Several weeks ago I wrote about the fact that “time management” is a misnomer because we can not manage time. Rather, we can only manage ourselves within time.

I was reminded of that fact this week during a leadership coaching session with a smart, accomplished and hard-working client who leads a very reputable non-profit organization. Controlling her schedule or – using that misnomer – “time management” – has been one of the recent major themes of our coaching sessions.

She acknowledged to me that she has been more in control of her schedule recently, partly because she has been going into the office more frequently and working from home less often. When she gets into the office, she has been more proactive about addressing her schedule rather than jumping right into the first thing facing her on her desk or computer screen.

She has adopted the habit of looking at her work calendar in big blocks – more than a month at a time. This allows her to remind herself simultaneously about short-term, medium-term and long-term priorities. Additionally, when looking at her weekly schedules, she gives herself permission to set a “focus day” each week where she can concentrate on planning and thinking. In coaching, we often refer to this shift as focusing on “being” rather than “doing.”

Leaders are paid to craft strategies, to plan for the future, to prioritize among competing projects and initiatives, and to revisit past decisions. We cannot engage in all these important activities until and unless we allow ourselves to pause – to pause and ask the question “How can I make the best use of my time today, this week or this month?”

As my client said to me, sometimes it helps to “separate task time from thinking time.” It sounds simple. However, if it was simple, everyone would do it. The human brain is biased toward doing. Just last night a friend who was at our home for dinner said to me: “I am a list person. I love checking things off my list and moving on to the next thing to check off.”

I smiled. I used to be that kind of list person myself. I have worked with leadership coaching clients who crave finishing tasks. Then, one day, they find themselves feeling accomplished for checking off many list items but realize they have either ignored or given insufficient attention to important projects that could not be addressed as mere list items to be checked off. They spent so much time creating their lists and then checking things off those lists that they neglected things that adversely affected their ability to be effective and successful leaders.

If you are a leader who wishes to work on your scheduling or time usage behaviors, allow me to suggest two popular books, one written a number of years ago and a second more recent book still on the best-seller lists:
-“Getting Things Done” by David Allen
-“Atomic Habits” by James Clear

I have read both books – I never recommend books I have not read myself – and I believe you will find them both illuminating and helpful. If you have read other books on this subject, let me know and I will share them with all subscribers to this newsletter.

Please remember that you are in control of how you utilize your time. Try different approaches. Determine what approach works best for you in your current role. Then stick to that approach and remain mindful about the lessons you continue to learn. Remember – leadership is a lifelong learning journey.

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