It is very easy as a CEO to get caught up in the weeds of the business and to allow non-value activities to absorb too much of your day. I often hear: I have too many emails; too many interruptions; too many meetings; too much wasted time and no work/life balance. These are all symptoms that your business is running you vs. you running your business. It all comes down to how you spend time.
Consider for a moment the value of time. It is the only thing that money can’t buy more of. The clock just goes tick, tick, tick every second that you are blessed to be on this earth. But, there is only a finite amount of time that you will spend here. Have you thought about how you are spending yours? Is it consistent with your values as a spouse, parent, CEO or friend? I ask this because many people go through life without recognizing how they are spending their limited time.
To help you be more aware of you spend your time, I offer you these suggestions below that I utilized while running a national service contracting firm for 15 years. Applying these suggestions to my own life enabled me to be successful at work and still have balance outside of work.
Keep track of your time
First, do a time study for two weeks from the time you get up until you go to sleep on how you spend your time. For each activity, indicate whether it gave you energy or depleted it and if it was a value-added or non-value-added activity. Please consider journaling at the end of the day your reflections on the day’s activities. What went well? What could have gone better? And what do you wish you could have spent more time on? This diary and reflection should include work, family, physical, social and spiritual time. This is an extremely valuable exercise when you think the business may be running you. Many CEOs get in a rut and don’t take a step back to see how exactly they are spending their time.
Delegate what you don’t want to do
Second, remember that as CEO, you decide what you work on, when and where you work, and who works for you. Many CEOs whose business is running them forget this. Let it empower you. If your time study shows you’re spending time on things you don’t like or are not good at, delegate those things. If, for example, your time study shows that you are spending too much non-value added time in your car, consider solutions like Skype, having people come see you and using a service like Uber sometimes so you can work while getting to and from where you need to be. The whole point of analyzing the time study in the first step is for you to reclaim your life and take charge.
Third, when you think about it, your most important roles are to set the strategic direction for the company, put the right people in the right seats on the bus, ensure the culture you want is what your customers and employees are experiencing, and ensure the blocking and tackling of the business is being executed efficiently. If you’re not spending approximately 70% of your time on these things, you may be shortchanging your business and your impact on it. If you’re spending too much time selling, too much time project managing, too much time reviewing estimates or too much time on HR issues, then you do not have the right people supporting you. Many CEOs allow their support functions to delegate up and don’t insist on surrounding themselves with the best people and holding them accountable for getting their work done. I understand it is easy to get trapped in to thinking that no one else can do “it” as well as you can. Surround yourself with the best people so you can focus on setting the best strategic direction for them to execute.
Hire a rockstar assistant
Fourth, hire a rock star assistant and trust them with your email, running your schedule and handling routine follow-ups. I inherited my assistant but she read all my email, decided which ones I needed to attend too and handled the rest. She also project managed my time and acted as a gatekeeper so I kept on task and focused on what I had established as my priorities. This was a huge time saver and a tremendous value for me which dramatically increased my effectiveness. It also allowed me to focus on my strengths which were strategic planning, value-added interactions and relationship building with employees and customers and being the positive mental attitude culture cheerleader for the company.
Learn to say “no”
Fifth, learn to say NO. As CEO, you will be asked to be on this community board or that project. Learn to say “no.” There is nothing worse than saying “yes” then regretting it and taking time away from your business or family. If you’re on boards or other organizations that you’re not passionate about then resign.
Develop a life plan
Sixth, develop a life plan. I chart out my life in 5-year increments in these areas: family, mental, spiritual, work and financial, and physical. My chart goes out to age 90 because longevity runs on both sides of my parent’s family. On the chart, I put the age of everyone who is important to me and include special occasions like big anniversaries. Doing this makes me confront that time is finite. You see family and yourself age out. I also use it as a kind of bucket list and a way to help me focus on spending time on what is truly important to me. Some of us use our best planning time and ideas for our business and shortchange other areas of our lives.
(Note: I highly recommend reading “How Will You Measure Your Life?” by Clayton M Christensen, published in the July-August 2010 Harvard Business Review. Bottom line: Make sure you spend your time in a manner consistent with your life plan, passions and priorities.)
Following these six suggestions enabled me to work 45 to 55 hours a week yet produce what would have required 70+ hours per week. It also provided me with a strategic way to allocate my time and it empowered me to say “no” to those things that didn’t fit into my life and business plans.
Put these suggestions to work in your own life, and stop letting your business run you.