Six Low to No Cost Ways to Maximize your Executive Time

Staying up to date on trends and issues in your industry is imperative to effective leadership. Setting aside time in your schedule to listen, read, and think is a great justification of #ExecutiveTime and below are a few ideas about how to maximize this time.

Webinars
I get emails about free webinars all of the time and I am sure you do too. I register for them knowing full well that I will not be glued to the screen during a live webinar but counting on the fact that producers will send a link to the recorded version. The only flaw in my plan is that I never have time to listen to the archived content.

Podcasts
I admit that some of my favorite podcasts cover true crime and political scandals but there is a podcast on every topic. They are everywhere and accessible on almost every device and make for great listening during executive time or while trying to stay calm in traffic.

Published Articles
Reputable articles published by established leaders or associations are free and zipping across the internet. Registering for newsletters from industry associations or simply following thought leaders on LinkedIn can ensure that information is delivered to your inbox.

Conferences and Seminars
Last week, I received notification that registration for a national conference that I typically attend is now open. This year, they are offering a variety of virtual attendance options that make attendance cost effective considering many target participants work for small nonprofits. These virtual options make it possible for me to attend the keynote address and designated workshops from within the glorious white walls of my office instead of the loud and raucous convention center in New Orleans.

Of course, I would prefer to attend the conference in person but virtual options allow me to tap into the knowledge and future direction of the work for $1500 less than traditinal attendance will cost. For those of us who believe that being frugal is a virtue; the a la carte participation options provide a bonus.

MOOCs
It is a weird acronym for one of the best, free, development mechanisms to ever be invented. MOOCs or Massive Open Online Courses are free (typically) online courses available to the public. Courses include videos, readings, and discussion forums on various topics.

E-Books
The thoughts captured in e-books can be innovative, controversial, and sometimes even bizarre. In most cases, they are free in exchange for a little contact information and can challenge your thinking.

Top lessons learned about implementing executive time

The past couple of days has made executive time a topic of discussion. What is it? Who has a right to it? How much time is allowable? The simple response to all three questions is, “who knows”. It is a nebulous concept with little connection to organizations’ bottom lines.

I have set aside executive time for years and find it creates necessary space for me to plan and prepare.

What is the purpose?

Early in my career, I was in my boss’ office discussing an event we were planning. She went to reference something on her computer screen, and I caught a glimpse of her calendar. I noticed that two to three days a week there was a block of time reserved for sacred time.

Okay, I admit it was more than a quick peek.

My inner Judy Bloom compelled me to figure out what sacred time was. What does she do during this time? Would she disappear? Was she plotting something that would affect me? 

For a week, I observed her during these periods, trying to figure out exactly what it was. I quickly began to feel like the worst detective ever. There were no clear clues that something was amiss.  She was in her office. Sometimes at her computer screen. Sometimes sitting at the small round table, reading.

The first phase of my investigation got me nowhere, so like any mediocre detective, I decided to move to phase two. It was time to interrogate and get a confession.

I basically asked her about sacred time. She happily and simply explained that it was her time to prepare for and regroup after meetings. Mystery solved.

How can it be used?

As soon as I took my first role leading a team, I felt that I had a right to sacred time. I reserved an hour and a half each day for me time. My initial attempt to create space to prepare for the day and the work ahead of me was a fail. It was not useful for a couple of reasons.

First, I did not have a clear plan for how I was going to use each block of time and second, I allowed meetings to be scheduled during the time. While it was sacred to me, it meant nothing to anyone else.

I quickly corrected. I was working in a meeting heavy culture and managing four team members. I pondered, “how can my scheduled me time help me grow as a professional and better the work that I am responsible for?”

Once I answered those questions, I set specific actions for each block of me time.

I used the time to explore topics and concepts that I was unfamiliar with. As I took notes during a discussion, I placed a little question mark next to concepts that needed further exploration. During my me time I reviewed those notes and increased my understanding of this information. 

Me time gave me space to research. I am a better leader and contributor when I have a grasp of what the important issues are right now as well as trends for the future. These dedicated intervals provide an opportunity to investigate information and result in being able to elevate conversations and provide expertise that may not be possible if I am just running from place to place.

It was also concentrated time to plan. How do I make sense of all of the knowledge and material that has been presented during the week? What is actionable? What is good thinking but needs to be placed in a parking lot? How do I turn theory and dialogue into a workable strategy for my organization? 

Finally, I was transparent about the blocks on my calendar. I wanted my team and other colleagues to understand the importance of this time.  I started denying meeting requests that interfered with the time and following up the decline with a face to face conversation with the meeting organizer.

While it did not eliminate all of the proposed conflicts, it did ease some of the pressure.

How much is too much?

When I started utilizing me time, I scheduled an hour and a half, for the same time each day. As my role and needs changed, my dedicated time-shifted. Now, the time I carve out changes from week to week and while I have a daily goal for me time, it certainly cannot be scheduled for the same time each week.

Telework has provided me with a wonderful opportunity to observe me time in a fairly untouchable chunk. Unfortunately, there are days when I snag my time by sitting at a fast food restaurant researching while I savor chicken nuggets. Thank goodness wi-fi is now accessible in most public spaces.

The question of how much time can only be answered by you? What issues do you need time to address and what time do you need to address them? It completely depends on your organization and the work that you do. 

Four to four and a half hours a week is realistic and helpful for me. Do you use executive time? How much time do you dedicate per week?