President Trump’s ‘Executive Time’ Is Time Well Spent

Look up at the heavens and see; gaze at the clouds so high above you. Job 35:5

By John Yoest Published on February 12, 2018

Recent news reports, commentators and senators have criticized President Trump for blocking off a number of hours on his calendar for “Executive Time.” The implication is that blocking this time is not really executive behavior. Certainly not presidential. Some are arguing that his Executive Time is a waste of time.

Is this fair?

In fact, blocked-off Executive Time may be the most important time of the day for the manager. 

Journalists, consultants and academia are often confused about the differences between the way an individual contributor and the manager spend their time.  The staffer, who does the work assigned by his supervisor, gets graded on his efficiency — getting more work done in fewer hours and a lower cost. 

But the manager, from the first-line supervisor, to CEO, to President of the United States should not get graded on “efficiency.” The manager should get graded on effectiveness.

Effectiveness is the accomplishment of organizational goals. Here is the, yes, genius, of President Trump. He is steadily and effectively advancing his agenda. He is working toward increased employment, a stronger stock market, a more conservative judiciary, and greater national security. 

Action vs. Progress

The amateur observer confuses action with progress. Perhaps the busiest man to occupy the White House was President Jimmy Carter. But no one would claim he was effective.

The new, young manager, or a Jimmy Carter (who personally scheduled the White House tennis courts) is busy-busy-busy. The new supervisor still focuses on the staffer’s scorecard of his previous life: taking action and being efficient. 

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But the manager’s ‘work’ is getting things done — through other people. 

The work of the boss is to plan, organize, lead and control. He can accomplish this managerial work only with the active support of his staff. The successful individual contributor must be efficient. The good manager is effective. 

“Effective executives do not make a great many decisions,” wrote the great management guru Peter Drucker. “They concentrate on what is important. They try to make the few important decisions on the highest level of conceptual understanding.”

Time to Reflect

To be effective later, the most important use of Executive Time is sometimes … to do “nothing.” To think. The most common complaint from executives is, “If only I had an hour to think about a problem.” The boss needs discretionary, uncluttered time to think.  

General “Red” Newman, a World War II hero, wrote advice to a young officer in a book entitled Follow Me III. In the chapter “’Think Time’ is Vital in Command,” he explains:

Stop. Look out the window now and then, and let your mind stand away from problems to see them in perspective, to select those areas to which you will direct your efforts.

… The most important duty … is not just to work skillfully, even selectively, at matters [needed] for resolution or coordination, but to reflect on matters …

The only way that kind of reflection happens for a harried CEO is if he schedules it on his calendar, and fiercely protects that time. 

These days, they might even label it “Executive Time.”  


Jack Yoest is an Assistant Professor of Management at The Catholic University of America in The Busch School of Business and Economics, in Washington, DC.  He is the author of The Memo: How the Classified Military Document That Helped the U.S. Win WWII Can Help You Succeed in Business.

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