It's about time someone exploded the myth that you should fill every waking moment with "productive" activity. If your management time is a resource to be employed to gain maximum return on investment, let's look at a strategy more in keeping with that objective.

The concept of strategic reserve has been used in military operations for centuries. Translated into management terms, strategic reserve means keeping your time flexible enough so that you can apply management effort and skill when critically needed. Ideally practiced, this means committing only two-thirds of your time to planned and predictable activities, and keeping the remaining third open and in reserve.

What? you ask, I shouldn't do a full day's work? Careful, you're talking like a production employee, not a manager. If your job takes more than two-thirds of the time available, you're probably committing yourself to more projects and objectives than are really required. Doing less better is the approach to take, not trying to play executive superman, a popular role today.

The strategic reserve approach to time management is tailored to your mission, a large part of which should be making yourself available to others when they need you. If a subordinate must make an appointment to get on your schedule, or stand for hours waiting for a break in the action, you are investing your time inappropriately. Even in small and mid-sized businesses, management's top priority must be to help others achieve results. This means resisting the temptation to carve out large chunks of work for yourself.

One manager I know was a charter member of the "18-hour-a-day menace club." He arrived at seven a.m. every day, after a one-hour commute. ("The better to think and look at the mail," etc.). Then, by careful scheduling, he filled the next 12 hours with meetings, presentations, telephone calls, dictation, and a hasty lunch at his desk.

His door was always open, so everyone could see his herculean efforts, but there was no way you could get in. If you arrived at 7:00 in the morning, he resented your intrusion on his quiet time. If you tried late in the day, at 8 p.m., you were taking away from the little time he had for his family (whose existence many doubted).Finally his boss sent the message that he should back off a bit, providing him with an assistant to lighten the load. The manager merely added to his duties the task of keeping his new subordinate jumping.

The counterproductivity of all this activity should be obvious, but the rule of 100% use of management time is hard to unlearn. One who did unlearn it was the chief executive officer of a small company who discovered he was doing more harm than good by constantly supervising his managers. He decided to take up flying the company plane in order to stay out of his managers' hair for a while. His managers are grateful and much more productive as a result. Another manager restructured his time so that he can visit outside organizations. The resources he brings back to his company from the field have had a great impact on his operations.

Several years ago, I worked with a senior operating officer of a small company who arrived each day at nine a.m., went to lunch at noon, and left each evening at five. He never worked on weekends, even though those who worked for him occasionally pressed him to come in then. Sales went from $750,000 to over $10 million in nine years because what he did, he did very well. Those who worked for him had to produce results.

In looking back on it, I can see that he really didn't do very much except make sure that everyone else was doing the things necessary to make the place hum. His employees were welcome to talk with him about their problems, but he never let them leave problems with him. He gave them the feeling that each one had personal responsibility for getting the job done, and that if he didn't exercise that responsibility, the place wouldn't run.

Protecting your strategic reserve takes discipline, but it can be done. Try it next week or next month. Open up two days during a week and hold them open. Keep two hours a day blank on your schedule. Protect these reserves so that you can do less and do it better. Why should nine to five be clerical hours only? Managers, real managers, deserve the same hours.