Where leaders spend their time matters. Unfortunately, many leaders struggle with time and calendar management; therefore, every new manager should do time management training. In fact, when we recently conducted interviews with scores of new directors (managers of managers) at a large communications company as we designed an onboarding/transitioning program for them, they cited calendar/time management as one of the biggest surprises they found as they transitioned into the role of director. They shared:

  • “So many people are scrambling to get on my calendar.”
  • “My role demands that I’m available and visible, but I feel like I’m losing control.”
  • “I wish someone told me which meetings were important and which were not.”

Clearly, everyone strives to use time effectively to accomplish more and to achieve important goals. While it might seem overwhelming at first, you can break time management into several smaller components that build upon each other and ultimately lead to more productive days:

  • Goal setting (identifying “the big rocks”) as a way of prioritizing and allocating time,
  • Breaking goals into more manageable, intermediate steps,
  • Scheduling time on the calendar to achieve those steps,
  • Auditing your time to determine where you’re currently spending your time (distinguishing urgent things from important things), and
  • Calendar management, including more detail on HOW to analyze competing priorities.

Senior Leaders Have Different Challenges

For all leaders, managing time is critical for getting stuff done. However, the “getting stuff done” for senior leaders is quite different than for supervisors, managers, and other less senior leaders. The “big rocks” that senior leaders need to get done includes visioning, innovating, developing strategy, and managing change. And, as amorphous as these things are, there’s a method to the madness. For example, innovation requires creative ideas (a “big rock”). Ideas for innovation may come from your research team; meeting with them (an intermediary step) may be a valuable use of your time. Get it on your calendar!

Many senior leaders can readily carve out time to address their big rocks things only they can do and we won’t spend time in this article on that process.

However, senior leaders especially those new to role often struggle with managing the other things that encroach on their calendar. The more senior the leader, the more those leaders need to parse out their precious time for more than simply “getting stuff done.” Senior leaders use calendar and time management to:

  • Signal priorities: Senior leaders should spend more time on organizational priorities. Everyone wants to know what’s important; having the senior leader present at a meeting is a sure-fire way to say, “this is important.”
  • Lend support: Senior leaders are called upon to champion or support an initiative. Their level of support is indicated largely by their visible presence in the initiative.
  • Provide guidance and make decisions: Senior leaders aren’t mired in the details, but they DO need to provide guidance, make decisions, and help allocate resources.
  • Connect across boundaries: Senior leaders must manage organizational politics, form alliances, and build collaborative relationships throughout and often outside of the organization. These are things only YOU can do!

In addition to “the big rocks” that you as senior leader are responsible for, your visibility and support in the form of presence at meetings is critical to the success of the organization. These activities deserve a place on your calendar.

Who Knows Best?

Knowing WHERE your time is best spent is key to planning your calendar to 1.) ensure that you’re spending time where you must spend time and 2.) use meaningful alternatives to address less important demands for your time. But who can guide you to help you distinguish the important from the less important?

For many senior leaders new to their role, they find the following resources useful in this quest:

  1. Peers: Tapping into others in similar positions is perhaps your best use of time, especially if you are new to your role. Be humble; be transparent; be curious; be thankful. Peers are usually extremely insightful and willing to help you navigate your first 30-60-90 days and can help provide you with tips to manage your time and calendar.
  2. Your boss: While this seems like a logical source of insight, many senior leaders find peers to be more practical and tactical in advice on managing your time and calendar. At the same time, your leader can help you prioritize, connect you with the right people, and invite you to critical meetings.
  3. Your staff: Effective senior leaders count on their team members to get work done; tapping into their insights will help you determine time and calendar priorities.
  4. Yourself: Give yourself time to think, to reflect, to plan. One of the most valuable hours you can spend each day with is with YOU! Put it on the calendar!

Putting It All Together

Let’s answer the question we started with: “How can I as a new director manage my time and my calendar to ensure that I’m allocating my time in the most effective way possible?” The answer is:

See your new role as it is very different than previous leadership positions you’ve held. Now, as senior leader, you are expected to set direction, guide your ship, and course correct. You must spend time doing these things things only YOU can and should do.

Figure out what’s important. Those who have greatest insights are (in order of usefulness according to the leaders we interviewed): 1.) your peers, 2.) your boss, and 3.) your staff. This order shifts over time, but initially, your peers may be your best source to distinguish the important from the less important.

In addition to “the big rocks” inherent to your position, spend time where you and your position can best be leveraged to clarify priorities, lend support, provide guidance and direction, and make decisions. Leverage your staff to address things that they can and should address.

And last, make sure you plan an hour at the end of each week to reflect on what went well that week the meetings and appointments that definitely leveraged your involvement  and what you might do differently next week.