“I didn’t get anything done today!”

How many times have you said that lately? Especially after an exhausting day!?!

If you’re getting further behind the faster you go, ask yourself one piercing question: How do you spend your time?

And then this one: How sure of that are you? Could you prove it?If you don’t get some real data about your own habits, you can manage to delude yourself all the way to Executive Wasteland.

My experience working with many capable and accomplished leaders bears out this truth: Most managers and executives don’t spend their time the way they think they do.

For my own time accounting, I’ve taken to using a simple little time-tracking device — one of the Yahoo Widgets called, cleverly enough, TimeTracker. It sits conveniently on the desktop, lets you customize your tracking task list, and auto records your reported time usage to a spreadsheet. This is all great.

It’s even potentially great if you don’t ever open the spreadsheet but use the widget. That’s because by using the TimeTracker, your awareness of how you use your time will be raised. And that inevitably will affect your behavior and help you choose how you spend your time.

How leaders spend their time may be disproportionate to optimum.

See the diagram for 16 categories of how leaders spend their time. Of course, some of these activities shouldn’t be on the list. But let’s be grown up and deal with what is. [Aside: I dashed off that little mind map diagram right in my browser using MindMeister.com — a collaborative mindmapping program currently in beta. Sign up for their newsletter, and you, too, may get to play.]

If you were to use these categories to analyze your work life by assigning two values to each, Relative Importance and Actual Time Spent, how do you think they’d square? Many times the relationship between these factors are of inverse proportions.

If you don’t get some real data about your own habits, you can manage to delude yourself all the way to Executive Wasteland. To do the stuff that matters, you’ve got to 1) track how you are actually spending your time now; 2) plan to use your time differently; 3) decide to change some routines and kill some habits; and 4) deploy your time and energy more effectively.

Bottom line: You have to put you in control of your time, energy and focus to the degree you can (which for many of us won’t be sufficient until we’re drawing down our retirement savings). My experience with many harried managers is that they are absolutely great at identifying and blaming a plethora of external factors for encumbering their time, and blind to, or reluctant to acknowledge, their own significant contributions.

External realities impinge, yes. Of course. Equally true: Most of us can do more to get more out of the available hours and minutes within our control. And therein lies the secret.

To be more effective, to affect better results, you need to squeeze more out of your day by taking more control over it. That will allow you to spend precious time, energy, and attention on the things that matter to producing the results you’re after.

Start right now. Identify your high-value activities, honestly assess how much attention and quality time you’re actually giving them — versus lip service and intention. Then start chopping away at your time and energy wasters. And put more oomph behind the high-value, high-leverage activities that really make a difference.

Then, when you go home exhausted, at least you will have accomplished something.

— Don Blohowiak
Leadership Coach