Leadership

Why retired Gen. Stanley McChrystal puts everything on his calendar, including when he'll shower

Serving in the Army for 34 years taught retired Gen. Stanley McChrystal a few things about managing his time effectively. During his career, he adapted to changing priorities often, with nearly five years as the head of the Joint Special Operations Command and a year as the commander of U.S. and International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) Afghanistan.

Now retired, the 64-year-old veteran tells CNBC Make It he continues to put the productivity lessons he learned into practice as he leads a consulting firm and teaches at Yale University.

Here are a few tips this retired general says will help you get the most out of any day.

1. Set goals for your time — and be accountable to them

As McChrystal moved up through the ranks and took on more responsibility, he realized he needed to be more effective with his time. McChrystal says time is a leader's "most precious resource."

In his calendar, he began setting goals for the share of time he'd spend on different tasks in a given month. "I'd say I want to spend 10 percent doing this, 25 percent this," he says. "At the end of that period we'd come back and compare it to the calendars and see how we really did."

Once the month was over, McChrystal reflected on whether or not he met his goals. This tactic helped control his schedule while making delegating easier. He allotted more time to the tasks that only he could do, and gave tasks he did out of habit or comfort to other people. He says this approach freed him up to do tasks that were appropriate for his role and his level.

2. Write everything in your calendar — even when you'll shower

McChrystal is disciplined about ensuring every task and commitment is reflected on his calendar. His schedule includes even mundane tasks like writing emails. He also slots in time on his calendar for showers — a habit he says makes his wife laugh.

The retired general schedules even the tedious tasks because they are work realities he needs to account for. Furthermore, once a task is added to his calendar, he says he's more likely to do it.

Not including small chores and errands would result in him trying to squeeze tasks like email into weekends or late nights, he says, lowering the quality of his work.

"That just jams me up and I do a less professional job," McChrystal says. "The idea is to force myself to address those things that I know have to be done to keep the organization moving."

3. Get to work at least 30 minutes early

Like many other successful leaders, McChrystal is an early riser. He says mornings are the one time of day when he's in complete control, adding that he's not getting phone calls at 4:30 a.m.

He uses early mornings to work out and clear his head. He then gets to work at least 30 or 45 minutes before he has to. He takes the time to prepare for the day ahead, decompress and enjoy a cup of coffee with others in the office.

"If I've got a meeting at 8 and I'd come in at 7:59, I'm kind of harried, my mind is on things and I really don't do it very well," he says. "If I come in and sort of get myself settled, it's worth the additional time coming in early to do that."

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