Yoshito Hori speaks about leadership lessons with enthusiasm in a suit and tie

The Japan Masters Championships, a swimming competition, was held on Umi no Hi, the last of Japan’s public holidays. This year, it was held in Osaka, so I went down to the Osaka Namihaya Dome. It was the second year in a row for me to compete at the Masters.

I suffered a crushing defeat. Of course I did. I hadn’t been able to find time to practice, so it was really no surprise. But I’ve decided to take this opportunity to re-think how I use my time.

Time management eludes me, simply because I try to do too many things. My wife agreesーI’m just overloaded.

Of course, my hands are full with my main business: a venture capital business and a business school. These are my highest priorities, so I give them the time they need. The problem is dividing up my personal time outside of work to accommodate my hobbies, social life, and family. I’ve got to start making time for all these things.

In addition to competing in the Japan Masters Championships, I was also considering a triathlon this year. That meant practicing my crawl stroke and getting used to long-distance swimming, which is why I competed for the first time in the 200 m freestyle event at the Japan Masters (and one of the reasons I lost so badly). A triathlon includes running and riding a bike, as well as swimming. The running portion goes for 10 km, while the bike portion is 40 km. I have to run a lot and build up aerobic endurance.

In addition to all this, I participate in a Go competition every quarter. These are serious competitions that result in both promotions and demotions in rank. I’m still stuck at the first dan level, and I really want to advance.

As a businessman, I obviously read newspapers. Every day without fail I read The Nikkei and The Nikkei Business Daily—two of Japan’s most authoritative business papers—as well as The Financial Times. I also subscribe to several magazines, such as Nikkei BusinessBusiness Week, and Red Herring (a US high-tech venture journal). I make sure I read all of these. I read the Go Weekly magazine from cover to cover and videotape Go tutorials on television.

This is all part of my routine for maintaining my English, keeping pace with recent business and technology developments, and brushing up my Go skills. In spite of all this reading, I still don’t get enough information on technology, so I also regularly check things out online. Then my routine gets broken up by business trips or other responsibilities, and things start to pile up.

On top of this, I have to make time for my family. I’ve got four boys, so I can’t afford to lose any family time. On my days off, I play soccer and baseball with them, and in the evening, I take them on at chess, Shogi, and Go. As a father, this is an area in which I absolutely can’t fall behind.

I take part in a number of management associations. I’m on the board of Keizai Doyukai (Japan Association of Corporate Executives) and serve as the deputy chairman of the New Business Creation Committee. I am the founding chairman of the Young Entrepreneurs’ Organization (YEO) and recently joined the Young Presidents’ Organization (YPO). I’m a board member of the Japan Venture Capital Association and will soon begin a term as a board member of the Japan Private Equity Association. I participate in the Davos forum and maintain an overseas network of contacts. Starting July 1, I’ll be on the board of directors of the Alumni Association at the Harvard Business School. I’m just the second Japanese man to be appointed to this board, which will require me to travel to Boston three times a year for the next three years.

Then there’s this column, which I try and write at least once a week, and my diary on GREE. (I’m generally not a diligent writer, but I seem to be keeping up with this, since it is kind of fun).

With all this, I need to make every minute count. That requires a degree of scheming.

For the trip to Osaka, I combined the Japan Masters’ Championships with a visit to Ise with family and friends. Since we were going all the way to Ise, I figured we might as well factor in Expo 2005 in Aichi. The Expo is packed on holidays and weekends, so we took the kids out of school on Friday for the trip. (In the long run, the kids would learn a lot by going to the exhibition despite missing a day of school.) On the evening before the last day of the trip, I left the kids with family friends and headed up to Osaka alone on the last Kintetsu express train.

The next morning, I headed out early to the tournament venue, arriving at the Namihaya Dome at 8 in the morning to greet the coach. I had hardly done any practicing this year, which was a bit embarrassing, but I’d set a goal to enter this competition 10 years in a row and set a world record for my age bracket.

Before the start of the race, I swam in the main pool and then psyched myself up by swimming in the sub-pool. This was my first time competing at this distance, so I didn’t really know how to pace myself.

While I was waiting for my race, someone approached me and asked, “Aren’t you Mr. Hori?” It was a man who had learned I was taking part in the tournament from my blog. We had previously exchanged emails, and he had come today to say hi.

He’s the same age as me and had been a swimmer at a public university in Kansai, back when I won the Kansai national and public university swimming meets. We spent a little time reminiscing, and then, as he watched, my 200m freestyle race began.

The first 100 meters went really well, but things started going awry on the second 100 meters. The result was shocking. My lap time for the entire 200m freestyle was 8 seconds slower than his 200m split time in the 400m race he had entered. He urged me to go to the sub-pool at the side of the stadium. I did some thinking while taking a few slow laps to relax my worn-out body.

I decided then that enough was enough. I wasn’t getting anywhere by trying to do everything. I had to rethink my priorities and only use my time for what was really important. Otherwise I’d only ever do things halfway and never complete anything.

And so, I committed to restructuring my personal time.

First, I decided to limit myself to activities that bear results, like competitions and presentations. I want to continue swimming, playing Go, and writing. So I decided to focus my time on these three things. Unfortunately, that meant other things had to go, but that’s just part of any restructuring.

The next morning, I was on my way to Silicon Valley for a business trip. Before departing from Narita Airport, I called my friend who had invited me to the triathlon and informed him I would not be taking part after all. On the plane, I looked over the many magazines I had brought along (Business WeekRed Herring, etc.). After finishing some routine work, I read a technology business book and got down to writing my column.

This column. From now on, I’ll use my travel time more effectively, focusing only on the things that are truly important.

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