What does your calendar say about you?

In contrast to instant messaging, text messaging, or email, communication time through traditional (snail) mail is measured in days and weeks. You'd think that too much time spent in that world would lead to a lack of sensitivity to how long things take and where time goes. (It flies, of course.) And yet Moya Green, the CEO of Britain's state-owned Royal Mail, can track the way she spends her time with a degree of precision that most businesspeople can't match.

In a McKinsey interview last month, Green demonstrates that she's cognizant of exactly where she invests her time and attention:

McKinsey: How do you strike a balance between the many demands on your time, particularly when driving change?

Moya Greene: I try to think about my agenda as divided into big blocks of time that I actively monitor. I recently did a diary analysis, which showed I spend roughly 15 percent of my time managing and understanding our employees. Another 25 percent of my time last year was devoted to changing the fundamentals of the company. . . . Next, I spent 15 percent of my time seeking to change the conversation inside Royal Mail so that we put the customer much closer to the heart of what we talk about and do. . . . A further 10 percent was taken up with what I call strategic realignment, helping people understand that we're going to make our money in future in parcels and packets, in media, and by selling our data assets in a more commercial way. That left 35 percent for everything else: organization, recruitment, managing the board, and crisis management.

I've worked with many senior leaders, and I seldom see this kind of clarity about how they spend their time. They always have a clear idea of where they want to focus their attention, but they rarely take the time to actually do a diary analysis to see whether they're acting on their intentions. In lean terms, they're excellent at the Plan-Do phases of the PDCA cycle, but not so good on the Check-Adjust phases. As a result, they have a very difficult time assessing their role in the organization's successes and failures -- did they spend too much time on a strategic initiative? Not enough time? Were there other issues? Who knows?

I've written about this topic before, of course, but I think Tom Peters says it best: you are your calendar:

"There is only one asset that you have and that asset is your time.

[Imagine you're a boss of a distribution center and] you say that this is the year of extraordinary attention to quality. Then at the end of the first month, I sit down with you and we go through your monthly calendar day-by-day and hour-by-hour. And we discover that with all the meetings that occur and all the surprises that come up in the course of that month you spent 6 hours directly on the quality issue.

Well, guess what: quality is not your top priority.

The calendar never, ever, ever lies.

If you say something is a priority, then it must be quantitatively reflected in the calendar.”

Can you analyze your calendar? What does it say about you?

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