Where does the time go?

The responsibilities of today's CIOs seem to be conspiring to make an IT leader's time more precious than ever

When John Halamka first became the CIO at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Centre in Boston in 1998, he was told that being an IT chief was a 9-to-5 job. He quickly discovered that they had it backward. "It turned into a 5-to-9 job," says Halamka, meaning 5 a.m. to 9 p.m.

Today's CIOs cope with a seemingly endless barrage of meetings with senior executives, IT staffers, users, vendors, external customers, Wall Street analysts and others. Those meetings, combined with a crush of e-mail and daily fires that must be extinguished, conspire to make an IT leader's time more precious than ever.

Thomas Hoffman spoke with four CIOs from different industries -- Allstate Insurance's Cathy Brune, Harrah's Entertainment's Tim Stanley, Lew Temares at Florida's University of Miami and Halamka -- to explore how they spend a typical day (if there is such a thing) and how well that maps with their respective time management preferences.

In the wee hours

Like other CIOs, Halamka, who is also the CIO at Harvard Medical School, has made the extended workday work to his advantage. Having become accustomed to sneaking by with four to five hours of sleep each night, he typically starts each day at 5 a.m., "when the world is quiet," by writing presentations or preparing reports.

"Try writing something at noon on a Tuesday when there's an e-mail [interruption] every 30 seconds," says Halamka.

After a full day of meetings and a break for dinner with his family, Halamka usually sets aside time at night, when he's separated from the distractions of the office, to do more "thoughtful" work, such as strategic planning.

Halamka's schedule has the precision of a surgeon's scalpel (see "A Day in the Life"), except for his nemesis: e-mail. He typically plows through 500 messages per day using his BlackBerry, but if Halamka had his way, he'd devote less time to it. "How many e-mails do you receive each day that aren't actionable?" he muses. "There should be postage attached to e-mail before people press the Send button."

Open door, open mind

Brune's workday usually begins at 5:30 a.m. She starts off by checking e-mail and eating breakfast with her two children. After that, she says, there's no such thing as a typical day. But Brune, a 30-year Allstate veteran who held various sales and operational roles in her first 19 years there, leaves time each day between management meetings for impromptu gatherings requested by IT or employee groups to discuss strategy or problems.

Recently, for example, her IT finance team requested a meeting to go over their goals for the year. She used the get-together to also acknowledge the great work the group had been doing.

Unlike other CIOs, who frequently see lunch as an opportunity to squeeze in another meeting or to catch up on e-mail or paperwork, Brune often heads to Allstate's cafeteria, where she likes to introduce herself to groups of employees and gather their impressions of the company's IT organization.

"Sometimes I'll sit down with people for 30 minutes and come back with 30 ideas," says Brune. "I make an effort to listen and discover ways we can do things better. I don't take offense if you're telling me from the heart something you don't feel we're doing well."

Brune devotes a lot of her spare time to volunteering. She serves on the worldwide and Chicago Junior Achievement boards and is a member of the Lake Forest (Ill.) Hospital Foundation's board.

Brune says that she finds the volunteer work rewarding and enjoys meeting other area executives.

She feels that she apportions her time pretty effectively among various stakeholder groups, including the IT staff, corporate employees and Allstate's external customers. But if she had her druthers, she'd spend more time with smaller technology firms to discuss the ideas they're exploring. "I love listening to the way they think," she says.

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