It’s the beginning of a new year which means making resolutions for the new year. One of the most common challenges that my clients want to address is time management. So one of the articles I recommend most often is from the Harvard Business Review, How CEOs Manage Time. Even though the article was published in 2018, the approaches to time management it outlines remain relevant today. And while the authors’ research focused on CEOs, the recommendations and takeaways are applicable to any leader. Here is a summary of them:

Set priorities. The authors – Harvard Business School’s Michael E. Porter and Nitin Nohria – learned from their research that it is key to set priorities for how your time is spent, for both deadline-driven goals and for more open-ended matters. They also found that making a deliberate effort to spend time on activities that further your priorities is critical to make progress on multiple priorities and to use your time effectively. Aligning time allocation with priorities is so important that the authors recommend a quarterly tracking and review of how your time was spent vs. your priorities, and adjusting priorities and time allocations as needed.

Plan for the unexpected. Many clients I work with tell me, “I often have a plan for the day. Then something urgent pulls me away, and my day is shot.” The article corroborates that on average, 36% of a CEO’s time is spent in a reactive mode, dealing with unfolding issues. If you know at 8am you have a full schedule, and then you add another 36% to that day, you are in for a long day every day. You can’t add hours to the day, but you can free up time to deal with the unexpected. The authors suggest taking a look at everything that you do to see if it serves an important purpose. This is a starting point to determine what you must be doing vs. what you can delegate. (Another takeaway from the article: CEOs rely heavily on their direct reports).

Schedule “you” time. You might be thinking, but where do I find the time to set priorities, audit how my time is spent, and determine what to delegate? Start scheduling time for yourself. It is critical for leaders to remove themselves from day-to-day operational activities for reflection, preparation, strategic thinking, and planning ahead. The authors found that common pitfalls are making these blocks of time too short, and not using the time as planned but instead being distracted by immediate matters (particularly email). Block off the time, be diligent about protecting it, and use the time for your intended purpose.

Rethink your meetings. CEOs in the study have on average 37 meetings per week and spend 72% of their total work time in meetings. It is difficult for anyone to be productive when they only have 28% of their time available to do their work. Ask yourself:

  • Do I need to be there? What are your role and responsibilities for the meeting? Is your attendance essential?  Can someone else attend instead?
  • Can meetings be shorter? The authors found that meeting length was frequently a result of habit, and a default length like one hour was an organizational norm. Can meetings be cut back to 45, 30, or 15 minutes?
  • Can meetings be more efficient and effective? Have an agenda that includes purpose, topics, and intended outcomes. Be thoughtful and specific about who must attend, be clear about required preparation, and start and finish on time.

As the authors say, “Time is the scarcest resource leaders have. Where they allocate it matters—a lot.” New approaches to how you use your time can help you make the most of your finite availability.

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