May 29, 2008
News & Opinion: Excerpt from Executive Stamina
The following excerpt is taken from Chapter 11 of Executive Stamina: How to Optimize Time, Energy, and Productivity to Achieve Peak Performance by Marty Seldman and Joshua Seldman. From the publisher: "Executive Stamina combines the wisdom and methodology of the very best executive coaching with the cutting-edge training techniques of world-class endurance athletes. This holistic approach uses practical tips and tools to help executives maximize their career potential, maintain their physical health, and stay aligned with their personal values. Readers will better manage their productivity, time, and energy to achieve peak professional performance. Having personally coached more than 1,500 executives, Dr. Seldman reveals all the success factors, derailment factors, and tradeoffs on the fast-paced executive career track, helping today's executives achieve more and live better."
Identifying High-Payoff Activities
The old adage, "Work smarter, not harder," is actually very sound advice for executives. Though the concept resonates with everyone, we often forget to apply it in our daily lives. Most executives already expend a significant amount of energy thinking of ways to optimize their time. So, why devote a chapter to pointing out that you should spend your time on the activities that yield the highest payoff for your specific objective? Three reasons:
- Reflection--World-renowned psychologist and physician Edward de Bono poignantly summarized the importance of spending time wisely: "No amount of hard work in the wrong direction ever takes you in the right direction." Because many executives work at a hyper pace, allowing little time for reflection, it is often the case that they are spending too much time on noncrucial activities and neglecting others that are essential.
- Habits--In conjunction with an absence of reflection, most of us have formed habits and established patterns that have us spending valuable time on low-payoff activities. And as we all know, habits are easy to make but difficult to break.
- Increased Urgency--I am hoping that the previous chapters have increased your sense of urgency about choosing wisely where you focus your time and energy. Activities that don't vigorously advance our goals or, worse, waste our efforts, carry two risks. First, extending the length of the work day actually increases the chances of our reaching the point of diminishing returns before we achieve our objectives. Second, every time we say yes to something, we may also be saying no to a more important business or personal activity.
Unless you are able to function on four hours of sleep a night or have wide gaps of unfilled time in your calendar, then it is useful to see each obligation you commit to as a tradeoff. The extra time you spend at an unproductive meeting may be even more costly than you realize. That could be time better spent strategizing for the next quarter or talking with your top saleswoman who is being heavily recruited by your competitor. That meeting might cause you to miss a dinner at home or a workout or the opportunity to help a child with homework.
What Is the Best Use of Your Time?
Only you can answer that question, and it will be different for everyone, and will change with circumstances. Nevertheless, there are some guidelines you can follow to help you identify those activities that should be a priority in your current role. To begin, ask yourself:
- What is my unique position on the team?
- What are the factors necessary for me to succeed in this role?
- What are the current risks and priorities of my role?
A starting point in helping you decide which activities are essential is to examine your specific role on your team and your organization. Which tasks are you in a unique position to accomplish? Which key activities, if not completed by you, will not get done? Some examples of essential activities include:
- Representing team interests: As the leader of a team, you represent the team at certain meetings: budgeting, operating plan reviews, talent reviews, project updates with senior management. Could other people on your team go to these meetings and do a credible job? Probably, but even if they could they are not invited. You are tasked to represent your team in very important settings that impact the team's resources, reputation, and individual team members' careers. Are you fully prepared for these meetings?
- Resolving conflicts: Conflicts between your team and other functions are inevitable. Members of your team may have important information and useful ideas about resolving the conflict, but you may be required to intervene at higher levels.
- Attending top-to-top meetings: Your salespeople may be excellent and credible but many times, a key customer wants to establish a strong relationship with you as the head of the division. If you don't make this a priority, or don't do it well, it could undermine many people's efforts.
- Spotting national or global trends: If your team is geographically dispersed, individual members will be reporting to you about important trends they are seeing in their regions. It is up to you to connect the dots, to determine what is a regional situation or the beginning of a national or global trend. For example, certain consumer preferences or trends might emerge in California that may have resonance across the country (e.g., nonsmoking policies, organic food trends, environment-friendly companies). You must capture this kind of input, share best practices, and think strategically if your organization is able to profit from this information.
These four examples are just the tip of the iceberg; obviously, there are many others that will apply only to you and your current role. So, the first step in answering the "best use of time" question is to look at the important tasks that only you are in a position to accomplish.
Excerpted with permission of the publisher John Wiley & Sons, Inc. from EXECUTIVE STAMINA. Copyright (c) 2008 by Marty Seldman and Joshua Seldman. For more information please visit www.executivestamina.org.