With so many responsibilities and seemingly endless to-do lists, it’s no wonder that leaders are strapped for time. The typical solution? Put in more hours each day. Some leaders even sacrifice their weekends and spending quality time doing the things that they love in to stay on top of work things.
While there are times when keeping your backside in the chair at your desk is the only option — like when launching a new product or service — this action shouldn’t be the norm. Working around the clock can lead to a number of problems at home and work. Examples include putting a strain on your relationships, making other poor decisions — and decreasing work performance. Eventually, all of this stress can lead to getting burned out — or illness.
Simply put, without proper time management, you’re putting your health and business in jeopardy.
If you’re in a leadership position and want to finally improve how you manage your time, then the first place to start is to manage your calendar. However, after following 27 top-performing CEOs 24/7, for 13 weeks, a Harvard Business School study found out how leaders actually allocate their time and recommendations on how to become more efficient with time.
1. Create and stick to an agenda.
“CEOs oversee a large number of organizational units and workstreams and countless types of decisions,” note the authors of the study. Their research shows that leaders “should have an explicit personal agenda and that most do.” By having a “clear and effective agenda” CEOs are able to optimize their limited time.
“A good agenda sets priorities for the CEO’s personal involvement over the coming period” that “combines time-bound goals with more open-ended priorities.” It also helps them identify areas that need to be improved and to manage multiple workstreams. Overall, an agenda keeps time allocation aligned with top priorities and handle unfolding situations.
Once you have your agenda, it makes everything from creating a schedule to decision-making to putting out fires much easier. You’ll know where you should spend your time. For example, if your main priorities are finding top talent or developing better operational processes, then that’s what you would focus on instead of something of less importance.
2. Schedule downtime and non-work related activities.
Leaders, CEOs in particular, are expected to always be “on.” They also have grueling schedules. But, you know, heavy is the head that wears the crown.
“Given that work could consume every hour of their lives, CEOs have to set limits so that they can preserve their health and their relationships with family and friends,” add the authors. “Most of the CEOs in our study recognized that,” and as a result, made sure to get on average 6.9 hours a night of sleep. The CEO’s in the study also had regular exercise regimens and spent much of their time off with their families. However, they also spent their downtime watching TV, reading, and hobbies.
Make it a point to take a break and do things that you enjoy outside of work. Set “office” hours so that you aren’t working 24/7. And, when you are off-the-clock, disconnect so that you aren’t glued to work-related messages.
I’d also add that downtime doesn’t just apply to your life outside of work. Throughout the day you need to take frequent breaks so that you have the energy and focus to have a productive day.
3. Avoid the lure of email.
Although email can be effective in improving communication with others and increase your productivity — when left unchecked it can be a serious time drain. Even worse, it can drastically decrease productivity if you’re checking your inbox every time you receive a notification.
Sadly — in a leadership role you definitely cannot ditch email. But you can learn how to keep email in check by doing the following:
- Setup rules, filters, and labels.
- Block-out specific times in your schedule to read and respond to emails.
- When involved in deep work, turn off notifications.
- Manage your inbox.
- Make use of the subject line. Remind a colleague about a lunch meeting? Place that info in the subject line so that there’s no need to exchange further messages.
4. Keep meetings short and concise.
The Harvard Business School study found that on average, CEOs spend 72 percent of their total work time in meetings. To counter this, the authors suggest cutting hour-long meetings, which is the default, down 30 minutes or even 15.
Also, only invite key stakeholders. Having too many attendees can be time-consuming since it leads to unnecessary interactions and possibly distracting side conversations. It’s also not fair to these invitees since they could have spent this time on something that was more productive.
5. Limit routine responsibilities.
The study also found that 11 percent of a CEO’s work time was spent on routine duties. These activities should be delegated to someone else so that you can focus on “have-to-dos.” For less important responsibilities, assign them to someone else to free up some time in your schedule.
6. Prepare for the night day.
Effective leaders set themselves up for success by preparing for the next day. For example, they have their wardrobe picked out, reviewed their calendars, and practiced a presentation. Rushing around in the morning can make you forget important information. When you are prepared the night before you’ll have a better night’s sleep.