Time management – the key to being a successful CEO


Whether a company is big or small, there will always be a limited amount of resources available. Of course, a huge international outfit might have a large reserve of funds to draw on, and a big workforce will always have more time as a resource than an SME or a one-man band. Even so, on an individual level, time management is a key element in optimising productivity. This is true at every level, from the factory or shop floor right up to the boardroom.

Therefore, it’s no surprise that the most successful CEOs are those who know how to manage their own time to the best effect, and that is often reflected in the overall performance of the company itself.

Allocation of time

Being accessible to employees at all levels, making time for mulling over decisions, often being the public face of a business and fitting in personal commitments are just some of the factors that a high-flying executive will have to juggle successfully.

Dr Karol Wasylyshyn, an executive coach and author of Destined to Lead, says that the best CEOs are “rock solid clear about what should get their time. They do not have time syphoned away by tasks, meetings and commitments that should really be met by other members of their leadership teams and/or others in the company.”

Work week

According to Michael Porter, director of the Harvard Business School’s Institute for Strategy, and Nitin Nohria, the school’s dean, CEOs work 62.5 hours a week on average.

The pair had asked CEOs to keep track of every hour they spend working for three months as part of a long-term study they conducted. With 60,000 hours of data provided by 27 CEOs of mostly large public companies, Porter and Nohria have some valuable insights on how top-level executives utilise their time-management skills.

Their study found that CEOs spend around four hours a day working on most weekends and two-and-a-half hours a day during most vacations. In the Harvard Business Review, Porter and Nohria wrote: “The way CEOs allocate their time and their presence … is crucial, not only to their own effectiveness but also to the performance of their companies.”

Tips and tricks

As might be expected, Porter and Nohria have found that there are some methods and behaviours which are common among successful CEOs. Short meetings are an example, as the CEOs in their study reported that on average, around a third of their meetings lasted an hour and only 38% went on longer.

Having time to make decisions is another key behaviour, and the study found that CEOs spend about 28% of their time at work alone on average, but most frequently, alone time took place in blocks of 60 minutes or less.

Porter and Nohria explained: “CEOs need to cordon off meaningful amounts of alone time and avoid dissipating it by dealing with immediate matters, especially their in-boxes.”

Delegation and cutting back on email use are other tips that the pair suggest budding CEOs try to implement, as those that took part in their study said 61% of their time at work was spent in face-to-face interaction, with 24% of their time taken up dealing with electronic communications.

Non-scheduled time

Perhaps one of the most surprising findings of the study was that most CEOs in the study said they spent around a quarter of their time in spontaneous interactions. Dealing with unexpected events also took up around about 36% of their time.

“Leaders whose schedules are always booked up or whose [executive assistants] … say no to too many people risk being viewed as imperious, self-important, or out of touch,” Porter and Nohria clarified.

Approachability and being able to meaningfully engage with employees are vital aspects of how CEOs attain an accurate overview of their operations and keep them in touch with the day-to-day realities of what’s occurring. Having relationships with workers at all levels means that trust and legitimacy can be built on solid foundations.

Private life

In terms of away-from-the-workplace behaviour, CEOs in the study said that, on average, they slept nearly seven hours a night. Exercise took up around 9%, or 45 minutes, of non-working time. In total, of the six hours a day on average spent away from work, half was spent with their family.


Porter and Nohria concluded that CEOs looking to reach the top of their professions should realise that preparing for the demands of the role are essential.

“To sustain the intensity of the job, CEOs need to train — just as elite athletes do. That means allocating time for health, fitness, and rest,” they said.

Overall, the study shows that a company or organisation is reliant on its leadership to maximise productivity and potential and that CEOs in particular need to work at their time-management skills to ensure success.

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