On a bright summer morning, a group of Eyedea young women gathered over brunch at the Alfred Tennyson restaurant to learn about ‘time’ – understanding, managing and not being overwhelmed by it – from Alex Hess, Partner and Head of Fundraising & Investor Relations at Cinven, the European private equity firm.
Based on the talk in the Stanford Graduate School of Business Lean In series ‘Rethinking Time: The Power of Multipliers’ , which align goals and execute them by creating ‘multipliers’ (activities that achieve multiple goals) – Alex embodies how a busy, successful and professional woman deals with the plethora of to-dos and choices. She has a wealth of experience across industries having worked in strategic consulting, at the World Bank, in asset management, investment banking and private equity in New York, California and London before joining Cinven. Alex owns the room from the word go, providing pertinent and practical advice, interspersed with personal stories from her family life with her husband and son Luke (who at 8 years old is already growing up to be a genius!).
Besides being a highly successful professional woman within private equity – one of the most male dominated and work-intensive industries – she talks about being a wife, mother, daughter, godmother, Trustee of The Photographer’s Gallery and a photography collector, as well as a Founder of Level 20 (an organisation she co-founded with other senior women in private equity to attract and retain more women to the industry so by 2020 women represent 20% of all senior roles).
Alex asks us an important question. “Does anyone feel like they have enough time?” – A resounding silence follows. As I am scribbling down what I actually do with my day (a task she sets so we think through how we apportion our 24 hours), Alex talks about her own experience, her many roles and, although she agrees her life is pretty full, she feels lucky rather than beleaguered by it all, a great outlook! Alex then points out that there really is no such thing as a work-life balance. All of us in the room are ambitious, that’s how we got to where we are. The desire to always want do more when there is never enough time is a trap that catches us all. In fact, we shouldn’t be fooled into thinking that there’s someone who has figured it all out. Life’s an imbalance and that’s OK! However, being honest with yourself about what you want to achieve and how you want to achieve it does help, by setting ourselves clear goals. For example – get fit, get a promotion, become an entrepreneur, get a husband, be rich. Those are all OK goals, as long as you’re honest about them. Don’t keep saying you’ll quit that job, if you actually really want that promotion. Alex continues with a pertinent questions: what, when you look back at your life do you want it to say about you? Figure it out and then edit the unimportant things.
We move on to some of Alex’s practical tips for great time management:
Scheduling meetings: When you schedule a meeting, schedule it for 10.45 rather than 10.30 – it’s likely that you’ll get things done in 15 minutes and save another 15, rather than stretching it out for 30 for the sake of it.
Make time for the important work: Start with what is important and create space to do that rather than deal with a plethora of emails.
Stay away from the rabbit hole: Avoid the downward spiral of the rabbit hole. Let’s take an example: you open Instagram and see a celeb getting married. You don’t need 45 minutes to check who designed her dress, which other celebs have worn the designer’s gowns, who did she date before she got married, etc…But if you do go down the rabbit hole, set aside time for it in the evening or weekend and don’t do it sheepishly as if you’re meant to be doing something else – enjoy the guilty pleasures!
Think about how your performance is measured: Let’s say you decide to work four days a week, and a client wants you in on that fifth day (Friday). Your instinct is likely to be to juggle it and try to make the meeting. No! Ask yourself a few questions first. Does that meeting make a difference? Would you cancel a meeting with another client to see the first one? If not – take that Friday off! Learning how to say ‘no’ is important.
Don’t try to legislate for the rest of your life: Take it in chunks. How many times have you sat there trying to be the best at everything and then giving up? At some points in your life you will want to have more time for your children, parents, grandparents and more! At other times, you will need more time for work. That’s fine – don’t do everything at once.
The Pareto principle – a term I must admit I only heard a few weeks ago. It says 80% of the impact is actually only produced by 20% of the effort.
“You are so lucky to work with her” is the resounding line I hear as Alex finishes her talk and Q&A. I promptly download Headspace (an app she recommends) to my phone and also note down my list of ‘rules’ – and promise myself I’m going to stick to them!
As I walk out of brunch, taking on that positive attitude of being empowered by time rather than beleaguered by it – I reflect on my busy life and how to manage and enjoy it at the same time.
About the author
Anastasya studied Philosophy, Politics and Economics at the University of Oxford and has previously worked in M&A at Deutsche Bank. She is currently an Associate at European private equity firm Cinven in London. She has a keen interest in sport (long distance running) as well as exploring the multitude of activities London has to offer with her friends.