May I save you $5,000? And some embarrassment?

When Peter Drucker died last year, I was saddened that I had never had the privilege of meeting him. Whenever I read his works, I was stunned by their simplicity and power. It seemed to me that he could cram more insight into a well-written sentence than even John D. MacDonald. I had always hoped to sit down with him for even just 15 minutes, to ask him 2-3-4 questions. Perhaps the highest praise I could give him is that I would have taken a week off to simply come up with the best 2-3-4 I could. That's how precious that time would have been to me - to make THAT 15 minutes valuable, I would have taken a week.

In part I fantasized about taking this week to prepare as a way of paying homage to him. If you've read The Effective Executive, you know why. Drucker's first insight in the greatest management book ever written is that the most precious resource an executive has is TIME. The effective executive knows where she spends her time, and that her time is spent on the RIGHT THINGS.

Which brings me to saving you and your company a lot of money.

Whenever I'm engaged by an executive to coach them, one of my first (if not THE first) actions is to request their schedule for the previous 3-6 weeks. I want an answer to a question I don't want them to hear me asking: what is it that you DO? How do you spend your time? Because what you DO really IS what your priorities ARE.

Let me say that again, differently. Your "priorities" are what you DO. The inferential proof of what's important to you is how you spend your time. Your BEHAVIOR is the pigment on your life's strategic canvas.

I usually set the calendar aside, and then in our first meeting, I ask them one or more of these questions: "What are your priorities? What do you consider most important in your role? What do you see as the primary responsibility of your role?"

Shortly after I've spent my first day with an executive, I review their answers to my questions. Then, I compare their answers with their schedules.

90% of the time they don't match.

When I review with my clients what they said their priorities were, versus what their calendars proved they actually were, the primary emotion, once we fight through disbelief and dissembling, is embarrassment. The smart ones get something powerful from this: the disparity between what they know their jobs to be and what they spend their time doing is the primary source of their dissatisfaction in their role.

How does this insight save you and your firm $5,000?

Because you don't need to hire me to show you. Do it yourself, today. Put a half hour on your calendar some time today. (Oh, you're not that busy). In the first 5 minutes, set up Outlook (or whatever) to begin printing your daily calendar for the past 6 workweeks. If you have a light enough daily schedule that it will all show, print your calendar in weekly view - it'll go faster. We're not measuring busy-ness here.

In the next 10 minutes, write down your answers to the questions I asked above. Take only 10 (uninterrupted) minutes. It's unlikely you're going to come up with better stuff after 10 minutes. I've asked this question 500 times, and that's how long it's taken. Don't think back over your calendar and 'infer' your priorities from what you've been doing...that's cheating. If you want to look at your job description, fine. If you want to look at your metrics, fine. Whatever. Just write down what you think your priorities are.

In the last 15 minutes, compare your calendar with your "priorities." One rule I DO apply to this exercise is that unscheduled time does NOT get credited to ANY of your stated priorities. If you're someone who says that you only schedule times for meetings, or things that require other people, you probably don't like this rule. I'm sorry about that. But like I said, I've done this several hundred times, and I've watched people just like you work. If your time is unscheduled, you are SPECTACULARLY ineffective and inefficient. (It's because you don't treat time as your most precious resource, so you squander it.)

If that last point gets under your skin, I'm both sorry and a little glad. It's not the embarrassment many of my clients feel, but hopefully, it will energize you to take control of your time. You can buy Drucker (link below) to learn more.

In half an hour (plus the time it took to read this post), you've learned one of the most powerful lessons my clients pay me $5,000 for.

Let me know how things go when you start behaving around your stated priorities.

It's a privilege to serve you,

Mark

Manager Tools link to Peter Drucker's the Effective Executive


Great tip. And quite timely as well. I

Great tip. And quite timely as well. I just started re-reading The Effective Executive today, for this very reason. Whenever I feel myself starting to lose energy or focus, I can usually go back to my prioritization and time management and figure out why. Re-reading this book always reinvigorates me and refocuses me on spending time wisely.

Mark, great post it's really got me

Mark, great post it's really got me thinking about how I spend my day and how I describe my role (and how they are very different from each other!).

"what you DO really IS what your priorities ARE" - this is my key takeaway. Really got me thinking... Andy.

Andy- Great! That was my key

Andy-

Great! That was my key takeaway from TEE as well.

Book's in the mail.

It's a privilege,

Mark

Three Meaty Posts I'd like to share

Three Meaty Posts

I'd like to share three meaty posts with you. First up is a post from Sam Decker called 20 Questions to Develop Your Business. Whether we work internal to an organization or have our own business, these are excellent questions.

Mark, consistently great content,

Mark, consistently great content, thanks very much for generously sharing this information.

I confess that you pinned my reaction to the last point on the nose; unscheduled time = inefficient & ineffective got under my skin. I do have to admit however that I haven’t yet read the Effective Executive, it’s now on order.

I noticed that David Allen’s Getting Things Done is listed in your Favorite Books section. I’ve followed the GTD practices to plan/task/execute my work and find it effective, but its practice seems to oppose your recommendations; While all of my O3’s, my 2-hr weekly review, and on rare critical occasions I set ‘must track x delivery status’ blocks in my calendar. The a large portion of the tasks I go through are not in the calendar, they’re captured as lists of tasks in Outlook, as that process suggests. Most tasks have ‘review status’ dates and some do not.

Of course I expect to have a better perspective after reading TEE, and do expect to reconcile what I learn with my work style. But I am looking forward to your views on the comparison between the two practices.

Tony

Tony- Thanks for the kind words!

Tony-

Thanks for the kind words!

And hey, don't feel like the Lone Ranger. I learned the "calendar white space" lesson from my OWN calendar.

The short answer to the GTD - TEE "conflict" is that one is strategic, and the other is tactical. Or, put differently, it's efficiency versus effectiveness. GTD's initial value is efficiency. The underlying lesson, of course, is that once we get efficient, our ineffectiveness becomes even more glaring... thus the joke about re-arranging deck chairs on the Titanic.

So, they don't conflict. They speak to different issues.

You think we might have a show in the near future on this? ;-)

Great comment - it's a privilege to be helping you become more effective and efficient.

Mark

Thanks for a great podcast - the best

Thanks for a great podcast - the best in the world. Listening to your podcast is probably one of the most illuminating and productivity-enhancing uses of the net. Thanks for not holding back and giving all of yourself to your listeners.
Love and Regards,
Vivek Shroff
Businessman Age-35 India

Your podcasts are an important part of

Your podcasts are an important part of my morning commute. Thank you so much for doing them. I've started listening to them twice -- once, while driving, and then again in my study with my notebook open. (Almost drove off the road trying to take notes; learned my lesson.) And a dozen roses to you for urging people to read their daily newspaper in your "what to read" podcast. Keep up the good work.

Vivek- Wow! Thanks for the VERY

Vivek-

Wow! Thanks for the VERY kind words!

We're glad so many people are benefiting, and the international audience is exciting for us. We are particularly excited about our Indian members - reading The World is Flat really opened our eyes.

Mike and I are working on ways to enhance your experience even more, so stay tuned!

It's a privilege to serve you,

Mark

Sherlock- Thanks for the kind words.

Sherlock-

Thanks for the kind words. STAY SAFE! Mike and I talk about that very thing - how we can't ask folks to do too much in the cast, because they might TRY to WHILE driving. I am a terrible driver and am glad to hear you're being smart about this.

We have years of this ahead of us!

Mark

I can't say how much I value this post,

I can't say how much I value this post, actually more than the post.... I value the whole idea of sharing for free the tools you use to earn a living. One of the most important problem entreprises are stuck with right now, from my point of vue and my limited experience, is that people use information and knowledge as a security to keep their job. Either to look smarter than their collegues or only to make sure their boss can't fire them.. which is totally irrealistic but still... That kills the performance of their organization directly but they don't care, or don't see it.

With that said, thanks for this post and the time you guys take to share your knowledge with managers like me.

Best regards,

aL.

Alex- Well said! We enjoy doing

Alex-

Well said! We enjoy doing this for people like you.

Mark

Your priorities are what you DO Do you

Your priorities are what you DO

Do you ever wonder how you are meant to work on high priority long term tasks when you seem to have a never ending list of "urgent" (but non-important) tasks to work on?

Mark Horstman from the excellent Manager Tools podcast has a few words to say...

Mark, Conceptually, I agree with

Mark,

Conceptually, I agree with you, but I struggle with the reality of it.

If "my priorities are what I do", what do I do with the low priority, yet mandatory tasks like monthly reports, etc.? These types of activities steal your time and don't necessarily move you towards accomplishing your objectives. Any suggestions on how to manage low priority tasks along with higher priority strategic ones?

I would love to hear feedback on how to move towards a work/task system that is always moving me towards successfully accomplishing the important things.

Spiegs- Great question. Most people

Spiegs-

Great question. Most people don't even believe it's possible, so glad that you see the concept.

Generally, I recommend to executives I coach that they create a list of their key responsibilities, shouldn't' be any more than 4-5. (If it is, they're not 'key".) Then we work through what activities the exec engages that deliver to those responsibilities. The activities are by definition different than the responsibilities.

Those activities then get scheduled, and make up the majority of an exec's calendar.

Then, we make another list, of "stuff that 'has' to get done." We divide that into two lists, one that is delegatable (you'd be surprised), and those that the exec himself must do. Those non-negotiables go on the calendar on a routine basis, and the others get delegated.

It's not "that" simple, but fundamentally that's the plan. More details could be worked out in a face to face meeting. ;-)

I also tell execs, by the way, that one way to manage monthly reports is to stop doing them. Then, just see which ones are really required. I'm usually able to identify a few completely unnecessary tasks that can be dropped.

More soon,

Mark