Execs Tips For Getting on Top of Time

I am working with a group of executives and when asked what issue they would like to discuss at our monthly meeting, they quickly and overwhelmingly said: Work overload. Email in particular has been mounting, becoming more and more of a daily (and nightly) grind.


We discussed numerous “tips and tricks” that make much sense. I emphasized two things: first, not all people are the same, and what works for one doesn’t work for another. So, I encouraged them to focus on what they thought could work for them and choose two strategies and pursue them. Second, what works for anyone will change over time – as they and their circumstances change. So, time management is best seen as an ongoing experiment and learning, not a once-and-for-all effort.


At the end of our meeting, they each committed to a strategy or two that would work for them. Here are their thoughts, hoping they might help you:


  • Block the earliest part of the day for high-priority work that demands a fresh mind. That may be writing, strategy, or other deep-creative work. Do it before you turn on the computer or at least before you open the email!

  • Close the “open door,” that leads to a thousand interruptions. One exec said he was creating quiet times for himself, but balancing that be scheduling set times with staff to give them his full attention. Let staff know you’re doing this and why.

  • Use the phone with key stakeholders. A woman with a vast volunteer support network said email gives her the illusion of efficiency. Her office has become entirely virtual. But the critical feeling of relationship has been badly hurt by driving all communication through email and away from the more personal. Her advice to herself: Don’t hit the “ignore” button and send important people to voicemail. Instead, she’s picking up the phone calls. Treat your key clients, customers, KIDS! as people and not just email recipients. You lose a little control, but gain a lot more.

  • Manage the Crackberry addiction!!! Like an addict: You have to have it – like a cigarette. Just one more look at it – like one more drink, or one more quarter in the slots. You guiltily sneak a hit on the crackberry in church, on a date, or at your kid’s performance. A couple of our execs had developed “recovery” type behaviors to deal with the habitual quality of the blackberry:

    • Don’t bring it into meetings. A COO in a large health system has been confronted by a peer about his blackberry in meetings, and he concluded for himself: I’m sending the wrong message to people I’m with, and I have to admit: it diminishes my focus in the meeting. Below see the strategy he developed to keep up with the avalanche of emails he’s temporarily ignoring. Another director of a large non-profit is trying two strategies to manage his addiction:

    • Turn the sound and vibration off. This exec “admitted” he’s turned the sound and vibration off his blackberry, unless he’s expecting something. He felt he’d become like the dog salivating when the bell rang. Now, he’s not constantly interrupted. And:

    • Keep the blackberry in another room at home. At home this exec says he keeps the blackberry on a different floor in his house. He takes away the temptation entirely. At our home, parents on blackberries and kids texting pay 25 cents to the family cottage fund when caught texting at the dinner table.

  • Shorten meetings to forty-five minutes. The exec who isn’t bringing his blackberry to meetings made a counterbalancing time-saving decision/experiment: he changed meetings he was chairing from an hour to 45 minutes. He’s finding people more focused in that time, and he uses the saved 15 minutes for emails that he feels he must get to.

  • Stop over-promising: It creates unnecessary pressure and sets you up for failure. One exec who runs a great small business with personal service said: “I’m a pleaser, so I notoriously say it will be delivered sooner than is practical.” She’s finding that many clients prefer clarity and she’s avoiding costly disappointments when expectations were not realistic.

  • Block 2 times during the day to look at emails. This exec said he looks immediately after lunch, and then in the quiet time after others leave the office. Some have said we’re living in a time of permanent attention deficit disorder. Keeping email off at times allows him to focus his attention.

  • Keep a “no” list and have a goal of using it every day. Saying “yes” to things of lesser importance drives out things of high importance. So, in this case, “no” means “yes” to accomplishing what really matters.

  • Journal to clarify your mind. A highly successful litigator finds that he gets great value early in the day from doing 15 minutes of free-form journaling. “Things crystallize” he said, as his thoughts inevitably take him to the important things.

  • Ditch the ballast. When done with the email, delete (or otherwise move it out of the inbox). When you can decide, decide. Unless a revisit will add quality – truly relevant information or necessary perspectives – decide and move. Revisiting is costly in time and energy.

  • Choose a time management strategy or two and focus. Better to pursue a couple simple strategies than to have time management itself create a whole new set of distractions and/or guilty failures!