Let's talk about "executive time"

There appears to be a national debate about “executive time” (see this article on Business Insider if you need to catch up). Like all debates, there will be many differing opinions. But I find this topic in line with some observations and thoughts I have been having about time management and executive effectiveness in general.

I remember a conversation I had with a boss over 10 years ago. We were having my annual review. She was kind enough to point out that some senior managers I worked with didn’t think I was contributing enough. “Why?” I asked, expecting a rational response. “Because we can see from your calendar that you aren’t involved in enough meetings.” That conversation has stuck with me (to her credit, my manager - still a good friend - also agreed that this was a skewed measure of my “contribution”). At that large company managers were often in 8-10 meetings and/or conference calls per day. “That’s crazy” I thought. When do they have time to get anything done, or even reflect if they are doing the right things? In the shower? While commuting? I don’t think Sun TzeVon Clausewitz, Tom Peters (yes, I am dating myself) or any other management guru every advocated that having more meeting is the key to anyone’s success.

If you don’t have scheduled executive time, then you are just reacting to things as they come at you and going through the motions. 

Now some people really do have the wisdom (and resources) to leverage executive time properly. Both Bill Gates and Warren Buffet credit part of their success to their reading habits and their willingness to continually learn. Richard Branson schedules time to just dream. And one of the best CEOs I have worked with schedules time out at coffee shops to do research and simply think. Obviously scheduling executive time has paid off for them. 

Here’s three simple steps you can follow to use executive time to your advantage:

  1. Schedule executive time for when you know you are most productive. This isn’t “me time” - it is when you know you need to be alone to make the most impact on your goals. For me that is earlier in the morning. (And don’t forget to minimize your distractions.)

  2. Have goal-oriented executive time. You have goals, right? Then use your valuable executive time to focus on those goals.

  3. Communicate. Executive time is not when you just want to avoid meetings. If you work with employees or clients, let hem know that it is preferable that you are not disturbed in these time blocks. But be flexible.

Time is a precious resource. Use it wisely. It is not whether you take executive time (or how much you take) but what you choose to do with it that matters. If you choose to use your executive time for tweeting and watching TV, then that’s up to you.