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Performance...It’s All About A+ Execution

In the midst of preparing my “farewell talk” to the people at RA Becker Euro RSCG advertising agency after my decade and a half with them, I walked around the office after hours and looked at all the walls. Becker’s best work was displayed there—the Big Ideas, the award-winning campaigns and the strategies and tactics that drove our clients’ products beyond expectations. You know what wasn’t on the walls? The letter from the client praising us for getting a mediocre deliverable in by deadline. Am I being facetious? Perhaps. But there were times when it felt we were fighting an uphill battle just to avoid that letter.

Have you noticed the easy dominance of the non-essentials? Countless non-productive meetings, teleconferences, e-mails and lengthy voicemails about anything and everything? The problem is that we allow ourselves to pour our time into small transactions and the ongoing maintenance of daily office “life.” The unintended consequence of this routine is that we become corporate survivors rather than true performers.

Just like everyone else, a leader has limited time and energy. After all, even the most efficient CEO can’t stretch a day beyond 24 hours. Good choices about how to conserve one’s personal resources mean the difference between exquisite performance or just getting by. Based on a career of observing time management challenges and triumphs, I have put together a short list of five “focus to-dos” that I’ve come to depend on, some of them gleaned from the great guest CEO speakers at The Fordham Leadership Forum that I chair.
  1. Never Leave a Task Until It’s A+
    As my colleagues and staffers have heard time and again from me, “If it ain’t great, don’t do it and don’t show it.” Only you know what your truly best work is; don’t cheat yourself out of the reward of executing an A+ deliverable.
  2. Redo YourTo-Do List Daily
    Refocus your energy and make your performance new every day. Know the essential tasks in front of you and focus on what you have to do today essential to make them happen. In rewriting your list, don’t just copy it; rethink it and focus on a positive outcome.
  3. Check Messages at Specific Times
    Allot specific times during the day to attend to e-mail, voicemail, faxes, return of non-essential calls, etc. Keep in mind that you may want to delay your replies for a day or two. I’m not impressed by folks who claim to answer every e-mail they receive within 24 hours. Is that really a productive, creative, business-building use of their time? I doubt it. If you have a trusted assistant, have that person go through your messages, get rid of the junk mail, expedite what can be expedited without your touching it and prioritize the rest for you.
  4. Close Your Door
    Just as you schedule time requested by others to meet with you or time with those whom you want to meet, schedule time for you with you. Put a “Meeting In Progress” sign on your door and go to work with a tough, centered focus. Fully devote yourself to the project at hand. You’ll be amazed at your new productivity and with the peace that comes from uninterrupted work time.
  5. Enjoy Your Work and Curb the Number of Meetings
    Great performers say that when they are in the flow of their activity, they can actually feel time stop. Attain this flow as often as you can—it’s the joy-juice of performance. In addition, think about the number of extraneous meetings you attend each week. These take away valuable time when you could be focusing on critical challenges. Find ways to limit unnecessary meetings so they don’t suck up your valuable time.

To sum it up, if you don’t take control of your time, others will. To lead efficiently and effectively and to show respect for the time of others, the one in charge of your time has to be you. Sorry friends, this is one task that can’t be delegated. After all, it’s not really accurate to call it time management. Think of it as life management. And whose life is it anyway?