Why this MD blocks out his diary a year in advance

BDO's Paul Eagland says there's an art to time management.

by Stephen Jones
Last Updated: 07 Aug 2019

The hardest part of Paul Eagland's job is the "overpowering" feeling of being responsible for 5,000 people.

There are inevitably highs that come with being MD of BDO, now Britain's fifth biggest accountancy firm since merging with Moore Stephens in 2019, with hundreds of clients and revenues of nearly £600m a year, but these are balanced he says by the realisation that  at any one time a percentage of his staff are going to be struggling with their own mental or personal problems.

His coping mechanism, apart from a slew of internal processes and support, is making sure that he is around when people need him to be, and that takes some work. Luckily, during his nearly three decades at the firm, he’s devised some methods to make sure he gets the most out of his day. 

Plan a year ahead

"A byproduct of being responsible for 5,000 people is that there will be some people that would like - and need - to spend more time with you, but you’ve got to be careful with your time. You would end up useless if you just run ragged. 

"I’m kind of OCD in terms of planning my time. In the October of the year before I will block in all of the global meetings, all of the set engagement pieces like conferences, then I book in my holidays with my wife and family around those in my calendar. 

"I leave time in my annual plan for contingencies. I know there's going to be 12 or so really difficult things to deal with this year, I just don't know what they are yet. So I need to allocate the time.

"It's a beautiful calendar with 12 months colour coded, but it makes a huge difference and that itself helps me cope with what I'm planning for."

Understand yourself

"It’s important to understand what type of person you are and there are some really good studies you can do online to work out if you’re a morning or evening person. I’m more of an evening person, so I set my diary by reference to when I know I will perform at my best.  

"I know I definitely perform better if I miss the rush hour so I set all of my meetings from 10 o’clock onwards and then I know I’m happy to work generally late into the evening. 

"That doesn't mean I don’t get up - I still get my three mile walk in -  but I'm always a little bit shocked when someone tells you that they get up at five o'clock to go to the gym for two hours and then they're at their desk by nine.  

"Some people love starting early but that is definitely not me. I am genuinely much better if I've done some exercise and I've got huge energy to deal with the day."

It’s top down, but there is no beautiful algorithm

"That realisation that working harder and faster isn’t the solution is so important. Time is the limiting factor in all of our worlds so therefore you have to be really clear in your mind how you spend that time, including looking after yourself and your family and all of your work responsibilities. Then make sure that you build a team around you to deliver on that. 

"At BDO we've got pretty flexible policies that are very difficult to describe because most people work them out as they go along by reference to their team and by what’s required by clients. 

"So there's not one beautiful algorithm that works for everyone. That's the other thing that I'm super conscious of. I find that people become obsessed with trying to label best practice and I'm not sure there is always a best practice. You can create frameworks of bright, intelligent people by giving them autonomy and purpose."

Image credit: Closeup Photography of Two Spring Notebooks via Pexels


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