A recent article in Harvard Business Review details that CEOs work, on average, 9.7 hours per day, conduct business on about 80% of weekend days, and work for almost 3 hours per day on 70% of their vacation days (1). Yet, numerous other publications describe burnout as a major factor in declining performance of all workers. Burnout results in decreased motivation, lower productivity, and poor-quality work. Burnout manifests itself in lost time due to illness, poor health, and destabilized personal relationships. All of us, not just CEOs, need to better manage our time so that we can sustain deep engagement with our work and live happy, joy-filled lives.
How Do You Spend Your Time?
As product, project, and engineering managers, we know that we cannot find a solution to a problem until we fully understand the problem. Closing a budget or schedule gap first involves gathering data on the costs to-date and evaluating the work accomplished thus far. Once we have historical data in hand, we can interpret the size of the gap as well as begin to formulate changes and corrective actions to keep the project on plan.
Managing time in our professional and personal lives is much the same. First, we need to gather data on how we currently spend our time and then analyze that data to diagnose the need for change. There are two elements to tracking how you spend your time.
First, it’s important to know how much time you spend on various tasks throughout the day. In the HBR study discussed previously, the researchers used the CEOs’ executive assistants to track the CEOs time in 15-minute blocks. If you have staff support that can help you with time tracking of your various work tasks, by all means, take advantage of this service.
Since I don’t have full-time, in-office administrative support, I use a cloud-based time-tracking app. You can find dozens of free apps to help you track how much time you spend on which activities throughout the day. Many corporations also have available the Microsoft “My Analytics” time-tracking tool to analyze your Outlook calendar for time spent in meetings, etc.
Regardless of the tool you choose, make sure the application is easy to use (no more than one or two clicks) and can later expand if you want to track higher degrees of granularity of how you spend your time. However, make sure that you start with very simple task analysis. We don’t want time-tracking to become an extra job in itself! For example, I track teaching time, writing, specific client projects, and volunteer activities. I can also match each category to related income streams as part of evaluation and gap analysis.
Design Thinking Time Tracking
In our Life Design Master Mind Group, we follow the advice of Bill Burnett and Dave Evans in Designing Your Life. Here, we track our “flow” in different activities. Whereas tracking the minutes or hours spent on various tasks allows us to evaluate cost-benefit, tracking “flow” gives us a sense of what work we enjoy and what activities motivate us to do more.
“Flow” is a concept in which are working on tasks or activities that are so motivation and engaging that we don’t even notice the passage of time. These are often the activities we daydream about or find ourselves planning for free or quiet time. Flow is “being in the zone,” sort of like Steph Curry hitting dozens of consecutive three-pointers from the half-court-line. You feel connected to and inspired by the work. You are so embedded in your work, you might forget to stop and eat a meal. And while it is hard to describe “flow,” we’ve all been there and recognize the positive and rewarding feelings that come from “being in the zone”.
Therefore, in Life Design Master Mind, we want to identify the time we spend in flow. A separate time-tracking exercise using design thinking will follow the tasks on which you work, the energy you apply to the activity, and your feelings of engagement with the task.
For example, when I look at my journal from about a year ago, I recorded “doing email” with energy of 10% and engagement of 10%. Not surprising, as the CEO study by HBR described previously also noted that these senior executives preferred face-to-face contact with direct reports and customers.
During the same month, I recorded my energy level at 75% and engagement at 85% while developing new course materials for one of the university classes I teach. And I recorded working out at the gym with 100% energy and 75% engagement. (As a side note, my husband thinks I can get a bit too fanatical about my fitness regime sometimes…)
You’ll want to keep a Flow Journal for a few weeks so that you can capture the broadest set of activities in which you engage as well as to average out any anomalies. During a week when I had a head cold, my energy level was low for all tasks. But, again, that’s understandable when I move to interpreting how I spent my time and what I enjoy.
Next Steps to Manage Your Time
Once you’ve collected data on how you spend your time, you need to evaluate where the gaps exist between the current stat and desired future state. In Life Design Master Mind, we delve into understanding the core of flow for each individual and use more design thinking tools to frame the context for prototyping and testing new paths in our careers and lives.
You also can use the detailed task time-tracking to eliminate or minimize the least value-added tasks. For instance, we all have to “do email,” yet there is little profit gained in this task. Based on Cal Newport’s advice in “Deep Work,” I typically check email only two or three times per day, and at times of the day when my motivational energy is already low (like after lunch). In this way, I can preserve times of the day when my inspiration is high for “flow” activities (e.g. I do a lot of writing first thing in the morning).
How Do You Manage Your Time?
A lot of how we spend our day is rooted in habit. Some of these are good habits and some are not-so-good. We can only expect to change our lives and strive for the next highest level in our careers if we understand where we’re at right now. Start today with a task time-tracking app. Then, later add a Flow Journal to learn which of these tasks give you energy, engagement, and an acceptable cost-benefit ratio. (You can download a template for your Flow Journal as part of the Life Design Master Mind Group.)
(1) Porter, Michael E. and Nitin Nohria, “How CEOs Manager Their Time,” Harvard Business Review July/Aug 2018, pg. 42-51.
To Learn More
Join us in an introductory Life Design Master Mind group in Houston where we start with how you spend your time today. Over the next 6 months, we will use design thinking tools to take a deep dive into professional and personal motivation to frame and test what next steps you can take to live a joy-filled life. Check out our on-line tutorial on Design Thinking, too. Feel free to contact me at [email protected] or 281-280-8717. At Simple-PDH.com where we want to help you gain and maintain your professional certifications. You can study, learn, and earn – it’s simple!
We discuss different project team structures in NPDP Certification Prep: A 24-Hour Study Guide, and you can find additional references at https://globalnpsolutions.com/services/npd-resources/. Some other books you might enjoy:
- Designing Your Life by Bill Burnett and Dave Evans
- Deep Work by Cal Newport
- The Power of Little Ideas by David C. Robertson and Kent Lineback
- Well Designed by Jon Kolko
- 101 Design Methods by Vijay Kumar
- The Innovator’s Dilemma by Clayton Christensen
Speaking on Design Thinking
- 15 August 2018 at Houston Organizational Development Network Meeting
- 7 September 2018 at Texas Association of Change Management Professionals Conference
Study. Learn. Earn. Simple.
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As a CEO – I was spending 14 hours daily. We were a startup that time, so had to manage many things. But now it’s 7-8 hours maximum.
I planned my next days meetings or any task which i need to do earlier day. So i don’t waste my time on doing some thing on internet which is not all productivity.