CEOs of massive companies surprisingly have hard lives.
Sure, they make loads of money—an average of $12.1 million in 2017—and have untold resources at their disposal, including other executives and employees under them.
But a new report from Harvard Business Review detailing a major 12-year study of CEOs reveals that top executives are sorely lacking in one crucial area: time. CEOs are the internal and external faces of a company and, ultimately, responsible for everything that happens within the organization. They must engage “shareholders, customers, employees, the board, the media, government, community organizations, and more,” the report says. Given that, they could work nonstop and still have plenty left to do. So how do they best manage their scheduled?
The study tracked time allocation of 27 CEOs—two women and 25 men—for a quarter, or three months, each. Their companies, largely public, had an average annual revenue of $13.1 billion. Data looked at what chief executives do at work and outside of it, and researchers discussed results and areas of potential improvement with subjects. Here are important takeaways about the productivity secrets anyone can learn from head honchos across the US.
Prize face-to-face interaction
We all know the flood of work emails. CEOs aren’t exempt from that pressure. The study found that email, though efficient in theory, is often ineffective and a time sink, but leaders have trouble avoiding their inbox. “CEOs are endlessly copied on FYI emails. They feel pressure to respond because ignoring an email seems rude,” HBR notes.
The fix, for managers or anyone else, is relatively simple: Understand the difference between emails that don’t need action and ones that do. Sending lots, especially at odd times, gives the wrong signal to staffers.
Instead, emphasizing video conference and, even better, face-to-face communication is key. It’s the “best way for CEOs to exercise influence, learn what’s really going on, and delegate to move forward the multiple agendas that must be advanced,” the report says. It also adds human connection that builds trust and unity.
Make a clear agenda—and let others know it
With so many issues coming to their desk, CEOs need to figure out where their priorities lie. “Our research finds that they should have an explicit personal agenda and that most do,” the report finds. Without one, their limited time will be overtaken by various factions, “and the most important work won’t get done.”
An agenda can be as simple as a to-do list written on a Post-it, or a more elaborate setting of goals for a longer length of time. On average, CEOs studied spent 43% of time on items furthering their agendas, and felt better when devoting more time to those tasks. It’s also important to update agendas as necessary to align with overall missions, and announce them to leadership and team members so everyone works cohesively.