How successful CEOs manage their time
Wednesday, November 21st, 2018

For all the power CEOs wield, they can't add hours on the clock or days to the calendar.

Yet everyone wants a piece of them: Leadership teams, senior managers, rank-and-file workers, customers, board members, investors, outside groups, the media. And they want their attention face-to-face, on email, by text and by phone, even on weekends and vacations.

Add to those demands CEOs' personal needs — for rest, relaxation, time with family, exercise and doctor appointments.

That's why those running companies have to be very discerning in how they use their hours.

Those who do it best are "rock solid clear about what should get their time. They do not have time siphoned away by tasks, meetings and commitments that should really be met by other members of their leadership teams and/or others in the company," said Dr. Karol Wasylyshyn, an executive coach and author of "Destined to Lead."

On average, CEOs work 62.5 hours a week, according to Michael Porter, director of the Institute for Strategy and Competitiveness at Harvard Business School, and Nitin Nohria, dean of the school.

They've been conducting a long-term study on how CEOs spend their time. They ask CEOs to keep track of how they spend every hour of every day for three months. So far, they have 60,000 hours of data from 27 CEOs of large, mostly public companies.

The study also found that CEOs spend about 4 hours a day working on most weekends; and about 2.5 hours a day during most vacations.

But how they use their hours determines how successful they'll be.

"The way CEOs allocate their time and their presence ... is crucial, not only to their own effectiveness but also to the performance of their companies," Porter and Nohria wrote in the Harvard Business Review.

Here are some of their recommendations:

With meetings, shorter is sweeter

CEOs reported that about a third of their meetings lasted an hour on average, while 38% went longer.

"'Standard' meeting times should be revisited with an eye toward shortening them. Doing this can significantly enhance a CEO's efficiency. In our debriefs, CEOs confessed that one-hour meetings could often be cut to 30, or even 15 minutes," Porter and Nohria reported.

Make time to be alone

CEOs are supposed to set a vision for their companies, lay out broad strategies to realize it, and clearly communicate both to stakeholders.

That's hard to do without adequate time to reflect. On average CEOs spent 28% of their work time alone, but the majority of it was in blocks of an hour or less.

"CEOs need to cordon off meaningful amounts of alone time and avoid dissipating it by dealing with immediate matters, especially their in-boxes," Porter and Nohria recommended.

Delegate more

Getting too involved in the day-to-day can derail CEOs from putting their time where it's needed most.

For example, with reviews, CEOs can become too mired in company operations, Porter and Nohria noted.

"We have found, again and again, that many have a hard time shedding the COO or president roles they may have previously held. Some also forget that their senior team should bear the primary responsibility for many reviews and keep the CEO informed on a regular basis."

Use email less

CEOs reported spending 61% of their work time in face-to-face interactions, and 24% on electronic communications.

While email can be an efficient way to communicate, it can also be a time suck.

"CEOs should recognize that the majority of emails cover issues that needn't involve them and often draw them into the operational weeds," Porter and Nohria said.

Having an executive assistant filter and delegate them before you even see them can help.

What's more, sending too many emails can be counterproductive, they added. "Emails from the CEO can create a downward spiral of unnecessary communication and set the wrong norms, especially if the CEO sends them late at night, on weekends, or on holidays."

Don't schedule every minute

CEOs in the study spent about a quarter of their time on average on spontaneous interactions.

That's critical, the authors assert, so executives can be available for opportune conversations or meetings and to deal with unfolding, unexpected events, which consumed about 36% of CEOs' time.

"Leaders whose schedules are always booked up or whose [executive assistants] ... say no to too many people risk being viewed as imperious, self-important, or out of touch," Porter and Nohria noted.

Keep in touch with employees

CEOs spent about 14% of their time with low-level managers and 6% with rank-and-file workers.

That's time well spent.

It also helps CEOs better understand their employees' experiences, which pays dividends down the road, they noted.

"Relationships with employees at multiple levels also build a CEO's legitimacy and trustworthiness in the eyes of employees, which is essential to motivating them and winning their support."

Make time for your life

CEOs in the study seemed to get the memo that they needed to rest and stay healthy. They slept nearly seven hours a night on average. About 9% (or 45 minutes) of their non-work time was devoted to exercise.

And of the 25% of their time (or six hours a day) spent awake but not working, half was time spent with family.

"To sustain the intensity of the job, CEOs need to train — just as elite athletes do. That means allocating time for health, fitness, and rest," Porter and Nohria recommended.

This piece was originally published on CNN Business

Related Posts
Talent Stories: Alex Currie, Vice President, People and Talent at GoCompare

In our #TalentStories series, we put some of Wales' most successful executives under the spotlight, sharing their inspiring stories with you. This ...

Talent stories: Abi Harris, Executive Director of Strategic Planning, Cardiff and Vale University Health Board

In our #TalentStories series, we share career stories from candidates and clients we have been lucky enough to work with. This month we meet Abigal...

Talent stories: Alison Copus, Director of Communications and Engagement, Wales Millennium Centre

In a new series, we share inspiring career stories from candidates and clients we have been lucky enough to work with. First up is Alison Copus, an...

Succession planning: A guide

We present our guide to everything you need to consider when it comes to future-proofing your organisation.

The search for Cardiff Airport’s next Chair is underway

New Chair will lead the national airport for Wales in the next phase of its exciting journey

How to approach diversity in your business

Founder Sian Goodson shares her strategies to help SME owners ensure they have a more diverse workforce and senior team.

These HR Trends Can Inform Better Practices in 2019

The human resources industry is ever-changing and adapting to the new technologies, a new workforce generation and the exit of another workforce ge...

Thinking Outside the Box When Hiring

The millennial workforce is definitely not an easy one to please. With employee retention rate lower than ever before, and the modern worker being ...

The importance of adapting and connecting in the workplace

“We don’t see the world as it is, we see it as we are,” Anaïs Nin once wrote. One place where it is especially apparent that people hold dif...

Goodson Thomas Appointed to once again represent Social Care Wales in the search for a crucial appointment: Director of Regulation (Registrar)

Social Care Wales has a responsibility to protect, promote and maintain the safety and well-being of the public in Wales. An integral part of the W...

How successful CEOs manage their time

For all the power CEOs wield, they can't add hours on the clock or days to the calendar.

Yet everyone wants a piece of them: Leadership team...

Goodson Thomas Appointed to Search for the first Non-Executive Member for Wales on behalf of the Ofcom

Ofcom is the communications regulator in the UK. It regulates the TV and radio sectors, fixed line telecoms, mobiles, postal services, plus the air...

UK gender pay gap shrinks to all-time low

The UK’s gender pay gap has fallen to 8.6% for full-time employees – its lowest level yet, according to the Office for National Statistics (ONS...

Getting people management on the strategic agenda – Where is your organisation on the ‘Innocence to Excellence’ scale?

People costs often represent at least half of total operating costs – particularly in service organisations, where staff play a key role in deliv...

The psychology of leading teams remotely

Leadership from a distance requires a careful study of human nature, says L&D specialist Sudhakar Sampath.

Is Social Media an Effective Recruitment Tool for SMEs?

According to research by The Open University Business, th...

Goodson Thomas Appointed to Search for a Non-Executive Chair for Transport for Wales on behalf of the Welsh Government

Transport for Wales (TfW) is a not for profit company, wholly-owned by the Welsh Government and established in 2015. Set-up initially as an expert ...

Why Welsh businesses are increasingly recruiting non-executive directors

The global financial crisis of 2008 and subsequent period of recession had a variety of effects on Welsh businesses and organisations. At Goodson ...

How to manage family life while growing a business

For business owners with kids, days often involve a careful juggling act of work and childcare. Business calls and emails are regularly intersperse...

Succession planning: By failing to prepare you are preparing to fail

In today's uncertain economic environment, safeguarding business continuity is a key priority for organisations the world over. Succession planning...

Going it Alone

UP CLOSE - How Siân Goodson left a leading recruitment firm to set up her own executive search business with a difference

Returning to an old job - what you need to know

What are the risks of returning to a business or organisation for which you once worked? Recruitment expert Siân Goodson sets out what you should ...

Assembling a team

Having the right mix of skills and experience in a team is essential for success, but equally as important is having a team with a good blend of pe...

Siân Goodson Q&A

Siân Goodson is the managing director of Goodson Thomas, an executive search and corporate insight business based in Cardiff and London.

Goodson Thomas Helps Fast-Growing Welsh Technology Firm Recruit a Top Executive Talent.

Cardiff-based TrakCel engaged Goodson Thomas to find a new Chief Operating Officer to direct its future growth.The pioneering company develops soft...

Goodson Thomas Appointed to Search for a New Director for the National Botanic Garden of Wales

Established in May 2000 as one of 3 millennium projects in Wales supported by the Millennium Commission, the National Botanic Garden of Wales (the ...

Goodson Thomas Recruits Three New Associates After Rapid Growth

Goodson Thomas has started 2016 by taking on three new associates to improve our offer and meet the demands of our growing client base.

Why You Should Always Look Internally When Replacing Top Talent

So, your chief executive is leaving and you need to find a replacement. Where do you start? Do you try to have a clean break with the past and brin...

Goodson Thomas to Lead the Search for New Group Chair - Seren Group and Grŵp Gwalia

Goodson Thomas has been appointed to lead the search for a new Group Ch...

Goodson Thomas Appointed to Lead the Search for Care Council for Wales (Social Care Wales) CEO

Goodson Thomas has been appointed by Care Council for Wales to conduct ...

The Pitfalls of Social Recruiting

In just a few short years social recruiting - i.e. recruiting through s...

Closing the Gender Pay Gap

Women managers in Wales are effectively working for free nearly an hour...

New Recruitment Business Launched

A new Cardiff and London based recruitment business has been launched b...

New Headhunting Firm Launched

A new business that aims to help organisations in Wales recruit, retain...

Get in touch
Whether you are looking for support as a business, or would like to discuss your own career progression, please do contact us. We would love to hear from you.