Wisdom//

How I Manage the “Power of Attention”

Because prioritization is key.

During the July 4th week, it was quiet in the Santa Clara office. Our sales team had just finished another end-of-quarter sprint, and our U.S. colleagues were enjoying the Independence Day holiday. I took advantage of a slightly slower schedule to catch up on some reading, and came across this study about CEO time management.

The major finding is pretty obvious – there’s a lot to do within a limited amount of time. 

That’s why prioritizing and managing our time effectively is so important. I learned this early in my career when Bill Bain told me that the most important thing a leader can offer is the power of their attention. He was right. With only so many hours in the day, I’ve found that focusing my attention on what really matters becomes an incredibly effective way to get the right things done at the right time.

But in a rapidly growing company like ServiceNow it can feel like time is managing us, rather than the other way around. So, I wanted to share a few things that I do to structure my calendar and prioritize my attention – and I’d love to hear your ideas, too!

1. Keep your goals close. I am a big believer in setting clear priorities and goals. I have a huge white board in my office where I have written out the priorities for each of my direct reports. This allows me to keep an eye on the most important things that we need to accomplish and on how these priorities relate to one another.

Then I translate these priorities into a set of annual and quarterly goals. I like to get my goals down on one page and each P4 member has their goals on one page in a similar format. I carry these goals with me at all times and I pull them out regularly to make sure that I am focused on the right things. And each quarter the P4 takes several hours to review progress against our individual and collective goals.

2. Save your fresh energy for what’s important. Former President Obama once said that he wore the same clothes and ate the same meals every day. For him, not having to choose what to wear and eat freed up mind space for more important decisions.

I do something similar with my daily routine, which keeps my energy focused on where it needs to be. Each morning I start by working out in the ServiceNow gym, then I grab breakfast in the café and bring it to my office where I review my calendar and priorities for the day while I eat.

I also extend this mindset to my annual calendar. At the beginning of every year, I structure my calendar, starting with what’s most strategic and ending with the routine. First, I put in the ‘big rocks’ … things like board meetings, international trips, customer visits, leadership meetings and important family events. I consider these to be non-negotiable – I organize everything around them. Next, I block out time to focus on the most important priorities. This includes brainstorming sessions, checkpoint meetings, recruiting for key positions, and other medium-priority activities. Finally, I leave time for the unscheduled stuff that always comes up. I think about it like building an aquarium – put the big rocks in first, then layer in the smaller rocks, and finally pour the water around it.

3. Take a thinking day. It’s easy to get caught up in the day-to-day, so I make it a point to take a thinking day at least once a quarter. I’ll find a quiet office with a wall-size whiteboard and I’ll ask myself the same few questions:

  • What did I get done last quarter?

  • What have I learned from the external environment (customers, competitors, technology, etc)?

  • What are the implications for our priorities? Do we need to make any adjustments?

  • What are the most important things that I need to get done this quarter?

Reflecting on these helps me recalibrate against our goals, apply what I’ve learned during the past three months, and make any necessary adjustments. It’s a continuous process that helps me grow as a leader and reprioritize my time and attention.

Those are three things I do. There are many more, and I want to hear from you. How do you manage your time at work, and at home? How do you make sure you’re tracking to your goals? What are your secrets to focus your attention on what really matters? We’re building a great, enduring company – and with more than 7,000 of us putting the power of our attention to work, I know our time is well-spent.   

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