Time Management: How Leaders Should Spend Their Time

time spent on activities_knowledge workersThe following is an excerpt and executive overview of the McKinsey Quarterly article, Making Time Management the Organizations Priority, published in April 2013.

Our research and experience suggest that leaders who are serious about addressing this challenge must stop thinking about time management as primarily an individual problem and start addressing it institutionally. Time management isn’t just a personal-productivity issue over which companies have no control; it has increasingly become an organizational issue whose root causes are deeply embedded in corporate structures and cultures.

 When we asked nearly 1,500 executives across the globe2 to tell us how they spent their time, we found that only 9 percent of the respondents deemed themselves “very satisfied” with their current allocation. Less than half were “somewhat satisfied,” and about one-third were “actively dissatisfied.” What’s more, only 52 percent said that the way they spent their time largely matched their organizations’ strategic priorities. Nearly half admitted that they were not concentrating sufficiently on guiding the strategic direction of the business. These last two data points suggest that time challenges are influencing the well-being of companies, not just individuals.

Recommendations

  1. Develop a ‘leadership time’ budget: allocate a percentage of time for each major project or initiative that requires leadership guidance and attention.
  2. Consider ‘time’ when making organizational changes: when making structural and hierarchical changes to an organization, consider the ‘time’ factor managers have with direct reports.
  3. Measure individuals’ time: conduct time analysis exercises to provide awareness of where executives and workers spend their time. This creates a baseline and a starting point for changing time allocations
  4. Refine the master calendar: Review all meetings and calendars and make an assessment of which meetings support organizational goals/ initiatives. Also have a coding system of identifying reporting, problem solving, or decision type meetings.

Executives at the highest-performing organizations we’ve seen typically spend at least 50 percent of their time in decision meetings and less than 10 percent in reporting or information meetings.

5. Provide high quality administrative support: Provide executive leadership quality administrative support that understands where to allocate executives time.

Of those who deemed themselves effective time managers, 85 percent reported that they received strong support in scheduling and allocating time.The time pressures on senior leaders are intensifying, and the vast majority of them are frustrated by the difficulty of responding effectively. While executives cannot easily combat the external forces at work, they can treat time as a precious and increasingly scarce resource and tackle the institutional barriers to managing it well. The starting point is to get clear on organizational priorities—and to approach the challenge of aligning them with the way executives spend their time as a systemic organizational problem, not merely a personal one.