I picked up the Harvard Business Review at the airport on Monday (thanks to weather delay) and, for some reason, read “From the Editor” first. It is titled, “The CEO vs. The Clock” and proceeds to state, “The demands of leading a company are mind-blowing. A CEO oversees both functional and business unit agendas and answers to a multitude of constituents – shareholders, customers, employees, the board, the media, the government, and the community. And because CEOs aren’t robots, they also need to make room for family, friends, exercise and other non-work interests. There aren’t enough hours in the day.”
You may be thinking “yah, they aren’t the only ones who can’t fit it all in – I can’t either.”
And that’s just the thing, isn’t it. Trying to fit it all in. The HBR article, “How CEOs Manage Time” summarizes time management in a way that really struck me – I felt it provided valuable learning for anyone with the potential for a busy schedule. “How a leader spends his or her time is telling. A CEO’s schedule (and indeed, any leader’s schedule), then, is a manifestation of how the leader leads and sends powerful messages to the rest of the organization,” writes Michael Porter and Nitin Nohria. And so it is true of our own calendar. If a stranger looked at how you spend your day, what kind of message would they receive?
To bring it closer to home, I have switched out “CEO” for “you” or “your”:
“The way (you) allocate (your) time and (your) presence – where (you) choose to personally participate – is crucial, not only to (your) own effectiveness but to the performance of (your company/team/department/committee/family).”
Time is a limited commodity and a great equalizer, because we all get the same 24 hours. The authors analyzed about 60,000 hours of time, from how long CEOs sleep, to how long they spend in and out of the office, on email, with clients and alone. They describe time spent as both tangible (making decisions, selecting how resources are spent) and symbolic (by setting the tone and providing meaning). Consider how your decision of whether or not to do something sends a message. No doubt, there are things we do strictly because we think it sends a message. Is the message received? Would a thank-you not be just as effective (yet take a fraction of the time)? On the tangible side, I wonder if we are so tightly scheduled that we can't take time to make decisions that support our priorities. It’s easy to say yes to things – and oh so powerful to say no.
The challenge is to ensure what fills your time is not dragging you down, or pulling you away from what is most important. I would propose that, rather than prioritizing your to-do list, throw it away and make a list based on your priorities. Is exercise or meditation important? Schedule it! Time with spouse/family/friends? Schedule it! Reading or studying to improve your own personal development? Use a couple early mornings or an evening to work on them. Savings goals or career benchmarks? Schedule in ways to work toward them. Draft that personal agenda, but don’t keep it close to the vest. Whether it’s an administrative assistant, your spouse or significant other, or your parents or children, share that personal agenda with others close to you so they know why you do what you do, and hopefully they’ll encourage you to do it and help you stay accountable.
The article also suggests that you look back on each month and assess whether you are keeping to that personal agenda. I purchased a weekly desk pad planner to remind me of those priorities. (It helps that the paper is cute and I like to look at it :). With all the changes in my own life this year, I'm really trying to focus on spending time on what I want to accomplish. I write down the priority items and schedule them, knowing all the other day-to-day items will pop up on their own, and make sure I am looking at it every day. It’s easy to get lost in emails, conversations and online, but I can’t get lost if I’m going to move forward. I have scheduled blocks of time to do things like write these blogs, work on my 2019 retreats, and focus on other continuing education items.
A note of caution from the article that I would also highlight – be careful not to overschedule yourself. The article says that CEOs have to leave open time for things like daily issues to full-blown crises. Like the CEOs, you should also leave time for things that come up at the last minute – like when your child breaks a bracket on his braces, or when a friend calls needing a shoulder to cry on, or your significant other had a bad day and needs to vent. Or, most importantly, you had a rough day and need to take the long way home to process it all.
I heard a pastor once say “where your time is, there is your treasure.” And so I ask you, where are you spending your time?