I deal with tough mathematical questions every day, but please don’t ask me to help with Brexit!’ – Stephen Hawking

The relentless march of time

It’s almost three years since the 2016 UK EU membership referendum. Can you believe it? Has time whizzed by or does it seem much longer since we cast our votes?

Even as I write, I suspect that most of us feel as if we’ve been embroiled in Brexit for years, and that the process of extricating ourselves is never-ending.

Say goodbye to croissants, people. Delicious croissants. We’re stuck with crumpets FOREVER.’

Bored of Brexit?

After three years or 33 months to be precise, you’d expect we’d be good and ready for March 29th. But – unbelievably – everything is still up in the air. No one yet knows whether we’re leaving with a deal, without a deal, voting again, securing an extension, holding another referendum or staying in the EU. Whatever your political persuasion, whether you’re a Leaver or a Remainer, or a BOB (bored of Brexit) one thing is sure – it doesn’t seem like very good time management. Actually scratch ‘seem’ – it is poor management not just of time, but also of money and of resources. While those in power continue to obsess over Brexit, what’s happening to the ongoing business of government?

What’s our policy?

As a wise man used to say, if it weren’t for the last minute, nothing would get done. For those of us who like to work to deadlines, this has particular meaning. But as a policy for those responsible for leading the country, for negotiating our new position on the European stage – either within or without the EU – and our future place on the world trade stage, it doesn’t seem like a very good maxim to follow. You could go so far and say it’s reckless, feckless and irresponsible. You could.

‘Why do we need any colour passport? We should just be able to shout, “British! Less of your nonsense!” and stroll straight through.’

The ‘institutional imperative’

But the truth is we shouldn’t be surprised. George Mueller – pioneer of systems management and head of the Apollo programme to put man on the moon – knew a bit about humans, time and management…

‘Fascinating that the same problems recur time after time, in almost every program, and that the management of the program, whether it happened to be government or industry, continues to avoid reality.’

And Warren Buffet – arguably the world’s most famous investor – shares this view – decades ago he explained how institutions actively fight against learning and seek to stay in a closed and vicious feedback loop…

‘My most surprising discovery: the overwhelming importance in business of an unseen force that we might call “the institutional imperative”. In business school, I was given no hint of the imperative’s existence and I did not intuitively understand it when I entered the business world. I thought then that decent, intelligence, and experienced managers would automatically make rational business decisions. But I learned the hard way that isn’t so. Instead rationality frequently wilts when the institutional imperative comes into play.’

The hallmarks of poor time management

So what are the hallmarks of poor time management? According to www.coachingpositiveperformance.com there are eleven tell-tale signs:

1. Poor punctuality
2. Rushing
3. Impatience
4. Poorly-defined goals
5. Procrastination
6. Poor performance
7. Lack of energy
8. Perfectionism
9. Indecisiveness
10. Saying yes to everything
11. Doing everything yourself

What is its relevance to Brexit?

It’s quite an interesting list if applied to Brexit negotations. Rushing, impatience, perfectionism and saying yes to everything are unlikely to make the list. But poorly-defined goals, poor performance and doing everything yourself could be tailor-made for our current state of affairs.

We could add rigidity or non-adaptability to this list. Change itself is timeless. And it’s picking up speed. In the age of digital, we’re used to things changing quickly. And so it seems, must we. Or at least be adaptable and open to change. So maybe its good news that – today at least – a third ‘meaningful vote’ on the same issue has been denied…

Manage up…

If the administrators in your company block your agreements and partnerships with ‘old rules and processes’, then don’t let them. Think laterally about how you can manage the people who like to say ‘no’. After all, they still need a job, a salary and the accompanying perks. Some administrators – especially in government – just naturally resist change, with the resilience of a limpet and the tenacity of a mule. Our politicians and civil servants prove this time and again, while forgetting that actually they are due more than a degree of service to their electorate.

What does good time management look like?

Back to time management. What’s the flip side of poor? What skills could make the difference today and get us out of this never-ending mire?

Here’s what www.lifehack.org has to say in ‘ten practical ways to drastically improve your time management’ (listen up TM)…

1. delegate
2. prioritise
3. schedule tasks
4. set deadlines
5. avoid procrastination
6. avoid stress
7. avoid multi-tasking
8. start early
9. take regular breaks
10. learn to say no

There’s nothing controversial here. Most of this seems self-evident, although it’s always good to be reminded of what might seem like the obvious. Looking at the individual skills, well you’re only as good as the people to whom you delegate, so this may well be one of the reasons why the Brexit negotiations seems stuck. Brexit is clearly the priority for our government – you could argue to the detriment of every thing else!

Common sense not rocket science

Is there anything else we can pick out with our Brexit hat on? Trump would say that our prime minister should learn to say no. And it wouldn’t be a big stretch to say that she hasn’t managed to avoid stress or take regular breaks. Maybe we should train our politicians to be more adept at handling everyday business negotiations – a course in common sense would be a good start.

While we’re on the basics, how about some practical cooking skills? Lesson 1 – you can’t make an omelette without breaking a few eggs. Lesson 2 – you don’t get to select the flavor of the omelette for all the guests in your restaurant. Flippant maybe, but the nuance is clear – as things stand, most of our politicians and civil servants would fail this cooking course miserably.

The last minute

But perhaps the key thing that resonates here is the advice to set deadlines. Deadlines – scheduled and observed – as an ongoing part of the process – might have helped keep the Brexit negotiations from stalling, or prevented us from contemplating a- very likely – extension to this sorry state of affairs.

So, bearing in minds the words of Peter F. Drucker, ‘Until we can manage time, we can manage nothing else’, let’s all keep our fingers crossed for the last minute…

Contract Insight from Four

But fortunately, you can ensure your organisation embraces effective time management by adopting an electronic document management solution. Contract Insight software from Four Business Solutions, used by Fortune 500 companies, has the potential to produce an astonishing change in your business and reduce the stress of managing paper, time, money, space… and headaches. Contract Insight is configurable, scalable and can be up and running in days. Many customers see a dramatic return on investment within two months.

If you’d like a free trial to understand how Contract Insight can boost your business, please call me, John O’Brien, on 0800 6250 025.

John O’Brien is the CEO at Four Business Solutions, global business consultants and software integrators providing business processes improvements in Finance, Supply Chain & Operations, across a broad range of industries.