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Edition 170 – Cramming

In my very first semester of University in 1986, word did the rounds prior to the first half exams that No Doze was effective in helping you cram for exams. At a tick over 18 at that time, I listened, considered then decided – performance enhancing drugs for accounting undergraduates – what’s the harm in giving that a go?

Somehow, I scrambled the cash together (cash was tight as a full time student and pharmaceuticals were expensive) and I gave it a shot.

I read the instructions, found some water and popped two tablets. I then proceeded to stack my desk high with text books, then wade through them in preparation for the next day’s exam.

Except, something funny happened. No Doze had No Effect! I still felt tired as the evening wore on late and in the end, packed it in and went to bed. I can’t remember what happened the next day, however I passed the exam.

The next week, with another set of exams for a different subject, I employed a different strategy. I studied until the early evening, without the assistance of performance enhancing drugs, pulled up stumps early, switched off for a while, then headed for lights out.

The next day, I sat the exam and passed that one as well.

Each experience, a week apart, taught me three very valuable lessons that I’ve carried with me ever since:

  1. Cramming late for an exam was hopeless – whilst the hours may have been available, the brain was fried and simply couldn’t absorb any more information.
  2. Finishing up early the night before something important and having a good night’s rest, are as important for your preparation as the content of your task.
  3. However good your task, project or preparation is the night before it will be good enough to get you through the next day. Cramming something else in was only pushing another thing out.

I’m telling you this today because I’m observing a high level of incidence of cramming at the moment.  Some recent examples:

  1. Family business owners filling up every available spot in their diary to make appointments, take calls and work on the work of their business.
  2. Weekends being encroached upon by travel so that “valuable” time in the work week is not lost flying from point “A” to point “B”.
  3. The candle being burnt at both ends in order to satisfy the demands of clients, employees, suppliers and bankers.

If you’re cramming every available minute of every day, it is my honest belief that you cannot function effectively in life or in your family business. As I was reminded by a very wise person recently, we are human beings, not human doings – and at the moment, I’m observing a lot of “doing”, but not a lot of “being”.

When you’re “being”, you allow yourself to empty your thoughts and do something relaxing, or do nothing. A recent afternoon on the beach, just “being”, was incredibly soothing. The bathwater warmth of the water. The softness of the sand. The cruise ship leaving port in the distance. Children playing in the shallows with their parents and grandparents. It was the perfect antidote to what had been a busy and taxing week.

Cramming is not an efficient way to operate as an entrepreneur or manager in a family business. If a long distance truck driver can only operate for a certain number of hours per day for safety reasons, maybe the same should apply for entrepreneurs and managers – for the decisions they’re making when they’re cramming may not be that safe for anyone.

As a human being, what are you spending time “being” (not doing) this week?