As an executive there’s probably a big gap between how you THINK you spend your time and how you ACTUALLY do!

If I asked you the question – “Do you know how you spend your time at work?” – most executives would respond in the affirmative.

Wrong! – most executives have no idea how they spend their time . What they tell you they do and what they actually do, are a mile apart.

Who says this! – you ask indignantly. None other than management guru Peter F. Drucker in the book “The Essential Drucker”.

It was Drucker – who said – “There is never much resemblance between the way people thought they used their time and their actual records”.

As an example he speaks about a chairman who thought he spent his time split equally between 3 principle activities – a third with his senior management, a third with important customers and a third devoted to community activities. Tracking his actual behaviour for 6 weeks – showed however he spent almost no time on these activities!

Drucker concluded – “Man is ill equipped to manage his time”.  In total darkness, most people retain their sense of space. But leave someone in a sealed room for a few hours with the lights on and most people are incapable of estimating how much time has elapsed.

This being true Drucker concluded that the effective person knows to manage your time you first have to know where it actually goes.

I’ve tracked my own behaviour periodically in 15 minute blocks over a 2 week period every 2 to 3 years and then looked at the results.

It’s a truly illuminating exercise!

What do you typically find? Much more time is spent on Low Priority/ Low Impact stuff than you would imagine – fighting emails etc.

Urgent stuff also gets done – but the time quadrant that suffers the most – not surprisingly is stuff classified as Important but not Urgent.

Multitasking – is the other recent villain, with 24-hour internet access and smart phone technology exacerbating this problem.

It was Albert Schweitzer who on winning his Nobel Peace Prize in 1952 – was asked by a reporter – “ So what ails man?” Schweitzer replied – “ Man doesn’t think!”

If that was true in 1952 – how much more of a problem is it today?

What’s the conclusion…
We appear to be wired for action and the whole process of “thinking “ and reflection, so critical to problem solving and innovation tends to fall to the bottom of our daily “to do” list.

What’s the answer?
Here are some suggestions:

  1. Commit to a 2-week tracking exercise, to see exactly where your time goes. Cutout activities that deliver low value
  2. Make Sunday evenings your “planning time”. For me this is essential to get the week started properly. I’d go crazy without this exercise!
  3. Use the “Thinking time” strategies practiced by both Apple & Google – where employees are told to take time out to “think” about the business, innovation and their area of responsibility as well as the company at large
  4. Block-off times where you are not going to be interrupted. This can also greatly improve your productivity and get work done classified as “ important but not urgent”
  5. Figure-out your hourly rate by dividing your annual income by the hours you work in a year. This will help get you focused and help you decide what work should be delegated or out-sourced
  6. Lastly – don’t beat up on yourself! – you’ll never be able to do it all – but at least strive to get the important stuff done!

For some more really useful tips on Time Management – go to this article by Nick Repak, Director of Grad Resources http://www.gradresources.org/articles/time_management.shtml