This column is part of Globe Careers' Leadership Lab series, where executives and experts share their views and advice about leadership and management. Follow us at @Globe_Careers. Find all Leadership Lab stories at tgam.ca/leadershiplab.
Do you confuse busy with effective?
Donald Draper, the elegant anti-hero of television's Mad Men, has a secret weapon he uses to compete in the cutthroat advertising industry of New York City in the 1960s.
It seems that in many episodes, when Mr. Draper is faced with his biggest personal and professional challenges, he retires to his office and grabs a few winks on a spectacular mid-century couch.
And just as often, Mr. Draper resurfaces from his siesta recharged and full of dynamic, creative energy.
I was given pause to think about Don Draper recently when I read recently that LinkedIn CEO Jeff Weiner sets aside up to two hours each day to "just think."
Although it runs contrary to the typical image we have of a corporate titan, Mr. Weiner is resolute that his schedule "buffers" – 30- to 90-minute blocks of time used to separate other tasks every day – are essential for him to function at a high level.
"It's a system I developed over the last several years in response to a schedule that was becoming so jammed with back-to-back meetings that I had little time left to process what was going on around me or just think," Mr. Weiner wrote in his original blog.
"At first, these buffers felt like indulgences. I could have been using the time to catch up on meetings I had pushed out or said 'no' to. But over time I realized not only were these breaks important, they were absolutely necessary in order for me to do my job."
Mr. Weiner said that every organization is in a constant state of change, and that there are critical moments of transition that leaders must "get right" to be successful. Particularly as it relates to strategic thinking, Mr. Weiner insists, requires "uninterrupted focus" to question assumptions, synthesize data, connect dots and test various scenarios.
"The buffer is the best investment you can make in yourself and the single most important productivity tool I use," Mr. Weiner wrote.
Mr. Weiner's comments should resonate with a great many business leaders.
Taking the time to think more before doing more is an idea I have considered for some time. Many business leaders today fall into the trap of making hard work harder because they are constantly jamming more and more things into their schedule, leaving them little time for strategic thinking.
I was working with a group of senior leaders recently who admitted to constantly feeling overwhelmed in their roles. The pace of change they were experiencing was unrelenting and they felt compelled to take on new things without having adequate time to think and assess the value of what they were doing.
As one leader described, "It seems we always focus our attention on the next new and shiny object. We just keep going from one thing to the next, often without really thinking clearly about what or why we're doing what we're doing."
It's okay to be busy. It's not okay, as Mr. Weiner points out, to be so busy that you simply have no idea what you're doing.
In many ways, this is part of a trend where prominent business leaders are challenging the traditional sensibilities of the executive work ethic. That idea that unless you are working 28 hours a day, eight days a week, you're not living up to your responsibilities.
Is this concept – a more balanced, measured approach to business leadership – a new age development? Is this a trend that reflects the contrasting values of younger generations?
Perhaps, but remember most of the leaders who are espousing a balanced approach are in fact part of older generations where working letting your job consume your life was considered a minimum standard for entry to the C-suite.
How can leaders find that balance and still drive organizational success? As Mr. Weiner notes, setting aside time for thoughtful reflection is not downtime, it's a productivity tool. Treat it as such, and create a culture in your organization where buffer time, as Mr. Weiner calls it, is something all of your leaders practice.
While you're contemplating the pace and direction of your organization, differentiate between the tasks or projects that are important, and the ones that are urgent. Too many leaders treat everything they do as urgent. The result is that the truly urgent, pressing matters are dragged down with the merely important. And progress is compromised.
All business leaders are busy people, even those that find time for thoughtful reflection. But don't confuse "busy" with "successful."
Vince Molinaro (@VinceMolinaro) is managing director of the leadership practice at Toronto-based Knightsbridge Human Capital Solutions and the author of The Leadership Contract.