Here's How To Make The Most Of Your 'Executive Time' At Work

Put your executive time to good use.
President Trump’s schedule last Tuesday included nine hours of “executive time,” Politico reported this week, referring to “a euphemism for the unstructured time Trump spends tweeting, phoning friends and watching television.” (The practice allegedly began after Trump complained his packed schedule under former Chief of Staff Reince Priebus didn’t afford him “any time to think,” according to the site.)
The President spent around three hours that Tuesday on business like public appearances, policy briefings and official meetings, Politico reports. And while some aides said Trump uses his unscheduled time blocks for “calling lawmakers, Cabinet members and world leaders, and scheduling meetings,” the outlet reported these expanses of time can let the President’s “whims and momentary interests” direct the White House agenda.
Plenty of professionals, whether freelance workers or C-suite execs, often have unstructured work time not occupied by meetings, concrete commitments or assignments on tight deadlines. Billionaire Warren Buffett, for example, says he spends five or six hours a day reading. LinkedIn CEO Jeff Weiner blocks off “buffers” of 30- to 90-minute stretches on his calendar just to think and process. “Open your calendar and schedule time just to dream,” Virgin Group founder Richard Branson wrote in a 2017 blog post.
And keeping focus is no mean feat: The average person working on a computer gets distracted or interrupted every 40 seconds, one study showed. Meanwhile, it can take an estimated 23 minutes to return to a task after being interrupted.
Here’s how to maximize your own “executive time,” according to productivity experts and workers who’ve figured it out:
Structure your unstructured time. “If you don’t quantify your time, there’s no guarantee that you’re going to get anything that matters to you done,” professional organizer Andrew Mellen told Moneyish. “Often, your calendar is to time what your budget is to money: If you don’t know how you’re spending it, then you’re likely to overspend and not have anything to show for it.”
For time that doesn’t have a predetermined commitment attached to it, Mellen schedules appointments with himself — “and then I do what I say I’m going to do,” he said. “It’s uncommitted, but it’s not unstructured,” he added. Productivity expert Penny Zenker suggested easily distracted people budget out shorter time blocks — maybe 20 or 30 minutes — based on their capacity to focus. Try a timer to analyze your activity: Mellen recommends the time-tracking software Toggl.
Know how to spend that time. Stay away from aimlessly surfing the internet, using social media, watching television or news, or complaining, Zenker said. Her approved activities include setting and reviewing goals, taking a walk, meditating, journaling, decluttering, researching, discussing culture and performance-related non-day-to-day issues with your team, reviewing results, and testing new tools for efficiency.
Josh Meah, a marketing entrepreneur from Summit, N.J., suggested using the time to make headway on one larger project — like writing a book or crafting a new business plan — that you can’t complete in one sitting. “If you spend your unstructured time on it by default, you’ll make gradual progress, while also giving yourself time to refine your thinking between work sessions,” he told Moneyish. Meah also advised devoting the time to easily accomplished tasks, like making calls or drafting emails, whose completion will lighten your mental load.
Minimize distractions. Identify your own most common distractors, Zenker suggested: For one day, write down how many times you’re distracted, what distracted you, and at what time of day the distractions occurred. Zenker also pushes past FOMO and either puts her phone on airplane mode or keeps it out of sight in a drawer.
Leigh Anne O’Connor, a private-practice lactation consultant in New York, reins herself in from internet rabbit holes by setting time constraints — and by drinking lots of water, so she’ll have to get up for bathroom breaks. “I don’t know if that seems whacko, but it’s something that’s going to keep me from sitting somewhere for two hours without a break,” she told Moneyish.
Go analog. Elena Ledoux, a Las Vegas entrepreneur with “largely unstructured” days, has tried traditional organizers and “all the apps you can imagine” to keep track of priorities. But her preferred method is to write them down on index cards, which travel easily, cost little and stay “in your face all the time, as opposed to stowed way.” While she tends to keep the cards she fills with big-picture ideas, Ledoux says she destroys her daily to-do cards upon completion. “It’s very satisfactory for me to just tear them up and throw them away as a little victory,” she said.
Let yourself be creative. “We all need white space — which is to have time when we aren’t doing, but being,” Zenker said, citing activities like thinking, reading, being in nature and unplugging from electronics. “That doesn’t mean that it isn’t a bit structured — we can go to a yoga class or join a hiking group,” she added. “It creates structure so that we create that white space.”
There are times when I just think,” Mellen agreed. “Whether you’re an entrepreneur, you’re a C-suite executive or you’re a worker bee … I think you still need time to be thoughtful.” Even a mental detour to personal issues could lead to a breakthrough, he added — just make sure you stick to thinking and don’t gravitate to Facebook or online shopping.
Treat yourself. Ledoux will occasionally write a small prize at the bottom of her index cards as a reward for completing the entire list; it could be a cupcake, a spa visit or a trashy celebrity magazine. O’Connor takes a similar approach: “I give myself deadlines with a reward at the end,” she said. “Maybe it is that I can indulge in a TV show or some special chocolate if I meet the deadline.”
Start small with time management. “How can you go from vague to specific today? What’s anaction you can take?” Mellen said. “Everything began with baby steps. Literally walking began with baby steps — and now we take walking for granted.”
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