How to manage your time like a CEO

Published: Sunday | December 22, 2013 Comments 0

Francis Wade, Sunday Business COLUMNIST

There's a surprising similarity between the methods that CEOs and top college students use to manage their time. A cursory glance at their calendars shows the truth - their days are packed from morning until evening. Their schedules seem manic because almost every hour is filled with some kind of activity, including leisure and recovery time. It's the kind of schedule that makes participants in my programmes recoil in horror; they can't imagine ever living that way.

And perhaps they shouldn't even try. Their response comes from an old school of thought: there is only one correct way to manage your time. Their initial thinking is that they are being told to adopt these techniques for themselves. My research here at 2Time Labs in Kingston shows a deeper truth: CEOs and students use these techniques because they push themselves hard. Missing a key meeting can cause a CEO to make a single multimillion-dollar mistake that costs hundreds of jobs, while forgetting to study for an exam might cause a student to fail a course and be forced to drop out altogether. The combination of their commitment and their environment pushes them to use practices that are very different from the average person.

Most of us in Jamaica don't live that way, but if you are a professional who aspires to be an executive, you'll need to learn these techniques. Here are some pointers to keep in mind as you transition into a hyper-productive individual.

Recapture past glory

My research shows that after graduation, many students gradually become less productive. The reason? The workplace puts far fewer demands on their time than college ever did. In fact, the few who continue working hard are told by their new colleagues to "Take it easy" and "Slow it down". Their hard-working example makes other employees look bad.

It's to be expected: a young employee without a spouse, kids or a mortgage can afford to focus on work, and little else.

Most decide to fit in, rather than stand out, just to keep the peace. Some get bored and slip into laziness. Others seek fulfilment outside of work. Almost all, however, lose their productive edge and let go of the time management techniques they used as ultra-busy students.

For the aspiring professional, this is good news - rather than having to learn something brand new, they are actually returning to forgotten practices.

Become more productive before it's necessary

As a would-be executive, the time comes when you decide that the need to fit in only leads to mediocrity, and that standing out is actually a good thing. At that point, it's a smart idea to start practising the technique of scheduling most activities in a calendar. You'll be favoured: managers love hyper-productive employees who are skilled at getting things done without excuses and failures, a strength that can lead to a promotion.

Also, increasing your personal productivity before it's actually a necessity gives you time to perfect top scheduling skills. By the time a promotion is announced, you will have already reached the level of productivity required at the next level in your company.

Upgrade now

My in-class research shows that, like most employees around the world, corporate Jamaicans use their electronic calendars as appointment books: a way to track meetings with other people. This means that the choice of what to do next is based on whatever their memory happens to pull up next, or whatever meeting happens to be scheduled. This haphazard approach doesn't work for long because it guarantees that bigger, high-stake priorities will rarely get executed, simply because they haven't been scheduled. Instead, they get buried each day by lower priority, urgent busy-work.

Here's a simple test. Take a snapshot of your calendar for the upcoming week and ask yourself: "Does it reflect my highest priorities for the year?" You can also manually track your time usage for the past week and ask a similar question: "Did my time usage last week reflect my highest priorities for the year?" Your answer to these questions may point you in the direction of an upgrade - a move to scheduling most activities in your electronic calendar.

This approach certainly isn't for everyone, but if you aspire to a top position in your company, you may have to look beyond the immediate example of others, and towards world-class standards. It may mean ignoring the precedents set by current executives you work with, who may not be reflecting best practices. By starting early to hit high standards, you'll place yourself in exceptional company.

Francis Wade is president of Framework Consulting and author of 'Bill's Im-Perfect Time Management Adventure'. Email feedback to him at columns@fwconsulting.com

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