Executive coach Dan Rockwell says managing time boils down to these two prescriptions:

  • Do what matters most and avoid what matters less
  • The only ways to get more time are to increase your speed; delegate and get someone else to do it; or eliminate – stop doing something.

“Time management is about doing what matters, not getting more done,” he writes in his Leadership Freak blog.

Former Rotman School of Management Dean Roger Martin says that if you tell people you’re too busy, you’re saying your personal strategy is lousy. That is increasingly important the higher you are in the organization, because your own self-management failures cause problems for others and the organization. You need to be deliberate about choosing where to deploy your limited available time in tasks that, given your particular set of capabilities, will lead to the greatest win for your organization. “And, since this doesn’t happen automatically, you need a personal management system for doing it on an ongoing basis — because on this front, eternal vigilance is the price of effectiveness,” he writes on Medium.

He recalls his own situation when recruited in 1998 to serve as dean, his first academic post. He became intrigued by how deans spent their time. The data was far from perfect, but it seemed his predecessor spent somewhere around one day a week on each of financial management, faculty hiring and fundraising, with the remaining time divided on a wide variety of tasks.

But Mr. Martin decided he couldn’t do that. He needed to motivate the professors and give them something to believe in; fix the economics of the school to be able to hire a cadre of world-class professors; and build the reputation of Rotman for intellectual leadership, especially in integrative thinking and business design. That meant eliminating 100 days from his schedule that the status quo demanded – doing what deans supposedly do – and replacing them with 100 days of higher-value activities for which he had the capabilities to excel.

He told his chief administrative officer he would be cutting his days on finance each year from 50 to five, trusting her to handle that area because her skills were equal or better than his, and took a similar tack with his associate dean academic, who had a great eye for hiring young talent, allowing Mr. Martin to also reduce his time on that front by 45 days a year.

He put that time toward writing books and articles on integrative thinking and design to raise the school’s profile while they were building up the faculty. He taught courses, even though most deans don’t, to lead professors by example, and carved out time to meet individually with them.

He takes the same approach advising CEOs, insisting on pulling a chunk of time out of their calendar. “Usually, the target is either 12 or 24 days — i.e., one or two days a month. We can always find the days and repurpose them to more valuable activities,” he writes.

That may sound nice for CEOs and deans but impossible in your situation. Although Mr. Martin had to negotiate to free himself, it was with underlings, not a boss. But the principle of eliminating activities that don’t help you or your organization to win is worth considering and, once you have a handle on it, exploring with your boss and colleagues.

At a minimum, practise purposeful productivity by identifying your most valued priorities and learning to say no more often. Entrepreneur John Rampton recommends pausing before instinctively saying yes to a request. Assess the situation more closely:

  • Would you consider this a request? Is it just a suggestion?
  • What’s the cost of saying yes?
  • Is this going to help you achieve your goals or serve your mission?
  • Should you make this a priority?
  • Is there an alternative? For example, instead of meeting, a quick Slack chat?

“When you practise this, you usually calm your anxious thoughts and prevent yourself from trying to please everyone. But, more importantly, it prevents you from overcommitting and wasting any valuable time,” Mr. Rampton writes on Thrive Global.

Quick hits

  • To maximize your learning, you need to doubt your knowledge, says tech executive Julie Zhao. It’s a tricky balance – you need confidence in your knowledge while at the same time doubting it. Author Mark Manson adds this perspective: A little bit of self-doubt is definitely better than none, citing Kanye West as an example of the latter.
  • Complainers live in the past, which is concrete. Executive coach Dan Rockwell recommends turning conversations with them to the future, but also trying to be concrete: “I’m curious. If things were going perfectly, what would it look like?”
  • When designing buttons for website visitors to click, Orbit Media chief marketing officer Andy Crestodina advises using the first person: “Create my account” rather than the second person, which you may have used repeatedly in the content on that page. “Create Your Account” is not as effective, studies show.
  • Your calendar is a better measure of success than your bank account, suggests Atomic Habits author James Clear.

The Globe and Mail, February 9, 2023