Weekly Thoughts: Out of Time

Here is something that caught our eye this week:

Out of Time

A little bit time management, a little bit rock and roll

We have recently been thinking about time, or perhaps more accurately, a perceived lack thereof, as it often seems we’re out of time.  Random blocking and tackling issues soak up our hours, chipping away at the precious time available for the “big picture” work that will actually help us advance.  To use lexicon from a previous post, we often feel that we are stuck in Quadrant 1 (Important, Urgent) at the expense of Quadrant 2 (Important, Not Urgent). How can we stop?

We have read studies providing insights into the daily lives of CEOs, and evaluated how our schedules compare.  For instance, Harvard Business School recently reported the results of an ongoing study which so far has tracked the time allocation of 27 large company CEOs ($13 billion average revenue; mostly public) for three-month increments, aggregating almost 60,000 CEO hours since its launch in 2006.

The authors found that, on average, CEOs work 9.7 hours per weekday, 3.9 hours on weekend days, and 2.4 hours on vacation days (for a total of 62.5 hours a week).  When it comes to work, for the most part wild horses can’t keep CEO’s away.

In terms of total workweek hours, CEOs spent the most time at work (31%), followed by sleep (27%), personal activities (25%), commute and transit (10%), and vacation 5%.  That 25% of personal time (6.9 hours) was spent with family, working out, or just having some downtimeeven CEO’s let it loose from time to time.

Of time spent working, schedules broke down as follows: functional and business unit review (25%), people and relationships (25%), strategy (21%), organization and culture (16%), operating plans (4%), mergers and acquisitions (4%), professional development (3%) and crisis management (1%).  47% of work was done at company HQ, and the rest of the time, the CEO was either working at home, or on the road, visiting other locations or meeting with external stakeholders.

Most of the time spent at work was in meetings (72%), 70% of which lasted for an hour or longer and the majority of time was scheduled in advance (71%). Interestingly, the amount of time allocated to spontaneous meetings ranged widely between participants, varying between 3% to 61%.

So, what’s the point of all this? The big-name authors behind the HBS study, Michael Porter and Nitin Nohria, argue that how a CEO spends her time is paramount, arguing that “if corporate strategy expresses itself in the allocation of resources, then leadership strategy must account for the CEO’s scarcest resource—time.”More from HBR:

“The way CEOs allocate their time and their presence—where they choose to personally participate—is crucial, not only to their own effectiveness but also to the performance of their companies. Where and how CEOs are involved determines what gets done and signals priorities for others. It also affects their legitimacy. A CEO who doesn’t spend enough time with colleagues will seem insular and out of touch, whereas one who spends too much time in direct decision making will risk being seen as a micromanager and erode employees’ initiative. A CEO’s schedule (indeed, any leader’s schedule), then, is a manifestation of how the leader leads and sends powerful messages to the rest of the organization.”

To make sure one is spending her time on the appropriate activities, and avoiding distractions related to issues all down the line, the authors recommend CEOs create, and share, an explicit personal agenda with their organizations. This echoes sentiment from Elena Botelhos, author of “The CEO Next Door” who noted as follows:

“Our research shows that the best CEOs are highly decisive in how they allocate their time—focusing on priorities that truly move the needle on the success of their business…. Often, when CEOs conduct calendar reviews and look at how their time is actually spent, they’re surprised to find that top priorities are regularly trumped by urgent fires.”

To do so, it is essential that on a regular basis (i.e., quarterly), the CEO takes the time to review her schedule versus her agenda, reflect on the results, and adjust the agenda as needed.  The trick, of course, is that this process requires, uh, TIME to execute, and as we know, time waits for no one.  So really, the most important aspect of this study is the emphasis on scheduling uninterrupted thinking time. HBR again:

“It’s also vital for CEOs to schedule adequate uninterrupted time by themselves so that they can have space to reflect and prepare for meetings. In our study, CEOs spent 28% of their work time alone, on average—but again, that varied a great deal, from a low of 10% to a high of 48%. Unfortunately, too much of this alone time (59% of it) was fragmented into blocks of an hour or less; too little (18%) was in blocks of two hours or longer. CEOs need to cordon off meaningful amounts of alone time and avoid dissipating it by dealing with immediate matters, especially their in-boxes.”

This of course, is easier said than done, but truly is where the magic happens. It really comes down to the discipline of blocking off the time, turning off the phone, snoozing the email, and working on the big picture projects not just despite, but because, everything is on fire around you. That’s the only way to get to feeling that time is in your side.  Otherwise, you will persistently get no satisfaction.

Have a great week,

Your Chenmark Team

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