Five Time Management Tips of the Commanders in Chief

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Many American Presidents have been fast learners in the areas of time management and perfecting the art of the discipline.

From noted historian, William Doyle, author of The Oxford History of the French Revolution, and Inside the Oval Office: The White House Tapes from FDR to Clinton, here are five tips practiced by U.S. Presidents of the 20th century who have mastered the skill of time management:

  1. Communicate with subordinates without making others angry or envious.(Franklin Roosevelt) To be fully informed about any issue, you need to gather the best information from the most knowledgeable people. But communicating with one person invariably causes others to feel slighted or curious about what you've discussed. Such feelings can be destructive, as bitterness and competition motivate others to perform out of self-interest rather than for the good of the group. Roosevelt limited staff anger and envy by being excessively considerate and discreet in personal dealings. He also was completely open about how he conducted business and was careful not to hurt the feelings of subordinates.
  2. Hold regular meetings, and hold staffers to promises.(Harry Truman) Harry Truman discovered that the best way to find out everything he needed to know about domestic and international affairs was to hold a regular meeting each morning at 9 am. He would gather his entire senior staff into the Oval Office, listen to their reports on the state of the world and his own policies, pick their brains and then make his decisions. Truman never left anyone guessing about what he wanted done or who was supposed to take care of it. He kept a file for each person on his staff so that he could track the progress of their responsibilities and actions, and to remind them about what he needed.
  3. Hand off tasks, then monitor their progress.(Dwight Eisenhower) The key to effective management is not knowing all the details, but knowing that the right person is taking care of them. Hand off specific tasks to people who have good judgment and can take care of tasks in a timely manner. To make sure his directions were followed, he had a key aide hold weekly follow-up meetings with undersecretaries.
  4. Use small teams to tackle big projects.(John Kennedy) Members of teams often have a hard time seeing beyond their own narrow issues and concerns.
    In direct presentations or large formal meetings, passionate recommendations can seem compelling if allowed to go unchallenged and unexamined.
    The trick to effective decision-making is getting the best advice from passionate people and integrating that advice with other opinions -- and subjecting it all to criticism.
  5. Insist that memos be held to one page.(Ronald Reagan) Ronald Reagan insisted that all memos given to him have a single-page summary. He wanted every issue boiled down to four paragraphs...
    • Summary of the issue at hand.
    • List of the problems that exist.
    • Points to be discussed.
    • Recommended course of action.

    Concise memos forced his staff to be disciplined and focused, which let him concentrate on the problems and the appropriate decisions. When he was told that a matter required a longer memo, Reagan was fond of saying",If you can't reduce what you're trying to say to one page, you may not fully understand the problem."

To highlight this point, keep in mind the famous quote, often attributed to Mark Twain: "If I had more time, I would have written you a shorter letter."

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