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

President Donald Trump walks to the Oval Office after speaking live via video link to the annual "March for Life" participants and pro-life leaders on January 19, 2018 from the White House in Washington, DC.

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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  • Paul

    doesn’t matter what he does, he’ll be criticized for it.

  • Jack Yoest

    Paul, good point–and this is the challenge of management: The practice of managing is never-can never-be perfect. There is always a short-fall that can be criticized by amateurs, consultants, journalists and academics.

  • Isabella

    Completed Staff Work can be seen in this article since as we all know the boss is the leader, the one who makes decisions and leads. But with the help of his team and staff efficiency becomes clear. The article mentions the importance of what executive time is and how it helps and benefits a leader. Not only it gives the person time to think but also to reflect about everything going around.I personally think that scheduling an executive time in a calendar is something essential for a leader, a boss and even a manager. It gives them time to think about big things and analyze, reflect about important decisions. Since the boss has a very busy schedule, his team has to try to make his day less complicated and packed. And one of the things that could make his day better is to have “ executive time”. As it says in the article, the boss can “ do nothing” and just think about everything. From my personal point of view this will eventually bring positive consequences since the boss has taken his time to think and analyze every small important detail.

  • Brandon Johnston

    There is a clear misunderstanding from those that get confused about or think that Executive Time is a waste of time. The job of any manager or leader is to plan, organize, lead, and control those underneath them, as well as do all of that for the organization that the person works for. Part of the reason that having executive time is important is so that the leader can put more thought into how to plan, organize, lead, and control in a more effective manner, so that efficiency and productivity can increase. Even though one might think that doing more and being busy sounds like a person is being productive, but that does not apply at all levels. The reason that a leader or a boss delegates tasks is to have smaller issues or tasks completed by others so that they can spend their time to reflect and address bigger issues, instead of wasting time doing tasks that can be accomplished by the staff, which was hired to handle tasks like that. The other drawback to not having as much executive time and prioritizing tasks that can be delegated is that you are wasting manpower, as this would free up time for staff members, who do not hold responsibilities for thinking of a bigger picture, or how to come up with long term plans and goals.

  • Emma Flanagan

    Thank you very much for sharing this article Professor Yoest. I found this to be very relatable, as oftentimes the college students gets caught up in the speed in which they can complete a task, versus the lasting impact and effectiveness that the ending outcome provides. As a student with plenty on her plate, I struggle with this often – however have been able to hone my skills of managing my time while still contributing 110% into my work so that it has a meaningful impact on others. Going the extra mile truly makes a difference, as it can serve as a ripple effect towards others. When it comes to studying, doing more than just paying attention in class is very necessary to receive a well rounded education. I’ve found going the extra mile in International Marketing to be very important. This is because the content can be quite complicated at times, and so for me to truly master the material I must handle the information with care and time so that I may truly grasp it. It’s not always about the speed in which you complete a task, but the thoroughness that the job is completed along that way that really matters.

  • Tania

    In the article it discusses one very important element in completed staff work in that the role of the staff is to make sure that the boss is not overly stressed and has time to think. In fact I would say that the most important people in an organization would not be the boss but the staff because without them the boss would be left with everything on his plate. It is the staffs job to carry out the vision of the boss and get things done for him. However, the boss does need to to think through his goals and have a clear peaceful time to do it. An example I though of for this is when you are about to write an essay. You first prepare an outline of what you want to say and in what order. This is done ahead of time because if you just dive right in and figure it out as you go along it can become hectic and frustrating. This is also why people hire wedding planners and event planners because planning things out is just as important as putting them into action. Therefore, it is important for the boss to have some scheduled time to think things through and get a clear image of how to achieve what you want.

  • Bernardo Guillamon

    Those who express criticism about Executive Time have are demonstrating a clear misunderstanding about what Executive Time really is for. I would recommend they take some important themes from Completed Staff Work to gain a better understanding of a leader or manager’s roles and responsibilities. The roles of any manager or leader in the organization is to plan, organize, lead and control. The “boss” is supposed to focus on making important and noteworthy decisions- sometimes these choices are not easy to make and may carry serous implications for the company and its clients (in this case the nation). In being able to set aside time to reflect and think, it provides the leader/manager the chance to weight the consequences of each action and make the most well-informed decision possible. It allows the manager to see things in a different light and perspective. The manager is not supposed to make all the big decisions, only the most important ones. The manager delegates the rest of his tasks to his subordinates to in order to word through others and focus on what’s most important.

  • Katarina Percopo

    I found this article very interesting! It is certainly true that a boss needs a least a little time during the day to be able to think, reflect, solve a problem or just have a few minutes to unwind from the craziness of a day. As a boss you are always under pressure having to make decisions and always having people come up to you with tasks or issues. It is important that a boss does not get completely drained out and does not perform at their best. I think having “executive time” or just time to be alone with your thoughts is crucial for a boss to keep oneself sane honestly. If a boss does not add their “thinking time” into their schedule then there is no possible way that the boss would actually take the time to think as they would worry about all the other things they have to do.

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