The Global Plague of Time Mismanagement

Whether you’re a C-level executive, executive assistant, or busy professional you are in a constant battle against the clock to make sure you’re using your time efficiently. If you feel that you’re on the losing end of this battle, you can take solace that you’re not alone. Of the 1500 executives in a McKinsey & Company global survey, 30% responded that they were “actively dissatisfied” with their time allocation and 48% were only “somewhat satisfied.”

Time mismanagement is caused by two main factors:

1) people fail to recognize that time, like money, is a limited resource that needs to be apportioned according to the payoff of the prospective investment, and

2) people fail to use the tools at their disposal to a) track their time allocation and b) delegate low-level tasks so they can focus on high-value strategic priorities.

On the first factor, decades of research shows how organizations fail to grasp the importance of managing time as you would any other resource. In 2004 Michael Mankis, a partner at Bain & Company, stated that “as much as 80% of top management’s time is devoted to issues that account for less than 20% of a company’s long-term value.” Even today, McKinsey reports that only 52% percent of executives allocate time in a way that “largely matched their organizations’ strategic priorities.”

Poor time management isn’t just limited to executives. As we all know from experience, Screen Shot 2015-11-24 at 8.47.54 AMmanagement loves to inflict unnecessary meetings, reports, and projects on lowly subordinates as well. For example, Mankis quantified how much time one company’s employees wasted supporting weekly executive committee meetings. The results were astonishing. Each year the meetings cost the company a total of 300,000 man-hours. And we’re not just talking about one isolated incident. Data cited by Bain suggests that on average companies waste 20% of total employee man-hours because of poor time management.

svgz_TimeAllocation_Ex2_WebWhile most managers can recite the breakdown of their budget allocation by heart, they seem to develop amnesia when it comes to giving a breakdown of their time allocation. Luckily, McKinsey was able to restore their memory by asking executives to record their daily activities in a diary. This information helped clarify the schedule breakdown for “highly satisfied” executives as well as categorize “actively dissatisfied” executives into four distinct groups: cheerleader, schmoozer, online junkie, and firefighter.

Now that we understand the symptoms of poor Screen Shot 2015-11-18 at 11.29.17 AMtime management, the million dollar question (literally) is “how can we better manage our time and boost productivity?” I prescribe two remedies which will improve your time management capabilities: use software to track time allocation against organizational priorities and hire an assistant to handle your low-level work.

Screen Shot 2015-11-18 at 11.29.43 AMThe first remedy helps executives understand how their current time allocation compares to organizational priorities so they can maintain the optimal schedule balance. Take the executive schmoozer for example. Without data showing how slanted his schedule is toward customer calls, the schmoozer lacks a critical check needed to maintain adequate time for implementing corporate strategy. Fortunately for professionals like the schmoozer, Esper cures time mismanagement by offering powerful tools for categorizing calendar events and visualizing time allocation. Esper helps people identify time sinks, spot trends, and focus on what matters most.


Screen Shot 2015-11-18 at 11.30.11 AM

The second remedy helps executives focus on high-value work by delegating low-level tasks to low-cost assistants. Of the executives who deemed themselves effective time managers in McKinsey’s study, 85% stated that they “received strong support in scheduling and allocating time” while only 7% of dissatisfied executives said the same. To help assistants provide even better support, Esper has developed a Google Apps extension which combines email and calendaring tools to streamline scheduling workflow. These essential features include emails with pre-populated time and location preferences, daily agendas, and automatic event reminders.


Screen Shot 2015-11-18 at 11.28.40 AMMelba Duncan, who heads an assistant recruiting service, explains why assistants make solid financial sense as well. For an executive earning $1 million per year, hiring an assistant at $80 thousand per year implies they must make the executive 8% more productive in order to break even. In other words, the assistant must save the executive five hours per 60 hour work week. Executives with high-quality assistants know that they save far more than that. In fact, they often confess that they can’t live without them.

Renowned management guru Peter Drucker once said, “Time is the scarcest resource, and unless it can be managed nothing else can be managed.” While many companies fail to follow Drucker’s sage wisdom, these strategies will help you successfully manage your time so you can better manage everything else.


   Works Cited

  1. Bevins, Frankki. De Smet, Aaron. “Making time management the organization’s priority.” McKinsey Quarterly. Jan 2013.
  2. Drucker, Peter. The Effective Executive, first edition, New York, NY: Harper & Row, 1967.
  3. Mankis, Michael. “Stop Wasting Valuable Time.” Harvard Business Review. Sept 2004
  4. Mankis, Michael. “This Weekly Meeting Took Up 300,000 Hours a Year.” Harvard Business Review. Apr 29, 2014.
  5. Brahm, Chris. Caimi, Gregory. Mankis Michael. “Your Scarcest Resource.” Harvard Business Review. May 2014.
  6. Melba, Duncan. “The Case For Executive Assistants.” Harvard Business Review. May 2011.