This is Part IX of the “168-Hour” series addressing how leaders spend their available 168 hours per week to grow and develop. You can begin this series with Part I, here.
“There is no greater harm than that of time wasted.” – Michelangelo
There are 168 hours in a week. Seven days, 24 hours per day, with most of those hours spent awake. I average roughly six hours of sleep each night, leaving me 126 hours each week to use as I see fit. How do you make the best use of that time? Do you make the best use of that time? Those are the two questions that gnaw at me the most, the two questions that drive me forward each day, and the two questions that linger at the end of each day.
The answer to those questions can be found in how I organize for the day, the week, the month, and even the year ahead. I tend to be very goal oriented, with a task focus that borders on an obsessive-compulsive disorder: always looking for that next project, that next initiative, that next article, that next opportunity to create something unique. I thrive off checklists, both as a way of organizing and prioritizing those “nexts” and as a method to build and sustain momentum once I get started.
As a leader, I learned long ago to carry one of those ubiquitous green notebooks. It started simply enough, with checklists and reminders, taskers and take-aways from meetings and engagements. Over time, that simple green notebook evolved into much more, with tabs for short, near, and long-term tasks, important notes from meetings, daily “to-do” lists, and those fleeting ideas that come and go in the blink of an eye. By the time Doctrine Man emerged on the scene, I added a section for cartoons and other related ideas (merchandise, posts, etc.). I’ve since graduated to a leather notebook, but the organizational habits remain the same.
Look around my office today, and you’ll find butcher block-sized post-it notes plastered on every wall, with checklists ranging from home projects to ideas for leader development exercises to classroom syllabi, as well as stacks of books on subjects ranging from talent management and strategy to history and science fiction. In one corner there’s Home Depot bag filled with switches and outlets for home rewiring project. In another, a 3-foot tall Rocket Racoon stands watch over the “mystic seer” from a long-forgotten episode of The Twilight Zone. “Organized chaos” is the most apt description for it all, but it ensures that few minutes go to waste in those 126 waking hours each week.
How do I spend those hours? Let’s break it down, Barney-style.
The morning grind (3.5 hours): The first 30 minutes of each day is usually spent on “the little things.” Let the dogs out, make coffee, feed the dogs, get the newspaper, etc. Nothing glamorous, but it’s a routine that sets the stage for the day.
Doctrine Man’s wake-up call (10.5 hours): 90 minutes each morning is committed to skimming the news, posting to social media, and engaging with followers. It ends once the cartoon of the day is posted.
Physical Training (10.5 hours): 90 minutes each day go to the treadmill and the stairs. In good weather, I might add time on the bicycle or take the dogs out for a long walk, but PT is a must, each and every day. PT is also a key time for catching up on podcasts, since I don’t have much opportunity any other time during the week.
Personal hygiene (7 hours): Surprising to some, but I still take the time to clean up.
Administrivia (15 hours): During the week, I spend the first three hours of the work day making phone calls, clearing email, and meeting/coordinating with the people essential to my job. During my time in uniform, this was my MBWA (management by walking around) time, when I checked in on people, touched bases with my peers, and took my first cup of coffee for a long walk. I carried that over into civilian life, and it helps to ensure that whatever project I have going doesn’t run into any unforeseen obstacles.
Working lunch (7 hours): I work through lunch every day during the week, usually catching up on morning news and posting to social media. Contrary to popular belief, if you can chew gum and think at the same time, you can multitask.
The afternoon push (25 hours): My afternoons are when I make progress on the vast majority of tasks on my lists. Whether grading papers, working on initiatives, or engaging in some other work-related project, the post-lunch period is anything but slow. It’s normal for this period to run long, because one I get into “the zone” I tend to lose track of time.
Dinner and Jeopardy (7 hours): It’s a tradition in our home that we gather as a family each night, eat dinner, and watch Jeopardy. Yeah, maybe a little weird, but it’s the one time each day when you can find every family member together in one place. And, yes, we answer the questions aloud.
Cartooning (7 hours): I don’t spend anywhere near as much time as I once did creating cartoons, but it’s still a routine task that draws on ideas scribbled in the back of my notebook.
Whatever time (7 hours): The last hour or so before rack time each night can be spent on any number of things, from projects around the house to writing or even watching a movie. It’s generally considered downtime, but that’s not a hard and fast rule.
The evening wind-down (3.5 hours): Kind of like the morning grind, but in reverse cycle.
Reading time (7 hours): The last thing I do every night is read. It’s a mixture of brain candy (fiction) and the hard stuff (non-fiction).
Weekending (16 hours): If you saw my garage, you’d wonder where this time goes. There are days I wonder, myself. But those hours capture every “to-do” task that needs to happen during the weekend, and those are backed up like a Baghdad portalet. This is also when I promise myself I’ll catch up on reading and writing. Sometimes, that actually happens.
That’s my week, down to the last minute. The more I count those hours, the more I wonder where they go, but they don’t go to waste. As a leader, you don’t ever want to look back on your day and wonder where the time went. You want to know that every minute has gone to good use. And once you’ve mastered the use of your time, you should share that knowledge with those you lead. You’ve got 168 hours each week to make a difference. Put them to good use.
Steve Leonard is a former senior military strategist and the creative force behind Doctrine Man!! He is a non-resident fellow at the Modern War Institute at West Point, the co-founder of the national security blog Divergent Options, co-founder and board member of the Military Writers Guild, and a frequent contributor to the Atlantic Council’s Art of Future Warfare Project.
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