Clock watchers

Ask any executive about his or her day and after consulting a BlackBerry, a tabbed planner book and an assistant’s computerized schedule, the exec will recite a laundry list of meetings and appointments, then comment about not having enough time to get everything done.

But there is a difference between being busy and being productive, says Deborah O’Neil, Ph.D., a faculty member and senior lecturer in the Department of Organizational Behavior at the Weatherhead School of Management at Case Western Reserve University.

“It’s the difference in moving in the direction that you determine you want to go in, as opposed to being pulled in multiple directions by competing interests,” O’Neil says.

Many things can interfere with maximizing efficient use of your time, O’Neil says, and she offers these strategies for dealing with them.

* Getting bogged down in e-mail. E-mail can be a helpful tool, but O’Neil says it can also be a trap “because we get so sucked into reacting to what pops up in front of us on a regular basis.” Some issues require an immediate response, but many don’t. O’Neil suggests scheduling time to check e-mail, then getting back to priorities.

* Forgetting clarity of vision and purpose. “Everybody starts out with a vision, but then the daily press of life and all the activities that we need to be engaged in get us off track or make that seem like it’s a luxury as opposed to a necessity,” O’Neil says. “Checking in on that vision and keeping that clear and in the forefront of what drives our daily actions is really the way to be more productive and less busy.”

O’Neil says executives should focus on a productivity goal, as well as a larger goal, each day. “It’s really bringing a mindfulness to your daily activities and connecting them to the larger vision that you have for yourself and for your life,” she says.

“Then it becomes a real individual development process of, ‘I understand where I’m trying to get to. Let me think about what strengths I have now that will help me get there and what areas I might want to develop to help me move forward.'”

* Resistance to change. Being a creature of habit can be self-destructive. “Even if we’re not happy with the outcomes of the way we’re doing things, it seems somehow easier to continue doing what we’ve always done,” O’Neil says.

“What’s that saying? If you keep doing what you’ve always done, you’ll keep getting what you’ve always gotten.”

* Stress. Stress comes from living in “doing” mode as opposed to “being” mode. The to-do list often doesn’t allow time to recharge the executive battery. Alternatives to spending a week at a spa can be as simple as a few minutes of yoga, meditation or deep breathing.

“The more opportunity one has to rejuvenate and refresh one’s self, the better off (a person is) in terms of being able to be productive and to contribute to your career and to the rest of your life,” O’Neil says.

* Boundary management. Executives need to maintain current boundaries, establish new ones and empower their employees to do more. “I’m not saying to sit back with their feet up on their desk, but get clear about their role in the organization and others’ roles in the organization,” she says. “Executives and CEOs are often operating at both a tactical level and a strategic level, and they need to be operating at a more strategic level and helping others in the organization understand what the tactical level enacting that strategy looks like.”

HOW TO REACH: Weatherhead School of Management., (800) 723-0203 or