I've been working with a bunch of interns and twenty-somethings of late. As I pondered their strengths and weaknesses - some want and need some direction and guidance, others won't take it - I remembered my first hiring effort from many years ago. It happened soon after my first management job as manager of capital budgeting for a large automotive parts manufacturer. I was asked to be part of the company's MBA recruitment effort and three days later was sent to a major university to compete with the likes of IBM, Ford and P&G to recruit the best of the bunch.

My boss, Chuck Jacob, and I interviewed the first student together for 30 minutes. After 20 minutes of interviewing, Chuck gave his famous 10-minute recruiting pitch. It went something like this:
Time is your most valuable asset; don't waste it. If you go to Ford, IBM or P&G you'll learn a lot in the first year or two, but after that expect slow growth. Worse, you'll be stuck fighting bureaucracy and old ways of thinking. Worse still, if you stay too long, you'll never be able to change. However, at our company you'll be able to get two to three years experience in your first year, and if successful, you'll get promoted rapidly. We're in the process of turning around a billion dollar business and you can be part of it.

The pitch worked. It was also true. We hired four of the best MBAs we met that day and all went on to remarkable careers. Chuck was the number two financial guy at the group and only 28 at the time. Before he passed away at too early an age, Chuck became the number one financial guy at two publicly traded companies.

Since then, I've worked with hundreds of top performers. Some were quickly promoted. Others forged their own careers or assigned critical roles within their organizations. Regardless, many followed these tried and true techniques on how to maximize their use of time. You might find them useful as you launch or restart your career.

Some Powerful Lessons on How to Maximize Your Use of Time

  1. Don't wait for directions or ask for permission. As long as you're moving forward you'll get kudos. Not doing anything is worse than doing the wrong thing.
  2. Don't be afraid to make important decisions. Being too cautious over the years is a huge time waster. You'll wind up about where you started.
  3. Always consider the big picture. Tell people where you're going before you tell them how to get there. Once you get in the weeds you'll be lost.
  4. Listen more than you talk. Adopt all of Stephen Covey's seven habits but most important "Seek first to understand then to be understood."
  5. Strategy drives tactics, not the other way around. Don't let a bunch of tactics, rules and processes define your strategy.
  6. Don't make excuses. Doing something is better than doing nothing. Even good excuses aren't good enough.
  7. Timeliness is more important than quality. You rarely need to be perfect. So get something done as soon as you can and then make it better if time permits.
  8. Don't complain. If you see something wrong, fix it. If you need money to fix it, ask for it. Asking is good practice even if you get turned down, so ask often.
  9. Volunteer to handle projects big and small and those over your head. This is how you exceed expectations, by doing more than expected.
  10. Gain a multi-functional perspective. This is huge. You need to appreciate and understand the point of view and needs of other people and other functions. This is how you create win-win situations and broaden your own vision.
  11. Work the system. Proactively get the viewpoint of others as you apply lesson four. This is how to build multi-functional and executive support ahead of time for the stuff you want to fix.
  12. Constantly get better. You can get 10-20% better every year by being more efficient. You can get 50-100% better by being different.

Whatever you do over the next 2-3 years will impact the next 5-10. Time truly is your most valuable asset; don't waste it.