With so many responsibilities and a finite amount of time, time management can be problematic for CEOs. That’s why they need to perfect the art of mastering their calendars. When done correctly, the CEO will be able to conquer all of their responsibilities, as well as attend to their well-being. They’ll also be able to improve the effectiveness of their organization and build trust among your team.
That may sound like a pipe dream. But, if you’re a CEO, this is possible if you take the following measures.
Create a zero-based calendar.
“Promoted by Cathryn Lavery and Allen Brouwer, co-founders of BestSelf Co, the Zero-Based Calendar is where you account for every second of your day,” explains Calendar co-founder John Hall. “This way, there’s no blank space in your calendar. If something isn’t scheduled, it doesn’t deserve your attention.”
To get started, schedule everything. And, I do mean everything from your to-do-lists to meetings to breaks. Next, estimate how long each of these activities will take you to complete. If you’re unsure, review past calendars and track your time for a week or so. You need to have these estimates so that you can block out the appropriate amount of time in your calendar for each activity.
Also, make sure to give yourself a 50 percent buffer time. It’s a simple idea championed by Greg McKeown in Essentialism. So, if you have a 30-minute meeting scheduled, set aside an hour, the extra 15-minutes, in the beginning, can be used to prepare or prevents being late. The 15-minutes at the end can be used just in case the meeting runs late.
And, even though you’re scheduling everything, create a couple of “free” blocks. These free blocks of time could be an hour in your afternoon to allow for a little accessibility and spontaneity.
Have work-life balance already built-in.
As you’re well aware, CEOs have a grueling schedule. Data from an in-depth 12-hour study entitled “The Leader’s Calendar” found that, on average, leaders work 9.7 hours per weekday. Additionally, they also “conducted business on 79% of weekend days, putting in an average of 3.9 hours daily, and on 70% of vacation days, averaging 2.4 hours daily.” That’s just a part of the title.
At the same time, they prioritize their well-being. That may sound impossible. But, CEOs can achieve this by establishing boundaries, having a regular exercise regiment, and always make time for downtime.
One technique you could try is the one from Katherine Wintsch, the founder and CEO of The Mom Complex. She told Fast Company that she makes time for her well-being by going to your calendar 60 days from now. “There’s a couple of recurring meetings that I have, but it’s a pretty blank slate,” says Wintsch. “From there, I put the biggest ‘rocks’ in.” For Wintsch, that’s “meditation and yoga and tennis. So I block them on my calendar, usually four or five days a week, as a recurring meeting.”
“Then, my whole world revolves around my calendar.” As a result, Wintsch already has a work-life balance built into her calendar for the next two months.
“What I have found is that if I put the big rocks in the jar first, all the little pebbles, all the little rocks—meaning meetings, updates, phone calls—fill up the rest of the time. I still get just as much done, but the big rocks are protected,” adds Wintsch. “And if I choose not to do it, I have to delete it from my calendar.”
CEOs already have an extremely demanding schedule. That’s because you’re working more to fulfill roles, including being a leader, visionary, decision-maker, manager, and board director. You also have to spend time helping others grow. And, as if that weren’t enough, you also have to continually juggle both internal and external constituencies like business partners, customers, investors, and service providers like lawyers.
In short, your time is already in high demand, but short supply. If you’re not careful, these responsibilities will bleed into your top priorities or personal life. One way to resolve this is to limit the number of duties you have through delegation.
Go through your list again. What tasks aren’t the best of your time? Usually, these are items that you’re not an expert in or not urgent. If marketing, as an example, isn’t your forte, then you shouldn’t be hands-on with all of your organization’s marketing efforts. Your marketing team should handle that.
You could also assign day-to-day operations to your team. Not only will this free up your schedule, but it will also build trust with your employees. The key is to create a playbook. It’s like when a teacher would leave plans for a substitute. They know exactly what to do if the teacher was absent.
So, before delegating tasks, create a document or Wiki that clearly explains your process and expectations so that anyone can execute the task. You may even want to have them shadow you when you’re performing the specific responsibility that you want them to take over.
Keep your inbox in check.
“In theory, e-mail helps leaders cut down on face-to-face meetings and improve productivity,” writes Michael E. Porter and Nitin Nohria. “In reality, many find it ineffective and a dangerous time sink—but one they have trouble avoiding.”
“E-mail interrupts work, extends the workday, intrudes on time for family and thinking, and is not conducive to thoughtful discussions,” explain Porter and Nohria. “CEOs are endlessly copied on FYI e-mails.” And, they also “feel pressure to respond because ignoring an e-mail seems rude.”
The good news? There are effective ways for you to keep your email in-check, such as:
- Setting up rules, filters, and labels. For example, create a folder for essential messages, highlight important addresses, and filter spam words.
- Blocking out specific times to read and respond to emails. For instance, do this before deep work, after lunch, and before leaving work for the day.
- Using the 4D’s of time management — do, delete, defer, or delegate. If a message requires a quick response, reply. For lengthier responses, schedule it for later. And, trash those unimportant emails.
- Using hacks like “Yesterbox.” Instead of going through your entire inbox, focus only on yesterday’s messages.
- Relying on other channels like Slack to reduce the amount of email being sent.
- Using hacks like including “EOM,” which stands for “End of Message,” so that there’s no need for a reply.
- Trying out tools like Calendar to reduce scheduling correspondence or SaneBox to prioritize messages.
CEOs spend a lot of time in meetings as HBR has found that, on average, leaders spend 72% of their total work time in meetings. Like email, if meetings aren’t trimmed, then you can expect them to become unwieldy and overtake your time.
If possible, stop attending so many meetings if there is an alternative like email, a phone call, or one-on-one, schedule that instead. Is there someone else who can be your delegate?
If you must attend a meeting, make it shorter and invite fewer people. In a perfect world, meetings wouldn’t be much longer than 30-minutes and include more than 8-people.
You can also improve meetings by creating an agenda and sharing it in advance. Furthermore, you need to eliminate distractions, designate roles, and have more standing or walking meetings. And, make sure that you harness the power of AI. Calendar is one such tool that will make smart suggestions on when and where a meeting should take place.
Be proactive, not reactive.
As a CEO, everyone is going to be coming to you for everything — regardless of the size. In short, you’re continually battling fires.
The thing is if you’re always putting out fires, that it’s impossible to manage your calendar effectively. That’s why you need to be like a chessplayer and anticipate your opponent’s next move.
I know. You possibly can’t have a backup plan for every move. But, by being more proactive, as opposed to reactive, you’ll be able to stick to your schedule while handling the unexpected.
- Don’t overextend yourself. Develop a “hunter mentality” where you focus only on that one task that “MUST get done and will deliver the most impact.”
- Create time blocks based on your energy levels.
- Establish and maintain a daily routine.
- Spend your time and energy where it matters most.
- Never feel pressured by others.
- Have a “no” policy like not excepting work-related dinners on Friday night because that’s family night.
- Prepare as much as you can in advance. As an example, cook all of your meals for the week on Sunday. Another would be to review your calendar and lay out your clothes for tomorrow.
Finally, share your calendar with others. When they see that you’re unavailable, they will be less likely to distract you. Instead, they’ll wait until your free block of time.