Time is a scarce resource. The internet is flooded with articles about how top leaders and CEOs budget their time, promising you superhuman levels of clarity and focus--if you just mimic their schedules. In my experience, I haven't actually seen a lot of people, or managers, actually execute on that.

To find out more, I turned to Alon Novy, CEO of ScribblePost, the world's first Productivity Network. Here's Alon:

For most of our lives, we're told that time management is the most important aspect of success. This is especially true for a CEO. If you're running a company, we think, you need to keep a tight ship, and manage your time down to the second. But for the most effective leaders, time management isn't a priority at all. Here's why.

Time Management Doesn't Matter

First of all, you can coordinate your calendar all you like. If you're a top CEO, you won't stick to it. A recent Harvard Business School study found that the "average CEO spends one in three hours on activities that were not planned in advance." That comes out to a whopping 13 hours per week in unplanned activities--well over an entire day at work.

It has nothing to do with their time management skills or their ability to plan ahead. It's just the nature of the job. When you're running a company, all kinds of details pop up in the day-to-day that you could never have anticipated--and to do your job, you have to handle them.

Good CEOs respond to this stuff. Those who are too rigid, and adhere like clockwork to pre-ordained schedules, don't. And as the study found, it eventually hurts the performance of the companies that they lead.

Parkinson's Law, first published in The Economist in 1955, states that "work is elastic in its time." This means that if you set aside an hour to write a report, it'll take you the whole hour. If you set aside 20 minutes, it will take 20.

That's because we're really bad at time management--even CEOs.

Attention Management Is More Important Than Time Management

In a study of hundreds of manufacturing CEOs, Harvard researchers found that time management isn't a priority for people at the helms of large corporations. These CEOs spent their days in a lot of different ways--some spent 12 hours a day in the office, others spent 3. The most effective leaders aren't the ones who constantly keep the midnight oil burning, but rather the ones who are the most attentive and focused while at work.

It's a phenomenon Cal Newport, a professor of computer science at Georgetown University, also notes. In his book Deep Work, he writes that time management basically doesn't matter, especially in environments in a state of flux. What's more important is doing "deep work," and the ability to ruthlessly prioritize in an efficient, process-oriented way.

Doing deep work allows us to keep our attention committed to the immediate task at hand, while remaining flexible enough with our schedules that we're ready and able to respond to the inevitable surprises. It's an essential skill for any CEO.

Are you giving your undivided attention to writing that press release? Or are you also distracted by that podcast you're listening to? We tend to get consumed by "shallow activities," like checking our email or an endless flurry of instant message notifications.

Invest in Your Team's Focus Skills

Great CEOs don't just keep close tabs on their own attention--they make sure their entire team has the ability to focus.

That's why productivity consultant Maura Thomas suggests that companies ditch the phrase "time management" entirely, and swap it out for "attention management." It requires a cultural shift within the company, but one that good CEOs are totally capable of instituting.

If your office is like most, your employees think about work in terms of hours, which runs totally counter to driving high-quality output across the board. As Thomas points out, "creativity, inspiration, and motivation are...depletable resources." They're absolutely essential elements to a highly-effective workforce, but they require downtime in order to reboot and recharge.

Here's some ways you can achieve this in your office:

Implementing a "no device" policy
Vynamic has a "zmail" policy,
Boston Consulting Group has "predictable time off,'
ScribblePost runs a "goal alignment" process

Greater focus = Greater happiness

Happy employees are more productive employees. But as it turns out, this formula goes both ways. When employees are focused and highly productive, they enjoy spending time in the office, creating a virtuous cycle.

In one study of thousands of employees, researchers found a non-so surprising statistic: only 20% of Americans can focus on just one task at a time at work. But they found an interesting twist: that 20% of people were 50% more engaged with their work. They actually enjoyed doing it. And as a result, they were happier and more productive.

Their bosses and CEOs had recognized that attention management, more so that time management, is totally crucial to both productivity and happiness.

Happy employees--the ones who are encouraged to focus on attention spent on a project rather than time spent on a project--have a lower turnover rate, don't burn out as quickly, and feel greater connection to the company. Overall, they're going to be greater assets to your company.

Published on: Mar 9, 2016
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