Time Alone for Strategic Thinking is Crucial for Executives

With gruelling demands of meetings, email messages, social media and clients, Executives may find it difficult to allocate time for strategy. Executives who manage these competing demands enhance the performance of their organisation.

How satisfied CEOs manage their time

Company Executives can be hampered in their time management as they face the gruelling demands of employees, email and social media messages, clients and other business concerns. In an international survey by McKinsey & Company of about 1,500 Executives in November 2011, it was found that one-third were “actively dissatisfied” about the way they used their time. Almost half of them admitted that the daily challenges of work have hindered them from formulating strategies to lead their company.

These Executives were then categorised into four different groups, depending on where the bulk of their time was spent. For “schmoozers,” they spent most of their time communicating with the company’s external stakeholders face-to-face or through phone. “Cheerleaders,” on the other hand, placed more time on motivating employees. “Online junkies” allocated most of their schedule toward emails or other impersonal messaging tools, while “fire fighters” dedicated most of their time on resolving issues in the company. Of course, Executives belonging to any one of these groups are unable to perform well as they tend to focus on one part of management, instead of leading the enterprise as a whole.

Strikingly, the survey also shed light on Executives that can balance their time properly. Out of the respondents, only 9% said they were satisfied with how they allocated their time.

So how do they do it?

According to the survey results, these outstanding Executives spent 34% of their schedule on interacting with external stakeholders, 39% for meetings with employees and 24% for working alone. As a result, they were able to manage different parts of their organisation, while still having the time to think about strategy when they were working alone.

Aside from the McKinsey survey, another study delved into the schedule of executives. The Executive Time Use project found that CEOs devote about 18 hours out of their 55-hour workweek into meetings, more than three hours for calls and five hours for business meals. For executives that work with direct reports, their meeting hours stretch longer as they monitor business operations. All of these can hinder them from having the time to think about strategy. Executives ought to equate their time with money so that they will be more thoughtful about using it, according to Steven Kaplan, a management practice professor at Harvard Business School.

Apparently, most CEOs are struggling hard to balance their time, as seen from these two studies. Nevertheless, it is not impossible for them to manage their time well, as shown by the 9% from the McKinsey survey. It is especially vital for executives to have time allotted for strategy to ensure that they are leading their company to achieve long-term success.

Great CEOs “work on their business”

For Chief Executives to be effective, they need to stop “working in the business, and instead work on the business.” In addressing emails, social media messages, clients and employees, CEOs are mostly preoccupied with the day-to-day details of their company, instead of making it profitable and successful in the long run. They need to reduce their focus on these things and devote more of their attention toward growth opportunities, strategic networking, and making sure that the company meets its goals.

To qualify for the Inc. 500 ranking, CEOs need to enable their companies to reach net sales of USD $100,000 in its first year, and USD $2 million in its fourth year. For those that have made it to the Inc 500, it was noticed that their executives spend 50% to 90% of their time on strategy and business development. As a result, these companies achieve fast-paced growth.

Jeff Immelt, CEO of LinkedIn, is a huge believer of CEOs allocating time to think about strategy. Having time alone has helped him chart the course of his business and make sound decisions. “You’re not only thinking strategically, thinking proactively, thinking longer-term, but you’re literally thinking about what is urgent versus important, and trying to strike that right balance,” he said.

Some time-management tips for Executives

Since devoting time for strategy pays off, here are some tips for how Executives can balance out their schedule:

1. Prioritise tasks and delegate – Activities that pave the way toward growth should be your top priority, while operational and other daily tasks can be delegated.

2. Use email technology – You can avoid being pinned down by your email by using apps that filter your messages according to importance, such as SaneBox.

3. Wake Up Early – Rising early helps some of the most progressive CEOs exercise, meditate and start their day in the right frame of mind, which helps them become productive in their role.

4. Divide your day into chunks of activities – In the morning, when your mind is in its sharpest state, you can block an hour at a minimum for brainstorming, strategic planning or for working on creative projects. When your focus wanes in the afternoon, you may devote your time to reactive tasks such as holding meetings.

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