Should you run your business like Steve Wright in the Afternoon?

Radio studio

There was much sadness in the UK this week when one of the nation’s most-loved radio presenters died suddenly. Steve Wright had been a fixture on the airwaves for over 40 years. He started on BBC Radio One, before moving to BBC Radio Two. Even though his show was in the middle of the afternoon, he secured nine million listeners – that’s the territory that the popular breakfast shows do not inhabit. It’s highly likely that everyone in the UK over the age of 40 has listened to the “Steve Wright in the Afternoon” show at some point in their life.

The day after his sudden death at the age of 69, his radio colleagues were paying fulsome tributes across the media. One common theme to emerge from the various interviews was that he was completely dedicated to his craft. Most radio presenters turn up to the studio only a short while before their show begins. Steve Wright’s programme began each day at 2.00 pm, but he was usually in the office well before 9.00 am, five or six hours before going on air.

According to his broadcasting colleagues, he spent hours ensuring that the wording he used on air was correct, that all the elements were produced to the highest possible standard, and that he had thoroughly researched the guests he would be talking with. It is clear he did not “wing it”.

Hearing about the extensive preparation that Steve Wright put into his craft reminded me about David Beckham, the former England footballer. I recall an interview with him where he explained he practised his legendary curling free kick over 100 times every day, including Christmas Day. 

People who are at the top of their game put in hours of preparation. They make their work seem effortless. But it has taken a huge amount of hard work to make it appear that way. When I used to work in the theatre, I remember talking to an actor about how they made things seem real when everyone knows they are pretending. The actor explained to me that during one scene he had to pick up a telephone. He had practised the moves for that endlessly, thousands of times. It then became natural, as it was habitual. It did not look false to the audience. The actor who told me about the need for endless preparation and practice was the TV legend, John Inman, who was in “Are You Being Served”. His ability to make us laugh took hours of preparation.

Meanwhile, over in the world of politics, only recently we had an admission from one senior politician that he was “winging it” during the Covid pandemic. The First Minister of Scotland, Humza Yousaf, admitted as much to the Covid Enquiry. It’s highly likely that lack of preparation will be evident from many other politicians involved in dealing with Covid. You probably thought as much at the time of those daily press conferences.

The lack of preparation and the obvious “winging it” by politicians came up in a conversation I had yesterday at the charity masterclass I spoke at, run by Derek Arden, the leading negotiation expert. The person I was speaking with then added that they had really enjoyed the event, because even though it had an informal feel, it had obviously been thoroughly prepared. Perhaps that’s why we also raised several thousand pounds for The Samaritans. If you want to increase that, please donate here.

In my job as a lecturer, I know that with more time for preparation, my (wonderful…!) lectures would be even better. Rather like Steve Wright, if I arrived six hours ahead of each lecture and focused solely on that, it is inevitable I would be a better lecturer. However, I prioritise other activities over that preparation time. I do a lot of admin, I answer emails, and I attend a host of different meetings. That eats into preparation time for what, arguably, is the most important part of my job.

Many business people I meet complain about lack of time. But it is not a lack of time. It is a lack of prioritising. There is a potential solution to this, though, which is used by very busy and successful people – time blocking

Block out time in your calendar for dealing with emails, for writing reports and doing admin. Make appointments with yourself in your diary for all the preparation you need to do for meetings or project work. The time that is left (and there will not be much of it) is when colleagues can book meetings with you. If you are not sure how to do this, there are several time blocking apps available. 

Steve Wright in the Afternoon was a tremendous success because he blocked out the morning to do all the work necessary to make a seamless show. Our work can be similarly brilliant if we use time blocking to enable us to have the time to prepare properly. Perhaps we should tell politicians about this idea so they can stop “winging it”.

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