Your Top Priority

Quick Summary: Spending the right amount of time on the right things must be every CEO’s top priority.


Meeting revenue or profitability targets, delighting customers, and increasing market share are a few of the priorities faced by every CEO.  The list goes on and on and is likely to change quite often.  The CEO’s continued employment, and perhaps the company’s survival, may hang in the balance of meeting these goals.  As important as they are, a CEO’s Number One priority must be the effective management of their time.  With the constant barrage of assumed to be critical issues, many of which appear unexpectedly, it is easy for even the most organized and disciplined CEO to lose focus on where they should spend their time.

A tongue-in-cheek observation about CEOs is that they never have to worry about not having anything to worry about!  A day, perhaps an hour does not go by with a CEO not being given another “opportunity” to hear about and get involved in a new, unexpected issue.  On the surface, the new issue may seem to require a changing, more appropriately called “juggling,” of priorities.   An article in this collection, 2.070202, “Five Number One Priorities” and the entire Chapter 4.02: Responding Versus Reacting, deal with this issue.

The reality is that every CEO in every organization has the same Number One priority.  It is not revenue, earnings per share, competitive positioning, new product introduction, market share, scalability, mergers or acquisitions, or government compliance.  All of these issues can be important at one time or another or for one organization or another.  However, the one universal issue, that should be their Number One priority is the effective management of their time.  Their time is without a doubt, their most precious resource.  It is highly perishable and non-replaceable.  Using a soda vending machine example:  If you approach a soda machine and find that it is empty, tomorrow you do not buy two sodas to make up for today.  Similarly, an hour “wasted” today cannot be recouped tomorrow.  That hour is gone forever.  Unfortunately, many CEOs consistently become sidetracked pursuing activities that are not the best use of their time.  It seems that the smaller and newer the organization, the more likely it is for the CEO to lose sight of the fact that their time is the number one priority issue that they constantly face.  As discussed in the article in this series, 3.010301 “CEO Means Chief Everything Officer,” in smaller companies, the CEO may be the only person that is capable of addressing a particular issue, and they feel that they must juggle events accordingly and “time share” their concentration among several activities. In larger organizations, the CEO may have the luxury of assigning the new task to someone else or may actually only be appraised of the issue after it has been resolved.

Many CEOs think in terms of opportunity costs when assessing business plans, customer requirements, weighing spending alternatives, or establishing partner relationships.  However, they often do not think of their own time-related opportunity costs:  When doing X, they are not doing Y.  In the past few years, the amount of specialized, part-time talent that has become available has grown dramatically.  These services are available on a project basis as well as on a part-time, continuous basis.  Highly specialized and experienced people are available and cover virtually every aspect of the business from product and software development, testing, marketing, product management, accounting, manufacturing, marketing, web design, sales prospecting, plus many others.  Even shared or part-time CEOs are available!

Many startup CEOs focus on building their company website, tracking expenses through QuickBooks, or developing their own CRM systems when all of these activities can easily be performed by outside, highly-experienced people that charge very little.

When confronted, virtually every CEO will admit that they have a time resource issue.  However, very few actually know how to address it and change their behaviors.  The steps outlined in the article in this series, “Stop, Look, and Listen,” provides a simple method of slowing down to analyze the new “crisis du jour” which may occur out of nowhere any time during the day.

Another method that can result in the required fundamental behavior change required to prioritize your time is to embrace three concepts as articulated by Henry J Kaiser.  Mr. Kaiser was a World War II era, highly successful industrialist that had major successes as a shipbuilder as well as starting Kaiser Aluminum and Kaiser Steel.  His company was the prime contractor on the Hoover Dam project that was completed two years early and under budget.  Most of us are familiar with the healthcare provider, Kaiser Permanente that he founded.  Famous for many other quotes, three of them should be taken to heart by every CEO (and manager).

  1. Handle a piece of paper (or issue) only once.

Today, how many times to do we move a sheet of paper from one pile to another or re-read an email or move it from one folder to another?  Clearly, wasted time is involved.  Unlike fine wine that gets better with age, issues are best dealt with once.

  1. Don’t leave the office until you have completed everything that you put on your daily to-do list.

Following this advice, you will become acutely aware of what you expect to accomplish each day and also resist the temptation to deviate from your planned activities unless absolutely necessary.

  1. Delegate what you like to do and do what you do not like to do.

If you enjoy doing certain things, you have probably already mastered them and can complete them almost mechanically with little stress.  By doing these tasks repeatedly, you do not grow and develop new skills.  On the other hand, those things that you do not like to do probably make you feel uncomfortable, possibly caused by your lack of skills or experience.  Forcing yourself to do those things will help you develop new skills and a sense of accomplishment when the task is complete.  Probably the best example of this is putting off dealing with an employee performance issue.

All three of Mr. Kaiser’s pieces of advice are hard to question.  Just reading them is likely to raise one’s anxiety level, knowing that you should embrace all three recommendations but haven’t.  It is very difficult for any of us to change our behaviors.  One method that may help you incrementally change is to read the three recommendations first thing in the morning, and then re-read them at night and reflect on how well you accomplished them.  It will take time, but after a while, you will be surprised at how much time you save every day and how much more you accomplish.


Article Number : 4.050206   

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