by George Hedley
November 2, 2011

Editor's Note: This article is the last in a series of twelve to lead you toward entrepreneurial excellence by our regular contributor George Hedley, owner of Hedley Construction and Hardhat Presentations. 

Select which reason you think most construction company owners go into business:

___ They like to work eighty hours per week

___ They like to be stressed out

___ They like to be out of control

___ They like to be under-paid

___ They like to be over-worked

___ They like to have no life

___ They like cutthroat competition

___ They like to manage employees

___ They like to deal with other contractors

___ They like the freedom of business ownership

The No. 1 reason entrepreneurs go into business is freedom-freedom from working for someone else; freedom to do business as they please; freedom to say "no" to bad customers, jobs, employees or contracts; and the freedom to go to work if and whenever they want! Many construction owners and managers complain about working too many hours. While speaking at industry conventions, I surveyed attendees about their work habits. How do you compare?

Typical work week:

    - 15 percent work forty hours or less per week
    - 52 percent work up to sixty hours per week
    - 33 percent work over sixty hours per week

The average Fortune 500 company executive works between fifty and sixty hours per week. Unfortunately the forty-hour work week isn't the norm today. Construction executives appear to work the same amount of time or more than their peers in the corporate world. For those of you who are working more and more and enjoying it less and less, consider these questions:

  •     Does earning a living give you time to do any living?
  •     Do you ever stop and wish it would get better?
  •     Are you too busy working to make any money?

Many business owners and managers use up their energy at work and then arrive home too tired to enjoy free time for themselves and people important to them. How do you spend most of your time and energy every week? Most busy entrepreneurs spend 98 percent on putting out fires instead of doing the important things in their business and personal life. Most can't seem to find enough hours in the day to get everything done. This causes them to put business priorities first and postpone their dreams, goals, family and friends.

Are You Living to Work or Working to Live?

Over 90 percent of respondents in a study said they aren't happy with their jobs, careers or business success, yet they continue on for two reasons-financial insecurity and not knowing what else to do. Common responses for staying in their ruts include:

  •     "I can't afford to quit and do what I really want to do."
  •     "I can't get my business to work. I'll just keep working harder and maybe it'll get better some day."
  •     "What else would I do with my time, if I didn't work so many hours?"

I like to say that people become comfortable being uncomfortable!

Common Responses for Staying in Ruts:

  •     "I can't afford to quit and do what I really want to do."
  •     "I can't get my business to work. I'll just keep working harder and maybe it'll get better some day."
  •     "What else would I do with my time, if I didn't work so many hours?"

Do you dream about a future where you'll have more time to do what you want to do? Waiting and dreaming for different outcomes postpones progress towards doing what it takes to make your goals become reality. To enjoy the incredible benefits of business ownership takes focus, clear targets and the ability to work differently. An "On-Purpose...On-Target" business is the result of heading straight for what you want-not just getting by, hoping for more or doing the best you can with what you've got. A full and meaningful life is never built with good intentions!

Do You Take Work Home?

When I was building my construction business, I usually arrived at the office or jobsite at 6:00 A.M. and didn't get home until around 6:30 P.M. I took work home every night including plans to review, projects to bid, invoices to approve and subcontracts to prepare. Over the weekend, I often worked between six to eight hours as well. The time pressures of starting and growing a business never ended. How do you compare to other contractors?

Average take-home work per week

- 40 percent never take work home

- 30 percent take home ten hours of work

- 30 percent take home fifteen hours of work

I became accustomed to doing certain work tasks at home like bid take-offs and estimating. When work hit my desk in the office, I put it into three piles: "Do It Now," "Do It Later" and "Take This Home." I wasted time by doing less important things at the office and took home important tasks to work on late at night when I was tired and inefficient.

I finally realized important things should be done first at the office during normal working hours. To make that happen, I rearranged my daily priorities and got focused. My top priority was keeping the pipeline full of new work. To stay on task, I learned to shut my door and not take calls if I was working on bids. To accomplish this, I delegated less important tasks and decisions. This reduced and eliminated my habit of taking work home.

Several years later, I rearranged my schedule again to be even more efficient. This allows me to work less than forty hours a week if I choose. My early mornings are spent at my home office from 6:00 A.M. until 9:30 A.M. working on "important" business and personal priorities including spending time with my wife. I then go into the office around 10:00 A.M. ready to meet with my staff and handle everyday issues and tasks required in running a busy construction and development company. This schedule works great for me. Now I can go home around 4:00 P.M. everyday and golf Fridays at noon, all without taking any work home.

Are You Living the "American Dream"?

In 1977, I had $5,000 in the bank, a used orange Datsun pickup truck and a good job as a project manager for a commercial construction company. With the $5,000, I bought my first home and had $2,000 left over. So, I figured it would be a good time to start my own construction company. While I was building my business, the important things in life like my family and friends took a backseat. But at the time, the effort seemed worth it. As a result of my several years of hard work, Hedley Construction grew from a start-up company to a $50 million-a-year business that constructs office, industrial and commercial projects.

In those days, my "closest and dearest friends" were the 300 people or companies with whom we did business. I'll never forget Christmas of 1985 when I received only two cards from the 150 employees working for me. Now that's what I call "lonely at the top!" And yet, I was living the so-called "American Dream." I was successful and recognized as a leader in the community and building industry. I belonged to the right clubs and charities. I served on several boards of directors for industry and community organizations and was president of the local builders association and vice president of the American Cancer Society.

I thought I was living my plan-or was I? As I began to evaluate my situation, I discovered I was definitely not living my life on-purpose or on-target. I was out of balance. My calendar was filled with other people's priorities. My business was in control of me. With this so-called "success" came stress, more weight, heart problems, few close friends and less hair. After fifteen years of working and giving to the "max," I knew something was wrong. I was working too many hours, doing it all myself and constantly putting out fires. I didn't enjoying going to work. My business was not working for me. My life was going nowhere fast. I had to learn how to work differently.

I often tell people to make their No. 1 priority their No. 1 priority. Taking my own advice, I decided to start living my priorities. I had to stop letting the pursuit of more stuff, more money, more customers and more jobs control my life. Your daily decisions and activities indicate whether you are living your life on-purpose and on-target. You decide your priorities every day by your actions. Do you:

Take your spouse to dinner       or         Work on another bid

Visit friends                              or         Take work home

Help in the community   or         Visit another jobsite

Go see your family                    or         Stay late at your office

Go to your child's game            or         Meet another customer

Take a two-week vacation        or         Take the weekend off

 

What Are Your Priorities?

Do you:

Take your spouse to dinner       or         Work on another bid

Visit friends                              or         Take work home

Help in the community   or         Visit another jobsite

Go see your family                    or         Stay late at your office

Go to your child's game            or         Meet another customer

Take a two-week vacation        or         Take the weekend off

Do You Own a Prison?

Have you ever watched the old Star Trek episodes? The crew's mission is to "boldly go where no man has gone before." Do you have a significant direction for yourself or are you going where everyone else goes...working sixty to eighty hours per week, totally stressed out and not having any fun? You are what you do. You live your priorities. Actions speak louder than words. If you can't get away from your business, you own a prison. A business which controls all your time and energy is nothing more than a 24/7 job that doesn't pay enough!

The purpose for every entrepreneurial business is to give the owner what the owner wants. Think about what you really want from your business and how it can become the vehicle for you to enjoy your life exactly the way you want. What do you really want to do?

__ Work thirty to forty hours per week

__ Work only four days per week

__ Take several long weekends off every year

__ Take two or more extended vacations annually

__ Give back time to charity or church

__ Spend more time with your spouse

__ Spend lots more time with your children

__ Enjoy a fun hobby or pastime

__ Make and cultivate deep friendships

Do the Right Things!

To me, the definition of real success is enjoying all of your time, all of the time! Many days you work hard expending energy in all sorts of places, on all sorts of activities and in the pursuit of all sorts of things. But throughout each day, you must stop, and take a moment to look at your purpose, priorities, targets and how you spend your time-you must look at the big picture. The biggest mistake you can make is saying "yes" when you know you should say "no." Continually ask yourself if this activity is a good use of your time, money, resources and energy. Ask if your business is moving toward success and giving you what you want. It is meaningless to waste your energy doing the wrong things right.

Make a list of what you want your business to do for you. List your personal goals. When you know where you're headed, you can figure out the best way to get there! Identify what you want now in all areas of your life:

- Family and/or marriage

- Business and career

- Financial

- Spiritual

- Physical

- Mental and educational

- Charity and community

- Fun and recreation

- Social and friends

- Other

Life's Pop Quiz

Choose either to manage your life or let life manage you. Life is an adventure. Life is a journey. Life is exciting! Life's opportunities are infinite. An "On-Purpose...On-Target" life only leaves one dilemma-how to do everything you want before you run out of time. There are so many choices and decisions to make in your lifetime that lead you one way or another and shape your future. Many times you get pulled off course by your business, customers, subcontractors, suppliers, employees, family, friends and life's everyday crazy circumstances. You end up taking paths you didn't want to choose.

Business Pop Quiz

Choose to control your business or let your business control you. Is your problem a lack of time or direction? Only you are responsible for you! Do what's first, first, before things get in the way. People who live "On-Purpose...On-Target" have written plans and balanced goals. They know where they're going, why they do what they do, what they want to get involved with and when to say "no!' They also enjoy every day, have enough time and make their priorities happen.

Stay on Course!

I used to race my 16-foot Hobie-Cat catamaran sailboat nearly every summer weekend. The big race I enjoyed was the San Luis Wind Bash. The wind really howled for that regatta. My brother crewed for me, and together we weighed over 400 pounds (minimum weight was 250). This gave us a lot of ballast to counteract the wind from tipping over our sailboat. My job as captain was strategy, controlling the main sail, steering and locking the rudders in place (they pop up when they hit floating objects). My brother's job was trimming the front jib sail and balancing the boat.

One year, we had placed third and first in two races with the final race to go. As we rounded the fifth and final mark in the last race, we were leading by five boat lengths. The strong wind continued to push us further ahead toward the finish line. With 300 yards to go, we were flying, hiked out on trapeze lines and leading by 15-boat lengths. Suddenly our rudders snapped, unlocked and popped up. The boat made a quick upwind turn off course and slowly drifted to a stop as we flew back into the boat in total disarray. We scurried about securing the rudders, trimming the sails and paddling until the boat slowly began moving again. With a little luck, we got back to full speed just ahead of the trailing boats and cut across the finish line in first place by only two boat lengths. Wow! A victory.

Racing a Hobie-Cat is a lot like business and life. You know your target-to get to a final destination and cross the finish line. Rudders, like goals and targets, keep you on course and headed in a straight line. But, it doesn't take much to knock you off track, force you to slow down and drift. Well-defined goals allow you to re-adjust back toward your target when you go off course. Imagine a contractor setting out to build a project without blueprints, specifications or plans. It would be impossible to build it exactly as dreamed or contemplated by the owner. Without a precise set of working drawings or plans with clearly identified targets and specifications, you'll get off track and never hit your goals.

Time Off for Good Behavior?

I always dreamed of taking lots of vacations as a reward for business ownership. But this seemed impossible while building my business. My mistake was thinking I had to do everything myself and make every big decision. I didn't trust my people enough. But later, I realized I wasn't really as important or as smart as I thought. I tried an experiment and took a ten-day vacation without calling the office. Upon returning, I discovered my managers had actually done a better job than I would have if I'd stayed at the office and continued to micro-manage them. I realized my management style was the problem with my employees.

The survey below I conducted of construction company owners and managers indicates 65 percent take less than two weeks of vacation annually. They must also think they're too important to have their employees manage their company or a few days. Only 35 percent realize time off is good for their business and personal life. How do you compare?

Vacation days per year:

- 15 percent take 0 to 5 days

- 15 percent take 6 to 10 days

- 35 percent take 11 to 14 days

- 25 percent take 15 to 20 days

- 10 percent take over 20 days

How Do You Compare?

I've been a business owner for over twenty-nine years and now realize the value of time off. When I work too much, I make mistakes, tend to micro-manage, make less money and miss great opportunities. Now, when I head home for the weekend or off on vacation, I have two purposes in mind. First, I spend time on family, faith, friends, fitness or fun. Second, I work on bettering my business skills by reading business books or magazines on topics in which I need to improve. When I come back to the office, my mind has been focused on solving problems or seeking opportunities; I am filled with new ideas and refreshed and excited about the future.

Be Free!

It's your choice how you spend your time. Put your priorities first, and reap the real rewards of business ownership. Make a commitment to put yourself, your family and your future first. That will be the best decision you make today and tomorrow. Successful entrepreneurs don't do the work. They act and think like owners. As a result, they have lots of time to enjoy the benefits of a business that works for them. Only you can make the reason you went into business become a reality: Freedom! See you at the beach!

Construction Business Owner, December 2006