Every CEO, business owner and entrepreneur practices time management.
But some common questions they have are:
- Am I doing this right?
- Am I really managing my time effectively?
- Am I doing right by my people?
This article will explore how time management looks from the perspective of a CEO/Managing Director. Someone who runs a team of 10+ people in an established business, and wants to be more effective on the job.
It may also be useful for up-and-coming entrepreneurs who don’t have as much complexity to deal with yet, but want to see what lies ahead.
Defining Time Management for CEOs and Business Owners
Time management specifically for CEOs and business owners is about recognising that there are insane demands put on your time and attention. These are demands that others who have never held the job will often not understand.
If we look at time management from a productivity perspective, it basically comes down to:
- How we spend our time.
- How we can spend our time more efficiently, meaning how can we get more done with fewer resources spent.1Less time/money spent, more results.
A good starting point is the Time Management Stack:
The Time Management Stack is a combination of practical techniques and mindset.
For a CEO, what it indicates is that all the rules of good personal time management still apply – they just have to be changed a bit to account for the specifics of running a company.
Why Is Time Management Important for CEOs and Business Owners?
Time management is important for everyone but it is even more important for business owners.
Because you have found a worthy cause that has meaning and purpose to you, and you have dedicated your life to pursuing it.2You would not be CEO otherwise.
And time is equal for everyone. Once it’s gone, it’s gone – you cannot get it back.
For this reason you want to make sure that the time you put into the business you have dedicated your life to is worthwhile, and that it returns what you expect it to, whether that is a financial return or otherwise.
How CEOs Measure Time
I mentioned above that for all intents and purposes, time is the same for everyone.
Well… that is not exactly true.
As a CEO or business owner with a team, you have a large amount of leverage over the time and attention of your team.
That does not mean that you can offload everything to your direct reports and waste your own time however. You still have to be on top of everything, and there’s only one real way to do that:
If you cannot measure it, you cannot improve it.Lord Kelvin
You must be tracking your time actively by yourself, or at the very least have your assistant measure and report it for you based on your scheduled appointments.3Yes, if you are a CEO or a business owner you should have an assistant. Maybe two.
Not doing so would be like going to your CFO and asking for the financials and him saying: “I think we made more money than we spent this month, but I don’t have any hard numbers for you.”
You can use any number of time tracking tools to achieve this, but my personal recommendation would be timetrack.io.
So how exactly do you categorise CEO time usage?
Here is how I recommend business owners do it:
- Personal time.
- CEO work. We will explore this more below, but it is mostly about helping team members get unstuck, being a servant leader and making decisions.
- Strategy work.
- Other work. This is the “busy work” in a company which may be technical work, administrative work or just replying to mandatory emails.
Start By Managing Your Personal Life
Being productive at a personal level helps immensely as a CEO. Everything mentioned in the Time Management Stack above works well and still applies.
Being personally organised will help you perform at a high level while minimising stress and friction.
Things To Pay Attention To
The parts of the time management stack that you want to pay particular attention to are:
- Energy Management. You want to have your exercise, eating habits and sleeping habits right. They will not always be ideal because of the demands of the job and because sometimes sh*t happens, but a baseline of good energy management will help you keep things going.
- Personal Time. You are not going to have a lot of personal time, so you may as well manage what you do have as well as possible.
- The Rest. At a business-owner-level, being personally productive and organised is sort of “assumed knowledge”.
You have to use your calendar. You have to know what your priorities are. You have to know exactly what you are doing daily, and keep everything in close sync.
You (or your assistant) have to keep your email tame and as close to inbox zero as possible.
If you have a journalling or personal goal setting system, you have to keep that going as well.
Make Life Seamless
As a CEO you want to make your life as seamless as possible.
This essentially means outsourcing as many personal things as you can. You have the means, so do it.
You should not be doing:
- Your own laundry.
- Your own cleaning.
- Your own driving.
- Your own cooking/food.
As one of my CEO friends says:
It feels a bit pretentious to get a car and driver, but after 14 straight hours in the office, it’s silly to pretend that it’s safe to get behind the wheel and drive home at midnight.
Block Out Personal Time
You also have to be blocking out “personal time” in your calendar.
This is mandatory, not optional.
If you do not block it out, chances are some work-related responsibility will creep in and your personal things won’t happen.
- Family time.
- Thinking time.
- Technical work time.
- Professional development time.
- General downtime to relax and unwind.
Do not feel guilty for scheduling this in and saying “no” to appointments that want to encroach on this time – you need it.
It will not be perfect. Interruptions will happen. But some is better than none.
Time Management At Work
From the Time Management Stack above you can see that there are a lot of different areas, techniques and mindsets that make up effective time management. Enough to fill many, many articles and probably an entire masterclass video series.
For now though, let’s focus on what is relevant for CEOs and business owners.
The most common time management issues at this level include:
- Ongoing interruptions.
- Putting out fires constantly.
- Getting overwhelmed by both management and client work.
- Everybody wanting a piece of the action, i.e., you.
It may be easy to say “block out your time” or “delegate better” but I believe we can do more than that.
If we take some lessons from other CEOs who have been through the trenches, we can roughly see how CEOs and business owners should be utilising their time:4Porter, M. E., & Nohria, N. (2018), How CEOs Manage Time. Harvard Business Review, July-August 2018. Retrieved from https://hbr.org/2018/07/the-leaders-calendar
- 66% – Helping Others. This is people and relationships, organisation and culture, and functional and business unit reviews.
- 21% – Strategy Work.
- 13% – Other stuff. Inclusive of technical work and administrative work.
From these numbers, we can see that at least 60% of our time should be spent on helping our people do their work better.
Time Management With Your Team
As 60%+ of your work time, your team is the most important thing in your business.
We mentioned earlier that this breaks down into:
- People and relationships.
- Organisation and culture.
- Functional and business unit reviews.
Different companies will have a different mix of how those three things add up to 60%, but every company will have all three.
Let’s look at some aspects of these.
Working With An Assistant
You likely have an assistant or two.
If not, make it a priority to get one.
Do not assume that they come qualified and ready – you need to show them how you manage your schedule, your appointments and your priorities. Teach them your systems and when they are ready, turn it over to them and have them manage it for you.
Working With Direct Reports
Working with your direct reports is the most important thing you will do as a CEO or business owner.
There are many ways to go about this effectively.
The first thing I would strongly recommend is some sort of structured and scheduled sit-down meeting with your direct reports on a regular basis. This lets you collect direct feedback from your team, lets you handle small issues before they become big issues and also allows you to keep pace with what is going on in the company.
The second thing I would urge you to do is to support a culture of writing everything down. This can be in your CRM/Wiki, or even in Slack. If it’s on paper, have your assistant type it up and file it appropriately.
One thing that happens in companies with physical offices is people have conversations, information is shared and decisions are made and nothing is written down. And because of this, things are forgotten and have to be discussed and shared and decided on again. This obviously wastes a lot of time.
The last thing I would recommend regarding your direct reports is working out how much autonomy you will give them.
I am not going to tell you how to run your company, but I am a big believer in delegation. I believe that managers should be given enough authority to make their own decisions regarding their respective departments or teams, so long as their decisions are in line with the company’s vision and strategy.5Businesses are more akin to benevolent dictatorships than democracies.
This is the idea that at a high-level you are working out why the company does something and what the company does, and letting your teams figure out how to implement it.
There are many CEOs or business owners who struggle with this,6Especially those who built their company from the ground up or who are perfectionists. and it becomes an impediment not only to managing their own time effectively but also to their company’s growth.
What they need to realise is that something may not be done their specific way, but it will get done.
Working With Other Stakeholders
Depending on your company you may have responsibilities related other stakeholders, including:
- Clients or customers.
- Partners or vendors.
- Shareholders or the board.
I would consider time spent other stakeholders as “do the minimum possible” as you will see a far greater return working with your team.7With the possible exception of clients/customers if it necessary for you to maintain a direct connection to the market.
Time Management For Yourself: Practical Techniques
Let’s turn to some more practical things you can personally do to better manage your time at work.
I will refer again to the Time Management Stack:
Here are some practical and specific things you can focus on.
1. When Setting Your Goals, Align Them With The Company’s Priorities
When you undergo personal goal setting as a CEO, a good portion of your goals will have to be in direct alignment with your company’s goals.
There is no way around this – you are going to be spending the majority of your time at work, so it just makes sense.
I would also recommend lining up your timeframes with those of the company’s, i.e., annually, quarterly, monthly etc.
2. Time Assets
You want to acquire or build time assets for yourself and your company.8Again, credit to Patrick McKenzie (Kalzumeus) at: https://www.kalzumeus.com/2010/03/20/running-a-software-business-on-5-hours-a-week/
Your business is also a time asset in and of itself.
3. First In, Last Out
Expect to be the first person in and the last person out of headquarters on a daily basis.
This is usually by necessity.
4. End of Day Review
After everyone else has gone home for the day, you should sit down, slow down and do a brief review.
Check what appointments you have tomorrow and reference your individual priorities. Work out what tasks you may have to do, what decisions you have to make and what key meetings you have to attend.
Get everything ready, then call it a day.
The Inner Game of Time Management for CEOs and Business Owners
The last thing that I want to cover in this article is the inner game of time management for CEOs and business owners.
Inner game is a term coined by Timothy Gallwey,9See The Inner Game of Work by Timothy Gallwey. and refers to a non-judgemental but still critical view of variables in a given performance area. You can also think of it as mindset.
Flow States for CEOs and Business Owners
Your day will be busy, but not in the same sense that a professional’s day is busy.
Hollywood portrays CEOs as spending all their time sitting at large board tables, drinking scotch with investors and signing cheques with lots of zeroes.
You and I both know that reality is quite different.
Being a CEO or business owner is probably the most demanding job in the world, and you have a lot on your plate.
It is useful to recognise that you do not have to manage your flow state the way a professional does.
Your flow will simply come naturally as a result of going from one meeting to another, or from working with one team member to the next.
You need to be acutely aware of things that are a waste of your time. Things that you say “no” to.
The most important one is technical work.
At this level, you should not be doing (much) technical work anymore. There are people on your team who are better, brighter and faster at it than you… but there is no one on your team who holds the company together and strategises and clear obstacles as well as you.
The second one is minor fixes.
Sometimes, things just happen. Small administrative things, finance things, technology things, client work things.
Let someone else handle it, even if it takes longer.
The third is employee drama.
A lot of business owners spend the majority of their time on employee drama.
This is not the same as spending time with your employees – that’s necessary and is essential to your job.
I would define “employee drama” in this case as emotional outbursts or moods that have no rational basis.
I am a firm believer that long and drawn-out emotional moods have no place in the workplace. Emotional decisions also have no place in the workplace. If you believe this and expect this of your team, then they will believe it too.
One thing to watch out for is accidentally creating employee drama yourself.
You may be the big boss, but remember that you are a servant leader who requires the support of your people to effectively run the company.
It may be your call at the end of the day, but you cannot be heavy-handed about it. You cannot just “lay down the law” and act from a place of ego and expect your team to just take it.
The last time waster is things that don’t help the company.
You need to make a judgement call and say no to meetings, opportunities and even clients that will not help the company achieve its priorities.
CEO and Business Owner Working Hours
As the CEO or business owner you have no set working hours. You are in-demand, all the time.
This gets even more crazy if you have offices in multiple timezones.
Remember when I said that you must block out personal time?
This is why.
Management Versus Leadership
The difference between good management and good leadership is a paradox, but as a CEO or business owner you will often find yourself doing both.
Good management is understanding each team member’s strengths and weaknesses and deploying them accordingly. It is about differences.
Good leadership is keeping everyone aligned to the same vision and priorities. It is about sameness.
You need to be aware of the times that you need to be a good leader, and the times that you need to be a good manager.
As it has been said multiple times in this article, your main job is to help your people get their priorities done.
It is your job to clear obstacles out of the way, make decisions, cut away useless meetings and keep pace with innovation and technology.
You also have to formulate the company’s vision, align everyone to that vision and then let them execute.
Your main job is communication and leadership and that is what you will spend most of your time on.
Do not mistake the habits of other CEOs as being the causes of their success or effectiveness. A lot of the time, their habits are just eccentricities.
Being a CEO or successful business owner is often described as living in a golden cage.
At the end of the day, the ultimate responsibility for everything lies with you.
The last mindset you need is a CEO is to remember that you are the living embodiment of everything the company represents.
You are the avatar of your company.
This means that you have to live and breathe the company’s mission and values more than anyone else. You have to walk the talk.
What To Do Next
As a CEO or business owner, you already have a lot on your plate and I don’t want to give you more to do.
- Make sure that you set aside time for your personal life.
- Spend ~60% of your time on your people.
- Make sure that your Time Management Stack is solid.
- Keep the mindsets outlined above in mind.
Hopefully this article has given you the confidence that you are doing at least some parts of it right – and that you can optimise the rest fairly easily.
- Less time/money spent, more results.
- You would not be CEO otherwise.
- Yes, if you are a CEO or a business owner you should have an assistant. Maybe two.
- Porter, M. E., & Nohria, N. (2018), How CEOs Manage Time. Harvard Business Review, July-August 2018. Retrieved from https://hbr.org/2018/07/the-leaders-calendar
- Businesses are more akin to benevolent dictatorships than democracies.
- Especially those who built their company from the ground up or who are perfectionists.
- With the possible exception of clients/customers if it necessary for you to maintain a direct connection to the market.
- Again, credit to Patrick McKenzie (Kalzumeus) at: https://www.kalzumeus.com/2010/03/20/running-a-software-business-on-5-hours-a-week/
- See The Inner Game of Work by Timothy Gallwey.
Photo by Ryoji Iwata.