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Are You Spending Your Time Where You Can Make the Greatest Impact?

As William Penn is credited with saying, “Time is what we want most, but what we use worst.” That might sound like an overstatement, yet even in a world that operates 24/7, many professionals feel they don’t have the time to achieve all that they hope.  

As a leader, you know that your time is in finite supply. But what you might not fully appreciate is the degree of control you have over how you use your time to make the greatest impact for your organization and its stakeholders. 

Recognizing Your Proact/React Ratio 

In working with executives across many industries, I’ve noticed a pattern: The most successful leaders spend more of their time in proact mode vs. react mode. Conversely, those who find their proact/react ratio out of balance encounter more challenges in doing their jobs effectively. 

We all know that time management is critical to success in business and life, but that doesn’t keep us from allowing the rush and noise of day-to-day issues to dictate how we spend our time. In a complex, fast-changing, ambiguous world, it’s even more likely to happen.   

What are React and Proact modes? 

  • React Mode: If you’re constantly interrupted by phone calls, chats, texts, and emails, called into meetings with short notice or no clarity on why you’re needed, or always engrossed in solving the problem of the day, you’re operating mostly in react mode. 
  • Proact Mode: If you’re intentionally choosing to attend meetings where you have a defined role and a clear reason to contribute, and you typically have time in your day to think—about new strategies, potential opportunities, or emerging threats and disruptors—then you’re spending more time in proact mode. 

Are You Doing What Only You Can Do? 

Another factor that influences how well you use your time is the degree to which you engage in activities that only you can do vs. tasks that others on your team can and should handle. 

By virtue of your experience, skillsets, or authority, there are some tasks that only you can do, and those should be high priority. It sounds elementary, but many leaders find themselves pulled into activities that others can handle perfectly well themselves. For some, there’s comfort in doing the work they did in their former role, which they were probably exceptionally good at. For others, it’s a tendency to micro-manage. 

Whether you spend too much time being reactive or focusing on tasks you should delegate, when you fail to use your time effectively as a leader, the consequences can be far-reaching and devastating.  

  • You’re less effective in helping the organization achieve its key goals and objectives, which is one of your most important leadership roles.  
  • You’re not providing your direct reports with the development opportunities they need to advance their skills and capabilities, which decreases their satisfaction, fuels turnover, and limits their value to the company. 

Solving the Time Conundrum 

As an executive coach, I’m often called on to help busy leaders make better use of their time so they can avoid these pitfalls and deliver more impactful value for their organizations and their stakeholders. Rather than provide prescriptive instructions, I ask probing questions like the following to create A-ha moments, build self-awareness, and set the stage for intentional behavior change.  

  • Are you hiring and retaining the best team? Hiring and trusting capable and skilled people has everything to do with time management. The more confident you are in your team, the more comfortable you’ll be delegating tasks that shouldn’t be on your to-do list and letting go of activities you shouldn’t focus on.  
  • Do you know where your time goes? Keeping a time log for a few days can prove eye-opening. I recommend tracking time in 15-minute increments, then labeling each time slot based on two factors: Is it proactive or reactive work, and is it something only you can do or something another employee can do?  
  • Do you recognize patterns? A time log can help you pinpoint particular activities, individuals, or groups that are causing you to spend more of your time in reactive mode or to take on tasks that others should handle.  
  • Are you intentional about meetings? If you find you’re constantly in the same meetings as your direct reports, ask them to take the next one on their own. You’ll gain time for more value-add work, and they’ll gain a beneficial development opportunity.  
  • Are you blocking out time to think? Many leaders find it helpful to block out one-hour slots throughout the week for pure thinking time: no meetings, emails, or interruptions. Former Secretary of State George Mitchell used this method very effectively, even in a high-pressure, high-stakes job. 

Getting a better handle on your time isn’t only about improving efficiency; it’s about spending your day in ways that better serve your objectives and the company’s. One leader learned from his 360-degree assessment that his team was frustrated by how long it took him to make decisions. He thought they should hash it out as a group until they reached a consensus, while they viewed the process as “consensus by exhaustion.” Once he was aware, he made an intentional choice to make decisions faster and more effectively, so his team could get on with executing those decisions. The team avoided the waste and frustration of revisiting the same topic over and over, they acted on key decisions sooner, and the leader gained time for other value-add work. That’s a time management win-win-win! 


The Leadership Advisory Practice at Odgers Berndtson helps organizations discover and develop leaders, strengthen value-creating teams, and prepare for what’s next. Learn how our highly experienced executive coaches and assessors can help your leaders stay focused on delivering the greatest value for your company.  

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