Latest Articles

A CEO's 24 hours

leadership transition Nov 09, 2021

-By Sophie Pinkoski

A 2018 study by Harvard Business Review revealed that on average, CEOs work 62.5 hours a week.

CEOs often fall into the assumption or expectation that overworking and constantly being available is just part of the job.

But having no off switch is a fast track to burnout, and if that happens, there are consequences for the individual and the organization. This is why maximizing time is a crucial skill for leaders. It seems inefficient at first to set up a process for strategically planning key priorities, but taking that time up front allows the leader to dedicate the necessary attention and time to what will have the greatest impact. It’s easy to be frozen by the overwhelming prospect of the big picture, but breaking down your priorities into manageable pieces will help you stay on task and get more done during your day. 

Setting a clear agenda – Outline what must be done in a day.  Prioritize rigorously, keep the daily list achievable, and make sure to communicate it with your team. All other decisions around the CEO's use of time that day should be built around these priorities. If an unexpected issue arises, first ask where it fits in the daily priorities and what must move to accommodate it. You may be surprised that not everything unexpected goes to the top of the list.

Planning in advance – This is where you identify smaller tasks that will eventually help realize your overall goals. Break down your annual goals into quarterly tasks, which can then be broken down into even smaller action items from there. Review your big goals daily or at least weekly. From the day to day perspective, prepare tomorrow’s to-do list by the end of the previous day so that you can hit the ground running as soon as you sit down for work in the morning. 

Delegating tasks to your team – As a leader, it’s tempting to take responsibility for anything that comes your way, but you have to remember that you don’t have the answers to everything and finding those answers cuts into valuable time. It’s not up to you to be the sole problem solver or initiative driver in your organization.

Engage with your team members and empower them to find answers or continue momentum on their own when you can’t (or shouldn't) do it yourself.

Building trust with your team makes it easier for you to hand over low-priority tasks to those with a relevant skill set. Delegating these tasks to your team allows you to focus on high-priority tasks and in extension, achieving your main goals. If you feel there is nobody skilled enough to delegate such tasks, reflect on whether you need an additional or different team member supporting you. Don't accept that you must keep all the work for the long term. 

Scheduling your meetings – Harvard Business Review found that CEOs spend 72% of their working hours in meetings, 42% of which are one on one. With meetings taking up a significant chunk of CEOs’ days, it’s important to use that face to face time effectively. Most often, anything expressed within an hour-long meeting can be addressed in half that time.

Requesting short, concise meetings requires a certain amount of boundary setting.

Meetings should come with a clear goal or outcome with materials circulated in advance. Don't let bad meeting habits rob your time.

You have control over your schedule, and therefore, you know where you need to protect your time most. Be assertive about your meeting expectations and boundaries and know when to say no or push back.  

Self-reflection – In amongst your hectic schedule, it’s important that you set aside time during your work day for yourself. Your time between meetings in particular should be sacred. Give yourself breathing time to absorb new information and make the mental shift before and after meetings.

Think about time maximization as a form of self care.

Don’t attempt to slot your self-reflection time into your busy schedule. Have it blocked out ahead of time and be diligent about keeping to it. Taking time away for even fifteen minutes to focus on mindfulness or grabbing a quick walk helps give you perspective and opportunity to consider each development from different angles. 

Remember, you set the precedent in your organization. Your time is valuable and your focus even more so. A rigid schedule is going to be less helpful to you in the long run than the quality of your attention toward your highest priorities.

Getting caught up in lower priority tasks as they come up takes your concentration away from your goals.

Maximizing an CEO's 24 hours is a team sport.  Engage others and then go strong in the hours you spend working.  

Further Reading: 

How CEOs Manage Time, Harvard Business Review 

What Should a CEO Focus On? How CEOs Should Spent Their Time in 2021Rhythm Systems 

Time Management Guide for Executives Who Don’t Have Enough Time, Vistage 

Best Time Management Practices Used By CEOs and How You Can Use Them Too, Knowledge City 

Time Management Strategies for CEOs, IESE Business School 

70% of Time Could Be Used Better - How the Best CEOs Get the Most Out of EverythingFirst Round Review 



Have a question?

Click the link for instant answers to your leadership transition and governance transition questions.

Ask Jane!

Let's Stay In Touch

Hear about the latest leadership and governance transition trends, tools and courses, and what we are up to next!

We won't send spam. Unsubscribe at any time.