Although most serious entrepreneurs flaunt their 14-hour days and 80-hour weeks like so many battle scars, Jacqueline de Baer manages to be in the office at nine each day, and out nine hours later, with clockwork efficiency. 'My children's nanny clocks off at six, so I have no choice,' she explains, 'even if I have to walk out of a meeting.'
De Baer's achievement is all the more remarkable when you realise that she runs her own business complete with 70 employees and a pounds 9 million turnover. Yet she arrives home in time to put her three children to bed, and even manages to fit in a couple of games of tennis each week.
To find such time in the day takes an unusual degree of focus, which De Baer certainly has. Yet, more practically, it also calls for large reserves of cash. De Baer estimates that she and her husband spend up to pounds 50,000 a year making more time for themselves. She calls it 'buying time' and it includes employing a nanny, a gardener and a cleaner to keep the household in order.
It also means that De Baer doesn't waste time shopping around for the cheapest option.
Rather than spend several hours choosing the best-value family holiday, she is more likely to book somewhere she's already visited or that a friend has recommended. Shopping around may appeal to the cost-conscious, but it's the worst enemy of the time-seeker.
De Baer's achievement is that she has developed her own philosophy of time management, based around making your lifestyle fit your values, rather than vice versa. She has incorporated this into her own business, also called De Baer, which supplies corporate clothing to the likes of Marriott Hotels, BA's low-cost airline Go!, and rail operator Virgin West Coast. De Baer, 42, happened into the business by accident 16 years ago, when she was working on her own fashion lines, and was asked to design some beachwear for Thomson Holidays' reps.
Now she describes her business as brand-building, using the medium of staff clothing, and, as well as the main office near the Oval in South London, she has manufacturing operations in Morocco and south-east Asia.
Her philosophy was not so much inspired by reading a weighty tome on the subject, she says, as born out of necessity. 'If you are the kind of person who pushes themselves, who always tries to do the maximum both at work and at play, then you have to find ways to make the most of your time.'
Yet she also stresses that it is a matter of choice. 'It is a question of deciding what is important in your life. The things that are really important to me include my time outside work, my family and my health.
I could make myself a slave to cleaning and laundry, but I don't think those things are important, so I pay someone else to do them.'
It may sound like a statement of the obvious, but De Baer is convinced that many people never quite come to this realisation.
'A lot of people spend long hours at work because they haven't decided that rest is important. One thing I've learned is that you have to really want to spend time doing things in order to do them. Or to put it another way: if you really want to do something then you'll find time. So it's really a question of recognising who you are.'
She is an ardent believer in the creed of self-awareness, explaining: 'You have to look at what your drivers are, as well as your values. My key driver is to make some things look better in an innovative way, whether that be my garden or the clothes I design. One of my main values is health.'
Staff at De Baer are encouraged to set themselves goals, both on a personal level and a business level. 'The important thing is to achieve a balance between work and life outside work. There is one girl here who wanted to take part in the Whitbread round-the-world yacht race, but she thought it would be out of synch with the business. She came to see us and we said yes, she could do it. It will mean her being out of the office for two months, but we decided we could live with that.'
In practice, much of De Baer's time-saving is achieved by employing others to do the work. Her husband runs his own business, so it is vital that they have a full-time nanny to look after the children, aged six, four and two. The same nanny has been with them for four years, and De Baer says it is important that she is relieved punctually every evening. 'One of the things that she values about me is that I'm back at six o'clock, and I value her continuity, so it matters to both of us.'
The De Baers' decision to live in Stockwell is another time-saving choice. 'It takes me 15 minutes to walk to work. We have always planned where we lived so that it was close to our respective work. I like living in Stockwell, but I used to joke that there were only two roads in London that we could move to.'
She concedes that not everybody at the office can leave by six, as she does, but believes that they recognise the necessity for her to do so because of the needs of her children. 'Most do leave by then, and it is certainly not the culture of the company to work late, although there are inevitable peaks of activity.'
She has spent occasional weekends at work when necessary, but she is more likely to use the time at home after supper to catch up on special projects. She avoids travel, in spite of having substantial supply operations overseas. 'We have an office in Morocco, but I'm not the one who goes there, because I'm not needed,' she says.
Delegation is the classic time-saving strategy, but one that many people struggle with in practice. De Baer says she has successfully stepped back from the day-to-day running of the business, leaving her free to focus on activities such as development of new products and services, and client relationships.
'Part of the key to time management,' she believes, 'is not trying to do too much. I don't make lists because it just makes you stressed when you can't do everything on the list. I firmly believe that the things which I've thought of doing each day are the most important things; your brain doesn't give you more work than you can actually do.'
Doing things quickly, she believes, is largely about clarity. 'It's very easy to waste time if you don't have enough direction. If you get something clear in your mind, you can do it much faster. I mull things over in the bath a lot, then go out and do them quickly. And some of my best work is carried out on the walk to and from work, getting things straight.'
Outside work, De Baer has various ways of saving time. Gardening in the dark, for one. She explains: 'My husband has put up floodlights so I can work on the garden after dark. You have to think out of the box sometimes. I enjoy making the garden look nice and it's important to me, but you have to make the time to do this kind of thing.'
To squeeze tennis into her schedule, she plays one day a week at seven in the morning, another day at lunchtime.
As for shopping, she doesn't search the high street for clothes for herself or the children, but buys from catalogues or over the internet, late in the evening. The occasional visits are designed to keep in touch with what's on offer.
As a consumer, she says, she doesn't spend time researching her purchases.
She has no idea how much a pint of milk costs, since her nanny does the grocery shopping. Delegation can clearly take many forms.
Recognising that she is relatively cash-rich and time-poor, she opts for convenience and speedy choice in preference to the best price. 'We'll go on holiday to the same villa in Spain we went to last year. It's a perfectly good place and the children love it, so I can't see the point in presenting myself with extra choices. Somebody told me about a nice skiing hotel in Megeve so I just booked it. I haven't got time for trawls.'
She appreciates that she's able to do all this by virtue of being successful, and through being her own boss. But she insists that it is all about making your own priorities and not 'sweating the small stuff'. She adds: 'If I had the choice between having an immaculate desk and being home for my children - or playing a game of tennis, for that matter - I know that I would choose the last two. Some things can wait.'
HOW TO SAVE THREE HOURS A DAYS
- Buy some time. Hire someone to do the drudge jobs you don't want to do like cleaning and shopping.
- Schedule your leisure. Put a visit to the gym or a game of tennis in your diary and ring-fence it. That way it will happen.
- Set realistic objectives. If you set yourself daily work targets that can be achieved, you're more likely to get there, and go home feeling satisfied.
- Get it straight. If you embark on a task that's ill-defined, you'll waste half the time you spend on it deciding what the task is.
- Limit your choice. Whether you're choosing a conference venue or hiring someone, shorten the list as quickly as you can. If you find an ideal option, grab it - don't always feel there's a better alternative round the corner.
- Get it delivered. Travel is the biggest time-waster of all. Whether it's shopping, dry cleaning or office supplies, order it via phone or internet.