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Spending Time vs. Investing Time

Updated: Aug 24, 2023

Assessing Your Return on Time (ROT)

There is a constant pendulum swing with regards to the abundance and scarcity of resources. Companies and leaders react, redirect and reapproach to continue growth and profitability on resources. But there’s one resource that even the greatest CEO can’t figure out how to make more abundant.

That resource is time.

Time is a valuable asset when we have enough of it, and a draining obstacle when we don’t. How is it that some leaders are thriving amidst the confines of a 24-hour day, and others feel they’re on a speed train they aren’t in the driver’s seat of?

The Scarcity of Time

Our recurring work with executives on their time management dilemmas has led us to develop a time modelling tool and share best practices. Many leaders are finding themselves in a stalemate as their board, employees, and family need more of them, but they are constrained by the ability to give more, particularly time and energy. Time is a scarce and precious commodity that demands expert leadership and management.

As we’re heading into speculated recessionary conditions, leaders are experiencing some of the most demanding mandates of their career. I am often asked about the challenge of how they can fit more in when they’re working against the constriction of time. Time management, an important facet of leadership operating skills, is one of the most highly prioritized items on our client’s action plans. If you aren’t prioritizing, planning and using good time management, you likely aren’t achieving your best results.

The root of time management is answered in a very simple question: “Are you spending time, or investing time?”

Habits That Hold Us Back

Spending time includes your morning ritual, planning, commute and, of course, meetings during the work day. Investing time is what you do to build and execute goals, and where you will see your highest return on time.

Our data and work is telling us that leaders are consistently being asked to do more with no additional capacity within themselves, their teams, or hours in a day.

To say yes to something new, you have to say no to something else.

Growth isn't always about adding, it can be about subtracting - Lisa W. Haydon

Our work with a CEO helped create a breakthrough in his time management challenges, when he and his team needed to be in growth mode. He was driven in his pursuit of growth for this technology company, but his time and energy were scarce. He needed to re-energize and reallocate his time to realize the results he, and everyone else, wanted to realize. His leadership diagnostic and calendar portrayed the trouble he was in, as well as the action plan to change the current situation.

In our evaluation, we saw an introverted CEO who was functioning as an extrovert. Every hour of his day was spent in back to back meetings, and he was becoming depleted. Once the problems were prioritized, his action plan focused on his calendar, and working differently with his underutilized EA. The two of them worked together on strategy planning, and putting a communication out to his team. They created the change and time to get him the white space and energy he needed to realize his next level of leadership performance.

The change plan also included the CEO shifting the accountability of meeting planning for his leaders. Now, there would be a meeting agenda that needed to be presented to him 12 hours before the meeting. If the agenda didn’t arrive, he would cancel the meeting. The team started showing up more prepared and began optimizing everyone’s time. It changed the perception and value of time with the CEO.

Assessing Time and Decision Making

We take our clients through a DERMIA decision making model, focusing on the goals of the company, the decisions around the calendar, and changes that need to be implemented. Time allocation is evaluated and changed with DERMIA. Reallocation of your time is achieved when you:

Time is our most valuable commodity. We can't make more of it. We can choose to invest strategically and manage it tactically. We all start with the same number of hours to invest: 120 hours/week.

The persistence of these time challenges propelled us to build a tool to help our clients evaluate and assess their time and investment for both life and work.

Modelling Your Return on Time

Time management is such an important and persistent problem for leaders and their teams. We’ve built a tool to support assessment and creating change. Our Time Modelling tool will take you through assessing how you currently spend your time, and help you plan how you should invest your time.

How would you feel about a work week that look like this:

A relevant quote Peter Drucker likes to use is:

If you can't measure it, you can't improve it. - Lord Kelvin, eminent physicist

Finding the Best Practices from Successful Leaders

The Pivotal Leadership Diagnostics and the hundreds of responses we’ve collected has generated data that reveals a few consistencies. These are outlined below.

  • The majority of leaders are spending their days booked in back-to-back meetings.

  • Strategy is often a skills gap and area of development.

  • Meeting commitments in calendars aren’t aligned or supporting top goals.

  • Confidence in ability to execute is negatively affected by current time management habits.

If this feels like your situation, asking some operating skills questions will help your time management.

  • What are your priorities?

  • How and when are you proactively planning?

  • How well does your future calendar align to your priorities and goals?

Modelling New Habits

Activating your strategy within the confines of your calendar is one of the most important long-term investment and results strategies to realize. Let your investment in time be the building block for the future success of your team and organization. Here are some top practices of our executives.

Strategy meetings should be ~10% of your work week

Check your numbers. If you aren’t prioritizing the future, you run the risk of prioritizing the now. It’s easy to fill your time with important, urgent tasks and don’t invest time for the important, not urgent tasks.

~35% of your week should be meetings

What’s your situation? Pivotal Growth’s diagnostics has shown that most leaders are in internal meetings at least 50% + of the work week. Leaders are running back-to-back meetings for eight hours a day. Here’s one way to get that number more in line: If you have a lot of legacy meetings in your calendar, who can you delegate to attend in your place? How can they be more effective in meetings, and with time and agenda. Getting work done through others is how you scale yourself and realize your team’s full potential, and results.

~60 minutes a day for learning

Leaders are knowledge workers. Designated time for reading, learning and working on your leadership development is a priority. Today’s business clients and labour force conditions are driving the need for enhanced leadership skills. Leadership development is like the air masks on the plane principle; look after yourself first so you have the capacity to lead and help your team.

Invest ~2 hours a week in network building

Networks are proven to drive success (The Formula: The Universal Laws of Success). Our most successful clients can attribute their success to a former leader, a mentor or a friend who influenced this success. Like managing your business, periodically evaluate your network and who you are spending time with. It’s said that we perform at the average of the five people we spend the most time with (Jim Rohn, motivational speaker and self-help guru).

Exercise for building a new leadership operating system

  • Write down the biggest goal you are working on.

  • Assess your time investment in our “Modelling Your Return on Time” tool.

  • How is your time being spent to realize these goals?

  • How many days are you in back-to-back meetings in a week?

  • Identify the times in a day where you perform at your best. Book strategic, complex or challenging meetings then.

  • List who can help you heighten your Return on Time (ROT)? What role do they play in your DERMIA time decisions?

What are you going to say “No” to so you can say “Yes” to something else?

Change Leadership

Should this article and the time modelling tool see you creating change and an action plan, don’t overlook the important step of providing your team communications about the changes they should expect. Change without communication triggers employee reactions, and sometimes emotions. Leaders need to be as predictable as possible in current conditions.

Leverage the added benefit of having your team help you, and raise the bar for your team so they follow your example. Ensure your EA is playing an important leadership role in executing your plan.

If you’d like a broader assessment of leadership gaps for yourself or your team, contact us to explore the value of generating current state insights and action plans.


Lisa W. Haydon is a business leader and entrepreneur with over 30 years of operational experience leading teams in banking, capital markets, technology and professional services. Lisa’s instinct for sorting through business complexities, understanding distinctive leader personalities, and realizing results compelled her to leave a corporate career and become an entrepreneur. Her company, Pivotal Growth, introduced a technology tool for leadership development assessment and planning. The suite of tools offers diagnostic capabilities to synthesize and accelerate people performance.

Lisa’s skills and the Pivotal Growth product help companies enhance their performance and support leaders achieving greater confidence and success.

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