Time Management for Effective Managers – Drucker’s The Effective Executive – 34 min read

Time – a most valuable resource but always fleeting

In the previous posting in this series we closed with Drucker’s five essential practices for managers.

Effective managers:

  1. know where their time goes.
  2. focus on outward contribution.
  3. build on strengths….
  4. concentrate on the few major areas where superior performance will produce outstanding results.
  5. make effective decisions.

Peter Drucker's The Effective Executive

This posting focuses on the first of these, time.

Time is a central resource, yet unlike other resources it cannot be inventoried, purchased, or controlled in any way. It is always the scarcest resource. Thus the use of our time and the organization’s time is critical to achieving results.

Effectiveness Depends on Continuous, Uninterrupted Blocks of Time

“Time in large, continuous, and uninterrupted units is needed….” ((all quotes are from Chapter Two – Know Thy Time in Drucker’s The Effective Executive)) A manager who can only find brief moments for reflective thought is bound to think about only what is at hand, what they already know, and what they have already done.

Drucker argues that there is a three step process that is the foundation of effectiveness in managing time. First is recording the use of time, second is managing time, ((the use of the word “managing” here refers to the setting of priorities and making choices about the use of time. There is no sense to thinking that time is managed in the way every other resource in the organization can be managed.)) and third is the consolidation of discretionary time. These are the steps to coming to grips with how one’s time is being used now.

Reducing Time Wasters

Lets turn immediately to the second step, managing time. Drucker posits three ways to reduce wasted time immediately. First, look for activities and tasks that do not need to be done at all. What would happen if they simply remained undone, unattended? Would anyone miss them? Second, which of the tasks on your time log could be done or better should be done by someone else? How many times do you undertake a task that really could be handled much more competently by someone else? Third, look about for all of the time of other’s that you waste. Ask those who work for you, “What is it about how I work that causes you needless work?

Additional sources of time wasting come from (a) poor business systems (processes), (b) over staffing, (c) excess meetings, and (d) information – the wrong information or information in the wrong form.

The most common symptom of poor business processes is a chronic state of emergency, the recurring crisis. Recurring crises are a symptom of out of control practices. The first occurrence is the signal to examine what needs to be changed to prevent the second occurrence.

Over staffing may seem like an unlikely source of waste in today’s organizations. However, if people are figuratively bumping into each other, spending time negotiating the interpersonal politics, worried about turf battles, there is probably over staffing present.

“Meetings are by definition a concession to deficient organization.” Unless meetings are explicitly organized around sound principles they are almost invariably a waste of time. I have written quite a bit about this topic earlier, for example:  “Meetings – First – Don’t Have Them” and “Meetings – where you begin to be a more effective manager”.

Consolidating “Discretionary Time”

Though Drucker refers to these “large, continuous, and uninterrupted units” of time as “discretionary”. He clearly states that this is the time during which the effective manager gets real work done, the work that is their contribution to the results of the organization. There are a number of ways to schedule the important blocks of time. These days it is easier than ever to work from your home office. Or, schedule your operational meetings all on the same day and set aside another day for your “discretionary” time. A key element in whatever solution you come up with is to understand that these blocks of time must be uninterrupted and continuous. Not only do you have to discipline your staff, but, more difficult perhaps, you have to discipline yourself to turn off cellphones, email, IM, and all the other electronic interrupters that you are so addicted to.

Research that is more recent than available to Drucker  suggests that these discretionary blocks of time can be shorter than he envisions. In Csikszentmihalyi’s seminal 1991 book Flow, ((Csikszentmihalyi, Mihaly. Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience. Harper Perennial, 1991.))  it is observed that periods of intense engagement and productivity are generally not sustainable for more than a few hours at a time. This strongly suggests that managers should seek to carve out a number of briefer blocks of time instead of struggling to create half or full day blocks.

In my business coaching work I have come to an approach significantly different from that of Drucker. The best strategy for building these blocks of time to focus on the really important, managers can benefit by just seizing the time and skipping the initial time logging work. Too many managers spend too much time gathering this data or allowing the data gathering to be a stumbling block to their effectiveness. I have written about this in earlier writing, “Seizing Your Time – the first step in time management”