is not better. Pretend you're hiring me as a consultant to help you solve a large problem. It's going to take six months and require a $250,000 investment, but it will bring in $3 million in new revenue. Wait ... I just found a way to do it in five minutes. Does this have more or less value to you? Longer is not better; it's just longer.
7. Relax. Nobody gets this right all the time. Just course-correct frequently.

Take five minutes right now to reflect on this and identify what you can do differently to increase your return on time. Do it now!

"...And then one day you find
Ten years have got behind you
No one told you when to run
You missed the starting gun
And you run and you run
To catch up with the sun
But it is sinking...."
--Time, Pink Floyd

I hope this provided you a generous return on time.


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Todd Ordal is President of Applied Strategy LLC. Todd helps CEOs achieve better financial results, become more effective leaders and sleep easier at night. He speaks, writes, consults and advises on issues of strategy and leadership. Todd is a former CEO and has led teams as large as 7,000. Follow Todd on Twitter here. You can also find Todd at http://www.appliedstrategy.info,  303-527-0417 or todd@appliedstrategy.info

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