Why time management is important

June 21, 2024 •

6 min reading

Why time management is important for CEOs and executives

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With a never-ending to-do list and only so many hours in the day, time management is an essential skill for successful CEOs and other high-level professionals. But how do they juggle their focus between current challenges, short-term targets, and long-term goals and still make time to enjoy some semblance of a personal life?

In this article, we look at the time management strategies of C-suite executives and explore how they manage their workloads to have the greatest possible impact without spreading themselves too thin.


The basics of time management for leaders

Managing time effectively is an important skill for any busy worker, but for a CEO or similarly high-level professional, it’s critical. To manage your time effectively, you first need to have a clear understanding of your goals. You can then implement tried and trusted time management techniques, such as delegating important tasks, avoiding unnecessary meetings, and time-blocking, to get the work done.

CEOs who manage their time effectively enhance their productivity and reduce stress. They also understand the importance of exercise, spending time with their loved ones, and personal downtime to reduce the risk of burnout.


CEO time management insights

The Harvard Business Review conducted the largest study of its kind into how CEOs use their time. It found that CEOs work an average of 9.7 hours on weekdays. They also work on over three-quarters (79%) of weekend days and 70% of holiday days, doing an average of 3.9 and 2.4 hours per day respectively. That makes an average of 62.5 hours per week, which, by anyone’s estimations, is an awful lot of work.

It would be wrong to suggest that effective time management can cut the CEO’s workload to 40 hours per week. A grueling work schedule is an accepted part of the role. However, employing effective time management techniques can enable CEOs to achieve more in less time professionally. It can also help them make more time for the activities associated with personal well-being that keep them grounded and engaged rather than distant and detached.

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The different approaches to time management

There’s no one-size-fits-all approach to time management. Research by the Boston Consulting Group into how CEOs in the US, Europe, and Asia work found four main differences.

Structured or open

Structured CEOs fill their schedules with meetings, events, and other commitments. They’re rarely available for impromptu meetings but by speaking to the right people, in the right places, and at the right times, they can achieve their goals.

Open CEOs leave parts of their days free so they are available to their leadership teams and can deal with developments when they occur. One CEO the researchers spoke to would ensure they were always available the same day to meet with their direct reports. Another would schedule meetings for 30 minutes to encourage brevity, but then leave up to an hour free afterward so the meeting could continue if it was particularly productive.

Operator or counselor

Some CEOs are more heavily engaged in the day-to-day running of the business than others. Operators want constant updates and schedule regular review meetings. They have a clear picture of the organization’s operations but less time to step back and think strategically about challenges, execution, and innovation.

Counselors are confident the organization’s operations will take care of themselves and instead focus on strategy and coaching and mentoring their teams. Stepping back from the day-to-day gives them more time for reflection and makes them more available to clients, shareholders, investors, and executives.

Drumbeat or flow

Some CEOs set their schedules up to a year in advance, leaving a little flexibility for urgent or unexpected matters. They like a consistent (drumbeat) routine of weekly meetings, monthly reviews, and quarterly board meetings.

Other CEOs prefer to have a little more flow. They like to be able to adapt and prioritize how they spend their time as issues and opportunities arise. They’ll have a foundation of regular events, but much more freedom to evolve according to their emerging priorities.

Ambassador or quarterbac

According to the HBR study, CEOs spend 47% of their time at the company headquarters, although, for many, it’s significantly less than that. ‘Ambassadorial’ CEOs visit company locations, speak at industry gatherings, meet officials, and spend a lot of time traveling. This type of role can be extremely time-consuming.

Others prefer to take the role of the ‘quarterback’ by sending their subordinates out to perform these ambassadorial tasks. That allows them to focus on working with and mentoring their direct reports and shaping the organization’s strategy and philosophy.


5 ways CEOs can make more time to reach their goals

The most valuable investment CEOs can make in their organizations is their time. But what steps can they take to give themselves more time to achieve their goals?

Limit email usage

Email is supposed to reduce meetings and improve productivity, but it can be an enormous time sink for CEOs. They get copied into endless FYI emails that create downward spirals of unnecessary communication. Many also email and reply on weekends and holidays, shaping unhealthy organizational norms.

To avoid falling into this trap, CEOs must recognize that most operational emails do not require their input. Setting norms about when or even if they respond is essential, with an executive assistant helping to sift through those that can be delegated away before they arrive in the CEO’s inbox.

Reduce routine responsibilities

A significant part of some CEOs’ weeks is spent on routine tasks, even though their role should be strategic. Some CEOs overinvest their time in operational reviews that could be delegated to other managers, while others have a long list of ‘to-dos’ that can include tasks such as giving welcome talks to even junior new employees.

Although some routine activities are important for an organization’s values and culture, being more discerning can break bad habits and enable CEOs to achieve more.

Make meetings shorter and more effective

Meetings are a defining feature of the job for many C-suites. They spend their days going from one meeting to the next, in person and via video conferencing, leaving little time to focus on anything else.

Carefully reviewing which meetings executive leaders need to attend and making those meetings shorter can free up valuable time. Meeting length is often an organizational norm, with 30 or 60 minutes chosen as the default. However, with a clear agenda, you can reduce default meeting times to 20 or even 10 minutes to reset those norms.

Carve out some alone time

Scheduling some alone time allows CEOs to reflect, think about the future, and adapt to the present. That doesn’t mean 10 minutes here and there. CEOs need a meaningful amount of time in one-hour blocks or longer to think critically without being distracted by their inboxes or phone calls.

This is also an opportunity to engage in executive education or leadership training. Ongoing professional development helps CEOs stay ahead of the curve and brings new skills and a fresh perspective.

Leave room for accessibility and spontaneity

Scheduling spontaneity might sound paradoxical, but leaving unscheduled time or free time for unplanned conversations and spur-of-the-moment meetings allows CEOs to respond to events quickly and adapt to new opportunities. Moving away from planned work can make some CEOs nervous, but these interactions make CEOs more accessible and keep them in touch with their teams.


Why making time matters

CEOs and other C-suite executives understand that their time matters, but they don’t always have a system or philosophy that dictates how they use it. Putting that in place early on and thinking deliberately about their working practices can eliminate time-wasting habits and give them the edge.

In conclusion, as a high-level leader, you may have to move outside of your comfort zone or do away with inherited norms and procedures, but in doing so, you will give your organization the one resource it can never buy more of - your time.