CIO Time Management at the Speed of Light

A big five list of where to invest your time. Not subjects that matter. Responsibilities that are essential.

According to Einstein's Special Theory of Relativity, time is just another linear dimension, no different from forward and backward, up and down, or right and left.

Not only that, we're all traveling at the speed of light, all of the time ... mostly into the future, which is why we can't turn around and head the other way. It would take too much energy to change direction.

If you're a CIO, this might also explain why the end of the week always arrives long before the week's work is finished. It isn't that you're too busy. It's that you're moving into the future way too fast.

Whatever the reason, the end of the week shows up whether or not we got done what we wanted to get done, which means we all have to pick and choose what we decide to get done pretty carefully.

As CIO, how should you spend your time? The CIO top ten lists you've probably read ... the ones that list issues like security, The Cloud, tablets and such ... won't help you. They matter, but not from a time-budgeting perspective.

The question is where to invest your time every week. Here's a CIO's big five list to get you started.

These aren't the top five. It's a "big five" list because while these might not be the five most important places to invest your time, they're definitely five very important places.

Why not the top ten? I'll bet that carving out time for five will be a stretch.

#1: Organizational listening. This is the top item on any and every list. It's the single most important activity on your schedule.

Organizational listening means finding out What's Going On Out There. It's #1 because if you don't know What's Going On Out There, every direction you set and every decision you make will have all the likelihood of success you had as a kid when you played Pin the Tail on the Donkey.

And no, listening through your chain of command won't get you there. If you think it will, it's time for some uncomfortable honesty: Do you tell your manager everything that's going on in an unvarnished, warts-and-all way?

You need lots of listening channels and you need to spend time with every one of them. This includes time spent listening to the IT staff, members of the end-user community, managers at all levels throughout the business, vendors, the company's customers ... everywhere IT has an impact, inside and outside your organization.

It also includes reports and metrics. Those are listening channels ... nothing more, nothing less.

#2: Building strong interpersonal relationships with everyone else on the executive team. This is #2 on every list, because if they trust you, persuading them of uncomfortable necessities is a lot easier than if they don't. Okay, it's more extreme than that. If they trust you, persuading them is at least possible.

Even better: If they like you and trust you, they'll make excuses for you when things don't go according to plan, which means you won't have to waste time and energy defending yourself.

#3: Defining the business culture you want and then taking steps to make it happen.

Trying to make anything happen in an organization when the business culture isn't lined up in the right direction is, as George Burns said in a very different context, like trying to play pool with a rope. (For those of you who are overly nit-picky: This means using the rope as the cue, not as any of the balls, the table, or as your opponent.)

#4: Reading. You're supposed to be smart about information technology. You're supposed to be smart about the business. You're supposed to provide technology leadership to the company, and leadership of all kinds to IT.

Unless you think you're smart enough to have all the great ideas yourself ... wait! it occurs to me: you're reading this, so ... unless you think the two of us are smart enough to have all the great ideas, you need other sources.

#5: Thinking. That smart thing? Your job isn't to have all the great ideas yourself. You are supposed to be a broker of great ideas ... to sift through them all and figure out which ones matter.

That requires thinking. Thinking takes time, and not the kind that comes in two-minute gaps between meetings.

If you don't reserve the time for thinking, you won't have the time to think.

Then, no matter what the subject, you won't have thought it through.

Blame Einstein. Then reserve the time.

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