Time management is challenging for executives because they have to contend with so many competing priorities, most of which are driven by someone else. A 2022 survey found the average executive only gets to devote 105 minutes a day to tasks of their choosing. And even then, they face an average of 12 interruptions a day.
You know that continuous learning and improvement are essential to your growth as a leader. But how can you find time for strategic thinking and personal growth without burning out? The key is creating calendar alignment.
Your day probably has a few standard tentpole activities that the rest of your time is structured around, such as:
- Important meetings.
Once you have your tentpoles for the day, you can build a productive schedule around them. You can do the same thing for your entire year and enhance your productivity by taking advantage of rhythms in your tasks from one year to the next.
Write down the major tasks you’re committed to accomplishing this year. Then sort them into the following categories:
- Organizational moments.
- Departmental moments.
- Executive moments.
Some tasks involve the whole organization, or at least large parts of it. Those moments may or may not involve HR directly. Even when HR isn’t involved in a project, HR leaders still need to be aware of it, because it will affect other teams’ bandwidth for working with HR. List the “all hands on deck” moments in your organization and what those periods will require of you. Some organizational moments to consider include:
Moments of Performance
These are times when the larger organization is busy achieving a high-priority goal, such as project launches, product releases or busy sales seasons.
Moments of Coordination
These are occasions when different parts of the organization come together to share information, such as companywide meetings, leadership retreats or board meetings.
Moments of Planning
These are periods when the entire business is consumed with looking ahead, such as the budget process, annual goal setting or strategic planning cycles.
Now, think about the core rhythms of HR life and how those seasons affect your schedule. List all the big annual tasks your department must accomplish and your role in them, noting which ones have the largest strategic impact on the whole organization. Some possible departmental moments include:
Moments of Compliance
These are regular tasks that are mandated by laws, regulations or company policy, such as benefits reviews, audits or mandatory training.
Moments of Analysis
These are moments when an HR department gets to develop a deeper understanding of how the organization is really functioning, such as employee engagement surveys, performance reviews or workforce skill analyses.
Moments of Celebration
These fun occasions still require a fair amount of preparation from an HR department. Some examples are team-building events, employee appreciation days and holiday parties.
Personal tasks also need to be woven in among the departmental and organizational priorities above, so it’s essential to carve out the time to get them done. No one else will tell a leader to do these things, but everyone eventually notices if they’re neglected. Think about what you want to accomplish this year so that you’re thriving instead of just surviving. Set aside time for those moments too, including:
Moments of Learning
These are times executives set aside to learn something specific to help them grow as a leader, such as webinars, conferences or time spent talking with employees.
Moments of Growing
These are opportunities to encounter new ideas, new people or new ways of working, such as networking events, brainstorming sessions or experimental pilot projects.
Moments of Reflection
These are periods when leaders look inward and recharge, such as time spent considering their personal goals, journaling about their experiences or taking vacations to renew their energy.
Now open your calendar and look at when you’ll be occupied with each kind of moment. There will be some overlap between moments of one kind and another, but notice how each category has its ebbs and flows throughout the year. There are moments in the year when you’ll be primarily occupied with a core departmental task or when your entire organization is pulling together to accomplish a larger strategic goal. These times can be hectic and make it impossible to focus on personal priorities.
But those busy seasons don’t last forever, and if you’re prepared for the lulls, you can take full advantage of them. Create a plan for learning, growing and reflecting during less stressful times. List those executive moments on your calendar as commitments to yourself to ensure you’ll make time for the tasks that will help you thrive in the year ahead.
Belonging to a group like the SHRM Executive Network is a great way to make your commitments to executive development stick in the coming year. Learn more at shrm.org/executive-network.