What sounds like the memorable “Don’t think! Feel!” Bruce Lee line is actually the main lesson from Peter Drucker’s The Effective Executive. I recently read this classic after finding out it was the number one book recommendation by Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos.
The book is concise and starts with the good news: effectiveness can be learned. In it, Drucker explains that in his forty-five years of experience he has never seen a natural effective leader or executive. Effectiveness is a skill and we learn it the same way we learn any skill: practice, practice and practice some more. He even lays out the five habits we need to acquire to become more effective.
Habit number one: “Know thy time”
Our most valuable asset is time. Almost anything that is lost can be gained back: money, friendships, health… Once we lose time, it’s gone forever; so, we must learn to optimize it. Drucker lays out the three time management principles: Track, Manage and Consolidate. Contrary to popular belief, we must track before planning. Tracking our time will reveal the time wasting activities, all those periods of time when we’re not in “Deep Work”mode (another great book by Cal Newport, by the way), checking our emails for the 10th time, toggling between the draft document we have to send and the latest headline from our favorite news website….
Distraction is unfortunately the norm, not the exception. According to this survey, the average worker wastes up to three hours a day. That’s 759 hours each year! This is not only affecting business revenue but also employee motivation, which has a cost in the long run. Once we have a clear picture of our time, we need to find out how to better manage it. This starts with eliminating all the time wasters. In the words of Tai Lopez: “Double down on what works, crush what doesn’t!” And finally consolidate: we must create large time blocks during which we focus on one single activity, which is what Drucker calls “deep work”. I was actually surprised to find out that Drucker recommends half a day to two weeks of deep work. Then I remembered that my most productive days are those when I worked on one thing only, until completion.
Habit number two: “What can I contribute?”
To be effective, we must ask ourselves: what should we be effective at? What is expected from us in our job, by our customers, coworkers or hierarchy? And how are our actions going to benefit others? Answering these questions helps us define the “why” of business strategy: How are we adding value to our customers? How are we keeping our employees motivated, happy and productive? How are we increasing the owner’s return on investment?
Habit number three: “Making Strength Productive”
Abraham Lincoln famously said that “if the only weakness of General Grant is him drinking then I will gladly send him a case of his favorite drink, just as long as he keeps on winning”. In today’s world, this translates into assigning the most qualified person to each position. Rather than trying to minimize any weaknesses among our teams, we should maximize the existing strengths until all weaknesses become irrelevant.
Obviously there are some weaknesses that need to be addressed, chief among them are the lack of integrity and character.
To get into “Deep Work” mode during the long time chunks Drucker recommends, we need to put all our focus and energy in getting the most important thing done. It means being clear about our priorities and acting on them. This is easier said than done, but with practice and some simple tools, we can master this habit. I particularly like the “Time Management Matrix” (aka “Eisenhower Matrix”, after the 34th President of the United States who created this matrix; Stephen Covey later popularized it with “The 4 Quadrants” technique) The general idea is to categorize your planned activities within one of the four quadrants in the illustration below.
QUADRANT 1 (Q1): urgent AND important Examples include: fire drills, deadlines, client/deal emergency, etc. Best practice: avoid by being proactive (Q2) and manage effectively & efficiently once the Q1 event arises.
QUADRANT 3 (Q3): urgent, time-consuming, but with no real purpose or tangible result Q3 events typically lead to frustration, fatigue and a sense of uselessness Examples include: email interruptions, useless reports, long-winded meetings, etc. Best practice: avoid completely.
QUADRANT 4 (Q4): complete time-wasters An hour spent in Q4 is an hour gone with nothing of value contributed to yourself or anyone else Examples include: TV, gossip, social media, pointless Youtube videos Best practice: include (for a “mental break”) but limit extensively.
QUADRANT 2 (Q2): This is where you want to spend most of your time. It’s pro-active and value-additive to yourself and your environment (work, family, social circles).
Examples include:productive work,quality time with friends and family, proactivity, meditation, working out, proper nutrition, relationship building, reading & education, creativity, etc.
Best practice: spend the vast majority of your time in Q2. This is obviously a simplified way to categorize activities as each task could also be judged by the level of required effort, available resources (delegating work to your staff for example), complexity etc. It is good to notice thoughthat we usually spend so much time and energy in Q1 that we get burned out and seek relaxation in Q4. So next time we found ourselves in Q4, let’s quickly shift to Q2.
And finally habit number five: “Better decision making”
I dreaded reading this chapter at first. Business articles about decision-making processes tend to be complex, long and boring but this one was a nice surprise and could be summed up in three words: Less is More. Drucker states that effective executives make fewer decisions by identifying what he calls “Boundary Conditions”. In layman’s terms it means to find the one decision that makes the rest easier or irrelevant. Drucker relays the story of New York power outages in 1965. One night, The New York Times had to move their printing over to New Jersey. This left them with only an hour and a half to print the papers. However, just as the paper was going to press, the executive editor and his assistants began arguing about the hyphenation of a single word. This argument took 48 minutes to resolve, so, in the end, only half of the press run could be completed. While to most this seems like an egregious waste of time, the boundary conditions of the paper were: The New York Times is the standard-bearer for American English grammar. In this light, the decision was correct and aligned with the values of the organization.
What a great way to end the book: boundary conditions help us make effective decisions once (and only once) as we concentrate our energy (first things first) on making our strengths so strong we make the best contribution to our organization. So join us here to identify your time wasters (dreaded Q4 quadrant) and take an honest look at how you and your team spend the day, plan accordingly and play on your team’s strengths to make this an effective and happy day!