Matters Column

The dilemma of choosing how to allocate your time

July 11, 2014
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PepsiCo CEO Indra K. Nooyi has stated you cannot have it all. That is a classic BFO — a blinding flash of the obvious. 

Nooyi is one of America’s highest-ranked female executives in America and is compensated accordingly. For some reason this remarkable businesswoman makes a statement that, like the Geico ads, is something everybody already knows.

All of us have a limited amount of time and energy. So like any limited resource, time and energy must be allocated. How you allocate your time and effort indicates the value or benefit you attribute to each activity. 

As I was approaching retirement, my attorney asked me if there was anything I regretted not having done. I said there were times I wished I would have had the prestige of being a partner in a large firm. He asked what I had done to accomplish that goal. I said I had done nothing. He observed that I must not have wanted it very badly. 

In the world of business, we are constantly faced with decisions that boil down to an either/or situation. We think of a budget as a financial tool in which we allocate our revenue or savings to various expenses or investments. The allocation of funds is normally done on paper and thought out. The allocation of time is usually a reaction to circumstances as opposed to a plan. 

The ultimate goal is that, at the end of your life, you can say you lived it to your satisfaction. 

Part of that equation is living your life to match your skills and temperament. There are woman who make exceptional executives but lack the temperament to stay home with kids. There are men who lack the tools to run a corporation but have a gift for children. 

Like all life decisions, the choice as to who will be the primary breadwinner is open to scrutiny by friends and relatives. At the end of your allotted time here on earth, do you want to do what’s best for your spouse and children or live by the opinion of others?

So the goal — if you can't have it all — is to get as much as you can. There are many factors to consider when deciding how you want to allocate your time. One factor is recognizing what you are good at. A thousand hours of practice would make me a mediocre musician. Take your gift and develop it. 

The beauty of owning a small business is the freedom to develop your talent to suit your ends — not your boss’s. The freedom that comes with being self-employed also comes with the responsibility for how your business career plays out. There is no one to blame if your career does not meet your expectations.

If you work for a business, company policy determines your time allocation. If you are self-employed, you decide whether to make one more sales call or go to the kids’ soccer game. If you break company policy, you may get fired. If you choose to skip the kids’ soccer game, you may miss a valuable opportunity. The choice is yours. 

I don't remember anyone in 45 years in business that did not face that quandary. High-profile people in large corporations are not the only ones who must make tough decisions about where to put their effort and time. We all have to face that dilemma.

One of my observations about life choices is that some people harbor life-altering remorse over the path not taken. I remember a dinner 30 years ago at which a man bemoaned his lost opportunity to become a major league baseball player. Granted, life as a major league athlete is appealing, but few people talk about the other side of a sports or entertainment career: The competition is brutal. The travel is tiring. The potential for glory is matched by the potential for humiliating failure. To choose a career in sports or entertainment must be factored in with the difficulty of being a functioning family member. 

When the CEO of Pepsico says you can't have it all, the media listens. Every morning all over the world, people face the dilemma of making choices about what to do that day. Movies portray the lives of athletes, military leaders and politicians. Rarely do movies pay attention to the dilemmas facing everyday people. I have found all the makings of a great movie in the struggles of unknown people who are the backbone of our economy.

No one who has ever lived had it all. To wish for it all or bemoan not having it all is foolish. When you see Olympic champions with gold medals around their necks, you do not see the effort that went into that accomplishment. Those athletes did not hang out at the student union or local bar socializing with the other kids. When you see a CEO step up to the dais to accept an award, you do not see the sacrifices the CEO’s family made to help achieve that goal. 

My father was the general superintendent of the Buick plants in Flint. When I was 7, I was burned to the extent of spending a month in the hospital. My father did not visit me: In the 1940s, his job was to provide well for his family, and it was July — a very busy time for him at work. On the other hand, when I wanted to go to college, it was simply a matter of picking a university. Did that even things out? I don't know. But that is the yin and yang of not being able to have it all. My parents had made a deal: My mother would have a large family and my father would make sure she did not have to worry about finances. 

Being a CPA gave me a marvelous opportunity to see how work and family mix. There is an old method of decision making that is pretty effective: Write down the pros and cons involved in your decision when choosing a career. Rank them by importance. Don't be swayed by conventional wisdom. Conventional wisdom is the wisdom of the masses. Have you checked out the masses lately? 

Make a choice, then figure out how to best mitigate the negatives and maximize the positives. In the end, you make the life you and your family choose. You won't get it all. Settle for most of it.

Paul Hense is the retired president of local accounting firm Hense & Associates and past chairman of the Small Business Association of Michigan.

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