Expresso shot: Time management on steroids

Updated: Feb 13

In this previous post I listed what I think are the only four levers that a CEO has to drive a company’s growth:

  1. Your own time - determining how and on what you spend your time is essential to your effectiveness

  2. Your company’s purpose and strategy – setting the strategic direction, motivating and aligning your team to this and tracking progress against it

  3. Hiring and scaling your leadership team – getting the right people ‘on the bus’, in the right roles and helping them to develop

  4. Resource allocation – the big-ticket decisions on which initiatives are core and where you invest your resources – dollars, assets and people.

The first one - how you use your own time - is critical. And being able to manage that starts with carefully tracking it.

As an engineer and spreadsheet junkie, I can be very detail-oriented (just ask the Aconex UX team about left alignment on screens, or any former Aconex manager about PowerPoint layouts!). Not surprisingly I became quite obsessed with tracking where I spent my time.

Firstly, I’d always track my working hours, so I knew how long I was putting in every week. Counter-intuitively, rather than gamifying the length of time worked, this helped me balance my work and personal life. I tended to work long weeks (often 80 hours plus) when on the road domestically or overseas, but knowing that meant that I could down tools when back at home if I’d worked into the 50 to 60-hour range. Knowing that I’d clocked up 60 hours, I didn’t feel at all guilty about making time for other interests that week.

Once or twice a year I’d track exactly where I spend my time for a few weeks, just like a lawyer does. I allocated every minute of time, broken into ten-minute blocks, to key activities – strategy, staff communication, customers / sales, finance, shareholder relations, travel, admin, etc. I was always surprised to see where I had spent my time: way too much on email and admin and never enough on strategy, even though I thought I was prioritising it. There was never enough time with customers but always too much spent travelling (which can be hard to balance).

When reviewing the data, I’d try to realign my time to the most important activities that a CEO should be focused on:

  • Time on strategy and on communicating purpose, vision and strategy to staff

  • Time hiring and developing the leadership team

  • Time with customers to understand evolving market needs

  • Time with shareholders to ensure we were well placed for our next funding round

What I saw above all in the data was that I wasn’t allowing myself time to think. It showed that I was always busy, running from meeting to meeting, with little downtime. So I made a point of creating space in my diary, blocking a day every week that was not released until the week before so that I could use that day dealing with the most important issues for the company. My assistant scheduled space between meetings – so most were set for either 30 or 45 minutes, rather than a full hour, as well as carving out some longer blocks of unallocated time. I also put aside personal time during the week, before or after work for the family and to exercise.

The takeaway expresso: Understand where you spend your time and build extra time into your diary to reduce stress, allowing you to pick up important strategic or operational issues quickly and – most importantly – give yourself space to think.