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Top 4 CEO time-wasters to avoid

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If time is money, how much does it cost to answer endless emails and attend pointless meetings? About $31,000 a month, according to one of Vistage speaker Jan Lehman’s clients. She said shedding corporate time waster habits increased her billable hours by that amount. Another client told Lehman that adopting effective time management strategies led to a companywide gain of 30%.

Those are pretty expensive emails. And that’s not even the entire cost. Other important metrics such as quality of life, the effectiveness of leadership, and personal and professional growth all take a significant hit with each squandered moment. So, we wasted no time in speaking to Jan Lehman, founder and CEO of CTC Productivity and Vistage speaker Jim Alampi about the biggest time management pitfalls for CEOs and business leaders — and how to avoid them.

1. Emails and interruptions

‘If you don’t consciously come in with a plan to do your most important work, email is an easy default,’ Lehman said. ‘If a brilliant strategist is sitting on email all day, they’re not doing their most important work.’

Some CEOs ask their administrative assistants to monitor their inboxes, but Lehman advises CEOs to ‘automate before you delegate.’

Learning to use automation tools (including calendaring platforms) and email management can allow CEOs to block off uninterrupted focus time. That’s the time that business leaders can use to build strategic relationships and focus entirely on the company.

Lehman and Alampi point out that responding to emails and answering executive team member’s ‘quick questions’ isn’t a time waster because it often helps somebody else be more productive. While neither suggests that CEOs ignore their teams, they recommend setting clear communications guidelines to empower your teams to do their own work and tackle problems.

‘I used to be interrupted all the time until I hit upon the seven most powerful words: ‘I don’t know. What do you think?’’ Alampi said. ‘Eventually my teams realized that they’re accountable to make recommendations and bring solutions.’

2. Ineffective meetings

An effective meeting takes homework, both from the facilitator and the attendees. A clear agenda and the opportunity to read materials in advance can drive a lot of productivity.

Unfortunately, too many meetings fall into the common traps of being ill-defined, unproductive and full of 27-slide PowerPoint presentations that are read aloud to torturous effect. Lehman advocates for using technology tools to keep people on task and run more effective meetings. And Alampi suggests keeping PowerPoints presentations to a five-slide maximum.

He also advises CEOs to avoid operational meetings and to take a deeper listening role in strategy meetings.

3. Failure to delegate

A common pitfall for entrepreneurs and founders is a failure to delegate as the company grows. Just because you planted the seeds doesn’t mean you should stay in the weeds.

‘In most companies, there are a whole lot of people who can work for the business, but few who could work on the business,’ Alampi said. ‘If the CEO is bogged down with minutiae and not focusing on the business, nobody is driving strategy.’

Lehman said taking an ‘editor and author’ approach to delegating can help train and develop an employee while taking some of the work off of the CEO. This avoids the ‘time waster habit’ when CEOs believe they can do it all.

‘Maybe they can’t do it all without your help, but could they do 80% of the work, and then you swoop in as the editor and quickly review and tweak it?’ she said. ‘Often, CEOs find that the employee could do the bulk of the work, and they’re pleasantly surprised.’

4. Too many initiatives

Sometimes when a CEO says they have too much to do, they’re right.

‘Companies do best when they limit themselves to three to five broad three-year initiatives and two to four one-year goals,’ Alampi said. ‘You have to be willing to say, ‘We will set three to five hot issues for the next 90 days. Let’s get little tactical bite-size pieces that our teams can get their arms around.’’

Unfortunately, both Alampi and Lehman said they commonly see companies bite off more than they can chew. Trying to juggle eight projects is not only futile, it wastes valuable time that could be spent excelling at one or two.

‘It’s better to have fewer priorities and try to move one project through,’ Lehman said. ‘The CEO can control that spigot.’

Time management fosters growth

When a CEO improves their time management, the results are immediate and companywide. Executive teams start to take more ownership of decisions, which leads to a stronger, more invested workplace.

‘It becomes easier for teams to learn and grow,’ Alampi said. ‘They know it’s not the boss’s job to solve every problem.’

Lehman said she’s seen employees report stunning changes to both their job satisfaction and stress reduction after companywide time-management practices were put in place. And the difference it makes to the quality of life for CEOs and leaders is nearly incalculable.

‘One client recently went on his first month-long vacation in 50 years,’ Lehman said.

That is the kind of change we can all make time for.

Originally published on Vistage Research Center.

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