As the president of 1-800-FLOWERS, I spend a great deal of time traveling. That's because I'm not so much in the flowers business as the relationships business. And walking the walk of being in relationships -- with vendors, manufacturers, retailers, and customers -- frequently requires the real me. It isn't enough merely to resort to the telephone or e-mail.
Personally, I'd prefer to spend zero time traveling, but business commitments could put me on the road full-time. In between, we've struck a compromise: I travel 50% of the time, with out-of-the-office meetings bringing the time away from my physical headquarters to more than half. What's more important is that I've also compromised on the way I travel: I shoot for balance.
Time Management in Transit
Let me explain. Life on the road can be drudgery, exacerbating problems back at the office, or it can be an exercise in time management. Shooting for balance means striving for the latter, and I've learned how to do that in part from a handful of executives, whose time-management skills I consider superb.
Among them is Brother Tom Trager, with whom I operated a home for teenage boys in my former career as a social worker. "If you want to get anything done, always ask a busy person," he would say. A keeper of lists, a crisp writer, and a manager who knew how to compartmentalize and organize, Brother Trager taught me the rudiments of a set of skills I now take with me on the road.
I'm a list nut, always working off a to-do roster. I used to have a big, thick notebook, but I've since junked it. These days, give me a pen, a scrap of memo paper, a beeper, a cell phone, and my PalmPilot (to which I'm addicted), and I'm in business anywhere in the world.
Inject Technology -- and People
To those basics, we at 1-800-FLOWERS have added technology to maximize my time on the road, as well as that of the company's other top executives. We keep in touch by accessing what we call our "digital nervous system." One component is an electronic system -- backed by real people -- that enables us to communicate 24 hours a day, seven days a week. The other component is entirely human: Our staff -- available to us for as many as 15 hours a day, six days a week -- is there to help iron out problems.
Once, when I heard that my flight had been cancelled, I immediately pulled out my cell phone and called the night staff at my office. My people arranged for a charter flight to meet me at the other end of the airport, and the people who would have been disappointed if I had missed a very important speaking engagement never knew that mine was the only flight cancelled out of Chicago that day!
To technology and people, I've added a third leg to my effective-travel stool. I carry a beeper 24 hours a day, and I've made the beeper number available to personal as well as professional associates. If the beeper isn't going off, I know everything is fine.
More Balancing Acts
I'm sold on technology as a means for enabling the best use of my time on the road, but I'm not overly sold. Since I believe that telephones on airplanes are costly and unreliable, for example, I don't generally use them.
What was that I said about cost? Well, consider this other example: Although drivers are more expensive than rental cars, I've been hiring drivers more than I've been renting cars, now that excellent national driving services are available. In this particular balancing act, time trumps cost. With a driver, I can spend my time in transit making calls.
Want more? In general, I use the telephone when I'm mobile -- I'm on the phone from the time I hit the ground in an airport to the moment I sit down for dinner. When I'm stationary, however -- say, when I'm in my hotel room -- I use e-mail.
Making the Best of Your Balance
It's all a matter of balance, you see, and that's just another way of saying it's all a matter of time management. So how can you bring balance into your life on the road? Consider these tips:
- Quick is better than good. Just do it!
- Travel light. And not only with respect to equipment!
- Scheduling is important. (When I hit a market, I'm doing a bunch of things -- a speech in the morning, lunch with a florist, two or three meetings with the media.) Maximize opportunities!
- Cheap isn't always good. See above!
- Do it once. Don't file away anything!
These days the whole world appears to be adapting to the entrepreneurial spirit -- its work habits, work practices, and work attitudes. And the entrepreneurial spirit is permeating life on the road, where balance means making peace with your personal 50%.
Jim McCann is founder and president of 1-800-FLOWERS, a company with $300 million in annual sales.
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