How Eli Broad Works 24/7—And Still Gets 8 Hours Of Sleep Every Night

The philanthropist and KB Home founder on how he mastered his time to master his life.

People who have been in meetings with me have probably heard me say, "Let’s move on." That’s how I tell people they’re on the verge of wasting my time.

Time is the most valuable thing you have—and I’m not just talking about the minutes for which you’re paid.

I try to be in control of all of my time—from the first hours after I wake, to the slower hours before bed, to all those little minutes that get eaten up by idle chatter during meetings. Being stingy with your time is the key to working 24/7 but still getting 8 hours of sleep, as I do almost every night.

Work doesn't have to be your life, but your life is your work 

As my wife, Edye, often says, I am not great at the so-called work-life balance. I work all the time. I’ve even pursued my hobbies with the same intensity I apply to my work, from stamp collecting as a kid to art collecting as an adult. I never play golf because it takes too long, and the business connections it produces can be made just as easily over an early breakfast. I never stay anywhere—parties, museums, meetings—longer than 3 hours.

I also know I’m happiest when my work and my life feel like one and the same, not like two opposites to be balanced. I am a workaholic because I consider everything I do part of my work. It’s one reason I put our family name on buildings. I’m proud of what I do in the office and outside it.

Know what you have to do, which is less than you think

The best way to take control of your time is to know what you must do.

Thinking that everything is important, that every request from other people has to be answered with a yes, will make 24 hours seem inadequate. In fact, there are very few things that you truly have to do. This category should include only the things that make you run—the things you couldn’t live or work without. Nothing else comes close to being crucial.

When I launched Kaufman and Broad, I knew there were two things I absolutely had to do. One was to get 8 hours of sleep. Without that, my other 16 hours just wouldn’t be what they could be. The second was to make all the decisions about land, particularly when we began to treat it as a raw material.

Where to buy land was not a decision I could afford to screw up. I never let anyone else have the final word on land as long as I was in charge of the company. From the time we were a local builder buying a few dozen lots to our years as an international company building thousands of houses a year, I signed off on every land decision. I made sure always to know where we were buying, what the market was like there, and what each lot would do for us.

Anyone in any job can narrow his or her task list to the one that really matters. That’s the job that should get your greatest—in fact, undivided—attention. It’s the decision you want to make at your most alert moments. It’s the task that earns you your salary, pays for your free time, determines the success of your company, and—when you do it right—makes you feel the most capable and proud.

Setting priorities means being disciplined, but not rigid

Without adequate rest, it’s hard to take a disciplined approach to using your time or to setting priorities, which is what makes effective use of your time possible. Making land decisions was not, of course, the only thing required of me as CEO of Kaufman and Broad. I couldn’t, say, slack off on reviewing our financials, ditch the shareholder call, or ignore meetings with analysts. For everything else I had to do, I prioritized.

Prioritizing isn’t just about making a list and checking off the boxes. It is something you should be doing constantly. Circumstances change throughout the day—emergency meetings are called, colleagues dream up new initiatives, a sudden inspiration comes to you at the coffeemaker—and your priorities can’t stay rigid. Be flexible but also keep in mind what’s most important.

If you can't delegate, it's not them, it's you

Once you’ve identified your crucial tasks and sorted out your priorities, try to find a way to delegate everything else. The inability to delegate is one of the biggest problems I see with managers at all levels.

The trick to delegating is to make sure your employees share your priorities. Bosses should make clear what qualifies as an emergency, which situations require a team, individual, or leader response, and how far each person’s duties and abilities can be stretched.

Find the best people to whom you can delegate, and know their strengths and weaknesses. If you think you can do it better, delegate anyway and try as hard as you can to close that gap by giving your colleague or employee the right feedback. Then recognize and accept that just because someone does something a little differently than you would, that doesn’t mean it’s wrong. What counts is that your goals get accomplished at a sufficient level of quality.

Try saying "Let's move on"—even to me 

As much as I value my time, I value everyone else’s too. A lot of executives act like their time is worth more than anyone else’s. But I always respect an employee who guards his or her time, even from me. I start meetings punctually, and if I don’t, I apologize. When I say, "Let’s move on"—and you should try saying it a lot more—I’m protecting my time and yours.

The bottom line is, watch your time like you watch your money. And repeat after me: Let’s move on.

—Author Eli Broad is a philanthropist and cofounder, along with his wife, Edythe, of The Broad Foundations. He created two Fortune 500 companies, KB Homes and SunAmerica. 

Excerpted with permission of the publisher John Wiley & Sons, Inc. from The Art of Being Unreasonable: Lessons in Unconventional Thinking by Eli Broad. Copyright (c) 2012 by Eli Broad. This book is available at all bookstores and online booksellers.

[Image: Flickr user Aftab Uzzaman]

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