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How Great CEO’s Don’t Spend Their Time

The way that a CEO spends her time makes a huge difference in what gets done in a company. Few CEO’s get the chance to see into how other CEO’s are spending their time, they don’t have the chance to compare their decisions to those of others. So when I saw that Michael Porter published an extensive study called  The Leader’s Calendar  in the Harvard Business Review, I dug in.

1. They don’t get much “me” time.

The average CEO in Porter’s study slept just under 7 hours a night and worked out about 45 minutes a day on average. The most disciplined of them had about 3 hours a day of family time, but they were diligent about protecting it!

Running a business whether you are a small business owner, or a corporate CEO is all consuming. For your well-being, health and longevity you need to be diligent about treating your body well, getting good sleep and spending time on activities that nourish you.

2. They don’t hide in their office, work from home, or depend on email to get things done.

The best CEOs spend the majority of their time (61% in Porter’s study) face-to-face with their team, their clients and their partners. In order to do that they need to be very disciplined about the time they spend on email! Leaders naturally get copied on a lot of stuff that they don’t need to answer or take action on. Separating out what needs their attention (a small fraction) from that which can be ignored, archived or deleted is a major skill that CEOs need to develop.

Porter reminds us that nothing substitutes for face-to-face interaction.

3. They don’t let their agenda get set by others.

One of my best bosses used to tell me, “If you go to a meeting with Bill Gates, who’s meeting is it? It doesn’t matter who set the meeting, if Gates is in it, it’s his meeting!” He told me this story to remind me that, as a leader, we set the agenda. In Porter’s study, just shy of 50% of the CEOs time was devoted to driving forward the goals or objectives they had set for the quarter or year. They know what they want to accomplish and make sure that everyone else does too.

Porter calls out as a best practice CEOs who look back every quarter at where their time went the previous quarter so that they can eliminate those things that took them away from advancing their agenda.

4. They don’t ignore the fires.

About a third of the CEOs time was spent “dealing with unfolding developments”. There’s always something that comes up, employees that quit, customers who are disgruntled, competitors who introduce something new… Those things need to be dealt with in a timely way — but without getting distracted from their goals and agenda.

5. They don’t get distracted by the routine or ceremonial duties of the office.

A little over a half a day a week got eaten up by routine duties, or events where the CEOs presence added gravitas but didn’t advance any agenda. The best CEOs worked to minimize the time spent on these activities, substituting someone else, or eliminating the need for it altogether.

6. They don’t forget their team.

One of the most important levers for these top CEOs were their direct reports and their direct reports. The best CEOs know that nurturing and developing their team is a prime responsibility for them and allocate their time accordingly (about one-third of their time was devoted here). By staying in contact with this group they were able to develop an “early warning system” to see problems before they grew too large. It also helped to burst the bubble that sometimes surrounds the leader where all the information they get is highly filtered. Finally, it keeps them tuned in to the talent pipeline so that they can nurture the next generation of leaders.

7. They don’t skip meetings.

Meetings are highly leveraged activities for CEOs. They can see a lot of people face-to-face, they can advance their agenda, they can hear information straight from the front lines. When you are the CEO, going to meetings is your job.

I don’t think there are any of us who love meetings, but getting good at running an effective, time-efficient meeting is a core skill for a CEO.

8. They don’t skimp on alone time.

Once a CEO has been with their team and has soaked up information, they need time to think. Most CEOs do that best alone. The best CEOs spent about 25% of their time alone, yet it was often in small segments of less than an hour. Blocking off time for thinking was critical to the success of the highest performing CEOs.

Key takeaways
There is one resource that we all have in equal measure, time.  If you are going to be a great leader you need to be proactive in determining how best to use that time. Working through your team by seeing them in meetings and one-to-one, gathering your own information and spending some quiet time to think it all through will make you more able to advance your agenda and succeed as a leader. If you don’t you may experience business owner burnout.

About the Author
Brad Farris is Principal Advisor at Anchor Advisors, Ltd. Anchor Advisors helps small business owners to make the transition from the center of all things in their business to a leader with experts who report to them. To find out more visit anchoradvisors.com