Peter Drucker liked to tell the story of the farmer who rejected outside advice, saying, “I already know how to farm twice as well as I do.” That’s how many of us are when it comes to allocating our time. We already know how to use it twice as well as we do; we just don’t.
This is hardly a new concern. One of the first great evangelists of time management was Benjamin Franklin, who released exhortations in the form of Poor Richard’s Almanack. “Dost thou love life?” asked Poor Richard. “Then do not squander time, for that is the stuff life is made of.” Poor Richard also warned readers that “lost time is never found again” and encouraged them not to sleep in, since “he that riseth late, must trot all day, and shall scarce overtake his business by night.”
Even before he was part of the team that founded Intel Israel in 1974, Dov Frohman had come up with “erasable programmable read only memory,” or EPROM, a key technology for flash drives. As with many other innovations in Frohman’s career, EPROM was the result of taking time to stop and think.
This is why Frohman, like George Rupp, would consistently keep half of his calendar blank. (He retired in 2001.) But Frohman was also careful not to fill up that empty space with myriad other tasks—writing speeches or making plans. Often, he’d just sit and ponder.
“In Western culture today, we live under the premise that ‘I’m busy’ means ‘I’m efficient,’ and if you’re not busy, that’s seen as a big, big problem,” Frohman has said. “If you look at the calendars of most leaders and managers, you see that there is no space for reflection, no space for reevaluating failures, no space for daydreaming, which to me, is an essential part of leadership, because just about every one of my breakthroughs were results of daydreams, including EPROM.”
In Western culture today, we live under the premise that ‘I’m busy’ means ‘I’m efficient,’ and if you’re not busy, that’s seen as a big, big problem.
Co-Founder, Intel Israel
When Tom Peters and Robert H. Waterman, Jr. released the book In Search of Excellence in 1982, they found themselves with a bestseller on their hands and a lot of requests to respond to. Peters is naturally inclined to say yes, but “learned to say no nine and a half out of 10 times.” Today, he adds, “I’m damn good at saying no.”
Saying no, Peters counsels, is especially important for executives when invitations are asked to rarefied gatherings, like Davos. “You get out of touch,” he warns. “Your ego goes wild, even though you don’t know it.”
It also exacerbates another problem: Most “CEOs spend 95% of their time with people they know very well.” Such a lack of diversity of perspectives is dangerous for business. So learn to say no, particularly to swank affairs, and you’ll have more time on your calendar, which you can then “spend with people who are different,” Peters says.
EAT THE BIG FROG FIRST
There’s a saying—often attributed to Mark Twain (but almost certainly incorrectly)—that if you have to swallow a frog, do it first thing in the morning. And if you have to swallow two frogs, eat the big one first.
Merrillyn Kosier, executive vice president and chief marketing officer of mutual funds at Ariel Investments, abides by that principle (minus any actual frogs). The equivalent for her are major pieces of writing: strategic plans, performance reviews, big reports.
“Do the hardest thing first,” she advises, and “don’t let others hijack your day and zap your productivity.” When you’re done, she says, you’ll be left with “enormous confidence to do more.”
And one other thing: Don’t try to cheat by doing a couple of little things on the side while you’re trying to down that giant frog. “Multitasking is a trap,” Kosier says.
LEAVE THE OFFICE AT 5:30
Sheryl Sandberg is chief operating officer at Facebook and author of the bestseller Lean In. At 5:30, however, she is routinely out the door and on her way home to dinner with her family.
“I’ve been doing that since I had kids,” Sandberg has said. In so doing, Sandberg has become a role model for parents trying to find the proper work-life balance. But it’s also forced her to become a better time manager—and, for her, that has meant “ruthlessly prioritizing.”
You can only do so much. There are five more projects you want to do, but you pick the three that are really going to matter, and you try to do those really well, and you don’t even try to do the others.
Chief Operating Officer, Facebook and author of the bestseller Lean In.
“You can only do so much,” she says. “There are five more projects you want to do, but you pick the three that are really going to matter, and you try to do those really well, and you don’t even try to do the others.”
We’ll add that Sandberg is in good company. Alfred Sloan, the legendary chief of General Motors and one of Drucker’s favorite executives, made a habit of leaving work at 5:30, as well.
FIND AN ACCOUNTABILITY BUDDY
Executive coach Stever Robbins, host of the popular “Get-It-Done Guy” podcast, freely admits to being imperfect at time management. He tries to keep half of his time unscheduled, but he does not always succeed, and his effectiveness fluctuates.
Indeed, he says, everyone is vulnerable to drift and waste where time is concerned, and fancy time-management systems don’t make much difference. But there is one tool, he says, that seems to work especially well: “a live accountability buddy”—a friend or colleague who will keep you honest about your commitments.
To that end, Robbins even hosts “Do-It Days,” during which 10 people call into a conference line once an hour and announce, one by one, what they intend to accomplish in the next 60 minutes and what they accomplished in the previous 60. “We have this weird love of deeply abstruse systems,” Robbins says, but “with most people, there’s no deep dark reason they’re not getting things done.”
They just need someone to remind them that the clock is ticking—and to hold them to their word.*
What will you do on Monday that’s different?
CREATE A TIME LOG
The only way to know how you’re really spending your time is to track it carefully.
CUT TIME WASTERS
Peter Drucker identified four of them that are all too common—overstaffing, an excess of meetings, the “recurrent crisis,” and information that flows to the wrong part of the organization or arrives in the wrong form.
MAKE A NOT-TO-DO LIST
Ask yourself what would happen if you ceased to carry out a particular activity. If the answer is “Nothing,” then stop doing it.