How a Top Leader Organizes Her Time

Recently, I had the opportunity to interview Laurie, the chief operating officer for an organization of 12,000 people. While time management wasn’t our topic, she began to describe how she works as a part of our conversation. “I divide my days into 15 minute chunks,” she said. “I typically work from 8AM to 6PM everyday, so I have 40 chunks with which to get things done. I’ve allotted 30 minutes for this interview, for instance, or two chunks.”

Laurie went on to explain that while she didn’t enter senior management with this kind of strategy, she learned very quickly that she needed a system in order to manage the pressures of her responsibilities successfully. As we continued to discuss her approach to decision making, she referenced this time management system a couple more times. “You see,” she said, “my reports have learned manage their contact with me according to this approach. This has had several positive results. It compels them to thoroughly consider questions and concerns before getting on my calendar. It also forces them to be succinct. Fifteen minutes is not a lot of time. Finally, it encourages me to remain disciplined and make decisions in a timely way.”

Few of us have the position power to simply divide our days into fifteen-minute chunks and expect our colleagues to respect this parameter. But there are still a few ideas we can take away from Laurie’s practice:

  • Adopt a means for organizing your time into chucks. You may not be able to maintain this practice for the entire day, but begin by choosing one to two hours when you’re able to concentrate on tasks and projects. If your team continually interrupts, explain that you will not deal with the day’s minor questions and crises during this time. If you enforce it, they’ll respect it. Over time, you might expand from two hours to three hours and from three hours to four hours. You get the idea.
  • Assign your tasks to the chunks you have set aside. Determine how much time you think it will take to complete each project and then work hard to stick to that parameter. For instance, I’ve set aside two hours to write this blog post and I’ve pretty much done it.
  • Discipline yourself to follow through. This strategy, like any other, is embraced until the normal routine attempts to erode it. Stay the course. Say no to distractions. Refuse to yield to “emergencies” and don’t make exceptions. Within a couple of weeks, your habits and the habits of those around you will adapt to the new approach. You must remain consistent and disciplined.

By the way, don’t assume you need permission to implement a strategy like this. Just begin. You might be surprised how your colleagues, and even your boss, will respect your effort at getting more done in an organized way.

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