by Patricia Wallington

Carving Out Time: Time Management for Managers and Business Leaders

Feb 01, 20017 mins
Personal Software

Have you seen the ad for the cell phone service that touts the ability to roll your unused minutes to the next month? Wow! I’d like to be able to do that for the minutes in my day. Time is our most valuable resource these days. And there seems to be less of it each time I look. The growing demands on CIOs’ time leave them wondering, When do I have time to lead? Days are filled with a multiplicity of activities, all of them seemingly important and urgent. Where is the time to think? Where is the time to build relationships with my peers? How do I stay on top of all my projects? Yet if I don’t find the time to lead, I won’t endure as a CIO.

And then, of course, there are these other just as important questions: Where is the time for my personal development? What about time for my family? This is not intended to be a Time Management 101 treatise. But having struggled with many of these issues during the course of my own career, I know there are some things you can do to improve the situation if you have the will and the discipline to do them.

There are some behaviors, such as perfectionism and procrastination, that are real time killers. Do you try to do everything yourself in the belief that no one can do it better? Do you find it difficult to finish a task? This is the perfectionist in you. Try selective perfectionism as an antidote. Some tasks are really important, but others just need to get done. Learn to apply the “Theory of Good Enough” to these tasks. Get them done to the 90 percent level. Less than perfect can still be excellent. Delegate them to others. Use those tasks as training vehicles for those with less experience.

Do you put off decisions? Do you avoid certain activities and do only those things you like or feel comfortable with? Are you a chronic latecomer? Procrastination is the name of this game. The energy and time used to avoid or delay decisions is wasted, never to be reclaimed. I know how risky a CIO’s decision feels in the uncertain world we live in. But it is important to keep your perspective. These are not life or death decisions. No one decision, regardless of how flawed, will destroy you. But constant review and analysis—the hallmarks of indecision—could be even more detrimental to your career.

There are other behaviors that cram your calendar and leave you feeling dissatisfied at the end of the day. For instance, do you have an interruption-rich environment? First come, first serve? Anyone who drops in can get your attention, and you put aside whatever you are working on. Your availability is commendable, but you allow your priorities to be set in a casual manner. The resultant start/stop cost can be high. Respect your own schedule.

You are the one with the most influence over how your time will be invested. (Note I didn’t say spent.) So take control of your time and tailor your approach to your own style and preferences. Do you work better in the mornings or late in the day? Schedule accordingly. Monday morning was always great for me because the accumulations of the week were still in front of me. Do you relish interaction with people? Be sure that your periods of concentration contain breaks that give you the opportunity to refresh yourself with some people time. Know what gives you energy. Most of my writing is done during my power walks. Well, not actually pencil to paper (or keyboard entry), but that thinking time is often my most productive.

Preserving Family Time

Don’t be a victim of tools. Set times to check e-mail and voice mail. People I worked with knew that I checked those first thing in the morning, so they made sure important messages were there early. Try to establish a nonbeeper time when you won’t accept interruptions.

This is important when trying to keep some semblance of a home life. Evenings at home are especially important for working parents with school-age children, so “closing the virtual office” between the time you get home and the time your children go to bed may be a good idea. And stay in the moment. Focus on them. Don’t let yourself be preoccupied with what’s waiting on your e-mail or in your briefcase. I assure you it will still be there when you get to it. For me, saving weekends to have uninterrupted time with my family was really important. So I worked as long and as late as I needed to during the week so that I could go home for the weekend sans briefcase.

It helps if you have strong support from your family and can openly and honestly discuss these dilemmas. After one such family discussion, I agreed that I would not leave for work before sunrise. That worked until my husband found me sitting at the door, fully dressed, briefcase in hand, waiting for the sun so that I could bolt out the door. Another time when my travel schedule was particularly bad, I got home and found a note from my daughter: “Hi Mom, I’m 16, still 5 feet 2 inches. My hair is blond. Hope to see you before I graduate.” Needless to say I curbed the travel for a while.

No one technique will work for everyone. But here’s a general rule to live by: Learn to say no. This is always hard to do, but a great way to get more of your high priority things done. Practice saying it out loud. You can even say this to your boss, carefully, of course. One of my clients, the president of a large telecommunications company, told his CIO he had “an obligation to dissent.” The president often did not know how long or how much effort something requested would take. The CIO was expected to let the president know when a request was not realistic or reasonable.

For those things that are most difficult to fit in, schedule the time formally until it becomes more natural. When I knew I wasn’t spending enough time with my customers, I scheduled the hours each month until it became a habit. Don’t do crazy things. My worst example is the time I went all the way to Japan for only 24 hours. Why put this pressure on yourself? A teleconference would have been almost as effective and cost much less in dollars and physical energy.

At the same time you are struggling with your own time demons, you have to create a supportive time environment for your staff. Allow your people to have the balance in their lives that you too are seeking. Accept a “no” and seek other alternatives. Be decisive so that their time is maximized and not wasted waiting for a long-delayed answer. Don’t always rely on the same people for results. Spread the activities and let more junior people grow their expertise. Be calm. Effective leaders rise above the pressures of the day, projecting a calm exterior.

Forgive yourself if you don’t get everything done. Most people do not finish everything on their list. I have a stack of things I want to read piled beside my fireplace. For months they speak to me, “Read me, read me,” making me feel guilty. If they are not read by the end of the quarter, into the fire they go, my gift to myself. It’s amazing how few things I am asked to read near the end of a quarter once people know about my gift!