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JUL 19, 2005

Restructuring My Personal Time—What I Decided at the Japan Masters

By Yoshito Hori

The Japan Masters Championships were held on Marine Day (Umi no hi), the last day of the 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.

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

Time management just bewilders me. The reason is simple. I just try to do too many things. According to my wife, I’m just overloaded.

Of course my hands are full with my main business, a venture capital business and a business school. These are simply 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 decide to make 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 200m freestyle event at the Japan Masters (this was 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 league competition every quarter. These are serious competitions, and you can be promoted or demoted. I’m still stuck at the first dan level, and I really want to advance to the next level soon.

And, 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 WeekRed 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. When my routine gets broken up by things like business trips and things pile up out of control, I try to find extra time to catch up on my reading as far as possible. I read a lot of other stuff besides these newspapers and magazines. 

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 the boys, and in the evening, I take them on at chess, Shogi, and Go. If I were to get lazy about these things, I think I should be fired as a father.

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 YEO (Young Entrepreneurs’ Organization). I also recently joined the YPO (Young Presidents’ Organization). 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 that is currently being set up. I also 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 (HBS). 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.

I also try and write this column at least once a week. And on top of this I recently have been writing a 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 can never have too much time. To make every minute count requires a degree of scheming on my part.

For the trip to Osaka, I combined the Japan Masters’ Championships with a family visit to Ise with family friends. And since we going all the way to Ise, I figured we might as well factor in Expo 2005 Aichi Japan. The Expo is packed on holidays and weekends, so we took the kids out of school on Friday for the trip. A friend commented that in the long run, the kids would learn a lot by going to the exhibition despite missing a day of school.

So last Friday, we went to the Aichi Expo and then on to Ise. We had a great time relaxing with our family friends, and on the evening before the last day of the trip, I headed up to Osaka on my own on the last Kintetsu express train. The kids were with family friends, so I felt ok leaving them in Ise. All in all, I had been able to enjoy a family vacation, meet friends, and on top of everything else, participate in the Japan Masters. I was really pleased with the way things had worked out this year.

The next morning, I headed out early to the tournament venue, arriving at the Namihaya Dome at 8 in the morning. I went in and greeted the swimming club coach. I had hardly done any practicing this year, which was a bit embarrassing. I had wanted to enter this competition 10 years in a row and to set a world record for my age bracket over that time. That’s why I decided to compete this year, too, even though I hadn’t practiced enough. 
(Please refer to the column: The Japan Masters Championships) (Japanese)

Before the start of the race, I swam in the main pool, and then psyched myself up by swimming once more 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, and we had previously exchanged emails. He had come today to say hi.

When he introduced himself, I remembered the content of our email exchange. He’s the same age as me and had been a swimmer at a public university in Kansai. He seemed to recall that at that time I had easily won the Kansai national and public university swimming meets. Before the race, we spent a little time fondly remembering those days. 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. This was humiliating. He urged me to go to the sub-pool at the side of the stadium and I did some thinking while taking a few slow laps to relax my worn-out body.

“This has gone far enough. I’m not getting anywhere by trying to do everything. I have got to re-think my priorities and only use my time for what I really think is important, otherwise I’ll only do things half way and never complete anything. If I’m going to do something at all, I’m going to do it right.” These are the thoughts that went through my mind.

This was the beginning of a restructuring of my personal time. In other words, I decided to select and focus on the way I will spend my time.

First, I decided to limit myself to activities that bear results, like competitions and presentations. At any rate, 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. People may accuse me being a wimp, but the fact is I simply can’t do so many things at one time. I listed other things that would stop.

On board the plane, I cast my eye 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.

I decided to use this kind of traveling time more effectively by selecting and focusing only on the things that are important.

July 19, 2007
On the flight to Silicon Valley
Yoshito Hori