Six months ago, I set out on a quest to understand how leaders managed their time. I was asking about habits that were key to a productive day, how they structured their day and what tactics they deployed to stay on top of it all and not get lost in the frenzy of what’s too-often needed “now” so they could lead a future-focused business.
When I asked Robb Fraley what he did to make for the most productive day, thinking habits and rituals to keep from getting distracted by all the things calling for his attention, he said “Let’s not focus on a day. Let’s focus on what you can do to have a really successful career.” So here is Robb’s secret to a stellar career, from the fields to the labs to the C-suite.
Secret #1: Hire Great People.
Hire people who have the potential to step in and do your job, people who could be your successor. Then delegate extensively and give them lots of room. It might be hard at first, but don’t try to do their job for them. This will put you in a good position to do your job and get your stuff done.
One of the things I’m proudest of in the transition of Monsanto to Bayer is how many people on the Monsanto technology team have moved over to positions in Bayer. Bob Reiter who served as the global vice president of Monsanto’s Research & Development Integration Strategy. Now, he is head of Research & Development at Bayer within Crop Science. Sam Eathington remains the chief science officer at The Climate Corporation, which was formerly owned by Monsanto and has since been transferred to Bayer.
Secret #2: Make a List.
Every morning, whether I’m in an office, in a hotel or at my home, I list a few things that I need to get done each day. This is not a laundry list; this is only one or two key things that need to be done. If you can do this, you’re going to have a great day, a great month and great year. It helps to rise above what’s urgent and focus on what’s important.
Robb recognizes the temptation to list everything you need or want to do. Don’t do this because you will get distracted and some of the less important stuff will be easier to cross off. While you’re feverishly working to cross those less important things off, you’re not focused on what is deserving of your attention.
Secret #3: Work Hard & Play Hard.
In agriculture, especially the seed industry, you have to work hard. While you put in tremendous hours, you also have to play hard. The trick: it has to be the right sequence of diving in with all your might and then recharging, reenergizing and reconnecting. It’s essential to keeping high-level performance.
As the former executive vice president and chief technology officer at Monsanto Company, Robert (Robb) Fraley is widely recognized as a key contributor to the worldwide science and agriculture communities. For these accomplishments, most notably for developing the first GM crops as a solution for farmers battling yield-threatening pests and weeds, he was recognized as a World Food Prize Laureate. From authoring more than 100 publications and patent applications to managing a billion-dollar business, it’s clear Robb knew where and how to spend his time. Most recently, he’s become a leading voice for agriculture, working to reset the public conversation about science. In many talks, he often says, “We can develop the greatest scientific innovations the world has ever seen, but if we can’t find ways to communicate and engage more effectively, nothing else will matter.” You can follow Robb on LinkedIn and Twitter as @RobbFraley.
Julie: This is so easily said but so hard to do, both with being passionate about your work and wanting to give it all you’ve got and caring deeply for your family and wanting to spend fun and precious moments with your kids. Tactically, where do you begin?
Robb: I’ve really tried to guard my family time. Yes, I put in long days but I wouldn’t hesitate to take off to attend my son’s baseball game or to watch a cheer competition — those are the kinds of things that are important and your kids will remember. I intentionally avoided late evening and dinner functions so I could be with my family.
Julie: What about you as a person? What did you do to mentally and physically keep yourself in check?
Robb: Two things that I could do regardless of where I was that helped me both physically and mentally was exercise every morning and drink one cup of coffee. After that, I had no real routine that I could rely on.
Now, it’s not a secret anymore. What will you do differently or deploy to take your productivity to the next level?
P.S. There’s more to come from my other interviews. Stay tuned!