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Executive Time Management

Articles about leadership time management tend to have the same theme.  There are a lot of things to do to run a successful company, and some people seem better at it than others. How can the rest of us get better?

There is conflicting information about whether all these techniques work. Despite this, let’s review a few ideas for Executives and Managers.

In its most basic sense, all executives should endeavor to work at their highest level. Recent research suggests that organizations are more successful when they have CEOs working in high level meetings, and cross functional activities. This same research suggests that leaders only have about 25% of their time devoted to working alone.  This 25%, is therefore, critical, if the rest of the time the leaders are traveling, in meetings, etc.

So, what ideas do we have for leaders to make this 25% the best it can be?

First, align. Everyone should have a quarterly plan and align it to achieve annual goals. It should break down the year’s goals into steps that can be accomplished in the quarter. Our tasks need to likewise be aligned to facilitate the attainment of the quarterly goals. In a busy day, week, or month; the day to day distractions and problems can throw us off. Some of your very most productive time will be spent assuring that you are doing the right things. That’s right: planning your work is a task to be completed. Make sure your lists include adequate activities to lead to goal accomplishment.

Second, prioritize. We all know that not everything carries the same level of importance. If needed, break down lists of tasks into high and normal, or an ABC approach where A is the highest, B is normal, and C can be put off. Keep your attention on the highest priorities and you will get the most out of your day.  What about those B and C priorities?  Well, they will turn into A priorities eventually, or you can cross them off the list.

Next, delegate.  Everyone has heard this before, but instead of thinking about what you can delegate, try thinking about what you CANNOT.  You work in an organization of competent people. It is in their best developmental interest that you delegate to them.  Your subordinates (and with permission, other people’s subordinates) will welcome challenging tasks. One great way to get your company to grow faster, is to develop the skills of your team. When you delegate, use traditional good delegation skills. Keep track of what you have delegated, to whom, and when it is due. Assure there is complete understanding of the activity, and then hold the person accountable for delivering a specific outcome.

Once you have winnowed down your list, the next step is to schedule the work. If executives have only limited hours per day (2-3 on average), we need to be focused on when we can complete our key tasks to assure that we keep the company moving. Setting a good example in accountability and timeliness is important to leadership credibility. At some point daily, perhaps weekly, it is important to block out calendar time to complete the tasks that must be done. This technique depends on being able to reasonably estimate the length of time needed to get the job task done. Another advantage of this technique is to retake control over your calendar. Sometimes, you just shouldn’t have time for one more meeting…and blocking time out with task completion may be a good way to save that time for tasks that lead to critical organizational outcomes.

In lieu of, or in addition to scheduling, some people like reminders. Practically all task apps or programs like Outlook have reminder features. Reminders have pros and cons. However, having at least our most important activities set to remind us to work on them, or to remind us of an approaching deadline can do a lot to re-focus our attention to the key tasks of the day.

Tip:  Automate. A great reason to use a task system or app is to automate and introduce efficiency.  One way to get more done per day is to do everything faster. Consider using your task management program to make your time-consuming tasks get completed faster. By simply making 3 items a day save you 3 minutes each, you can take off 45 minutes early to see your family every Friday. How can we do things faster? Many people do not take advantage of all the features of these systems:

1. Recurrence:   if you make the same Journal Entry every month, set the recurrence to the date it is due. This will save you time from rescheduling the task month after month.
2. Reminder: if you use recurring tasks, make sure to set a reminder so you know something is in the list that you didn’t plan this week.
3. Hyperlink: the most under-used feature of the tasks is the notes area.  Next time you have to do any complex task that requires gathering data from the internet, or another file, put the link right in your task. This will save you steps and easily pays dividends. 
4. Categorize:  When you are responsible for so many tasks, sometimes it helps to use the Categorize option.  For example, I separate my tasks into functional areas like Administration, Marketing, HR. Others will use the categories for business units. Because they are normally defined by the user, using categories is a powerful way to cut through the clutter.
5. Priority: As mentioned above, prioritization is a key. Always work on the most important activities, and delegate the rest.
6. Deadlines/Due dates: set aggressive deadlines for yourself. Without deadlines, some tasks will linger.
7. Custom Fields: Not all apps are as flexible as Outlook, but some will allow you to add custom fields. This could be important in a variety of ways, if only to give you more options to filter away the less important tasks.

As a busy executive, it has never been so important to our companies, and ourselves, to be as efficient as possible. Since we have such little time, it is important to focus our work on the things that only we can do. Then, do them as efficiently as possible.

Do you have any tips or experience you would like to share that makes you hyper-productive? Put your comments below.

 Written by: T. Raehtz

Ashley JoynerComment