The higher up you are on the leadership ladder, the tougher it can be to manage your time. Employees believe there is more freedom at the top. It is the opposite, as the impact of your decisions, and the demands on your time, are exponentially higher.
Clarity is important as an employee and necessary for survival as a leader.
What Bill Learned From Warren
In a classic Charlie Rose segment with Warren Buffett and Bill Gates, Buffett shows his business calendar. It is nearly blank. Gates says this is one of the biggest things he's learned from Buffett:
"I had every moment packed thinking that was the only way you could do things. The fact that he is so careful about his time... he has days there there's nothing going on."
"Nothing", of course, doesn't mean a Buffett vacation day. It gives him space for thought, for strategy and for flexibility.
It is why I committed to scheduling blank days:
There is one big thing you miss in your overscheduled day: opportunity. While it may feel good flitting from one meeting to the next, wiser entrepreneurs actually allow space for the unexpected client, epiphany or pivot. Think of it like leaving room in your coffee mug for cream and sugar: You don't want to have a completely empty cup, but you do want to provide a space for more.
And we wonder why we have all these ambitions, yet are in the same place months or even years later. There needs to be room for you to pursue them! How can new avenues be reached if you don't give yourself space to move forward?
Smart CEOs Multiply Requests by Pi
Essentialism author Greg McKeown says one of the most productive CEOs he knows automatically multiplies any requests by pi. Yup, by 3.14.
As McKeown recently explains on the Tim Ferriss Show, we tend to underestimate how long something will take to get done - especially when it is an outside request. Can you fill out this form? Can you call this person to get this deal done? Can you visit this branch to sort this out?
McKeown recommends taking whatever time someone expects it to take and multiplying it by 3.14. A 20 minute phone call will really take about an hour. A quick overnight business trip will take 3 days. Think about it: You have to prep for that phone call, do the phone call, then refocus on what you were originally doing (Deep Work author Cal Newport argues that it takes several minutes, if not an hour to refocus after you've been distracted.). An overnight trip requires you reshuffling meetings and perhaps fighting jet lag, not to mention the opportunity cost.
It can be tough to say "No", but it becomes a lot easier when we actually know the commitment required.
It also helps assuage our egos and believing we have to look extremely busy to be effective.
As Bill Gates said, "It's not a proxy of seriousness that you filled every minute of your schedule."