Being a chief executive or holding a director’s role at a company is a complex and challenging position. You will have a large number of demanding responsibilities, while also finding that power comes with constraints. You will be personally accountable for everything that happens or fails to happen, on your watch, but you will never have enough time to attend to everything that is required of you.
Time management is perhaps the single most important skill a CEO or director needs to master. Although the requirements differ from role to role and from company to company, it is likely that you will be dealing with multiple agendas, reporting back to shareholders, employees, the directorial board, and customers, not to mention government bodies, the media, and community organizations. The result is a grueling schedule that can only be met through rigorous planning, discipline, and delegation.
Know when to say no
As a director or CEO, it is likely you’ll experience constant requests for your time and attention. Although you may want to be generous, it’s vital that you become able to say no to projects and petitioners if they are going to distract you from more vital work.
Knowing when to say no requires identifying your core work and recognizing the amount of time and personal energy you need to allocate to it. Every request that falls outside of this remit needs to be considered on its individual merits. Is it essential that you attend to it yourself, or can it be delegated? Does it serve the business or the wider community? You can’t say yes to everything, so sometimes a polite refusal is necessary.
Remember to relax
It’s not uncommon for business executives to regularly work ten-hour days, plus weekends. Many find themselves putting at least a couple of hours in, checking emails, and making calls, even when they’re meant to be on vacation. It’s easy for rest and relaxation to slip down your list of priorities, even though we all know that maintaining a healthy work-life balance is essential for productivity, motivation, and sanity.
Entrepreneur and investor David C. Burke realized the importance of making time to spend with his family. The co-founder of Makena Capital Management, and now chairman and CEO of Selby Lane LLC, missed out on crucial time with his children when they were growing up, simply due to the pressures of work. He now realizes that family time has to be quality time, something that you invest as much energy into as your business commitments.
The Eisenhower Matrix
Named after the former US President, the Eisenhower Matrix focuses on distinguishing between tasks that are considered urgent and those that are actually important. Studies have shown that we tend to prioritize ‘urgent’ tasks that come with a deadline, no matter how trivial they are, and neglect important tasks that will have a more long-term impact.
According to the matrix, importance should always trump urgency. Obviously, tasks that are both urgent and important should be prioritized. Tasks that are important but not urgent should be scheduled so that they definitely get done in the near future. Tasks that are urgent but not important can generally be delegated; tasks that are neither urgent nor important can be deleted.
Be strict about meetings and email
Two of the biggest unnecessary time drains are emails and meetings. In the former case, it pays to order your emails into folders for different projects, flagging those that need attention and dealing with them in focused batches rather than letting them constantly eat away at your day. An hour or two of solid email attention can be a better way of saving time than firing off quick replies before or during other work.
With meetings, first of all, consider if they’re really necessary. Can issues be discussed and resolved by email or via an online communication platform like Slack? Videoconferencing is a time-effective alternative to face-to-face meetings. Create an agenda and stick to it, keeping meetings as short and infrequent as possible.
When there’s a problem or a project to pitch, everyone wants to go right to the top. Often, you’ll be copied in on emails where there’s no need for you to get personally involved. It’s important to manage expectations of how much time you can spare and how much access employees, customers, and associates can expect.
Place limits on outside commitments – for instance, community and charity work. That is important, but it shouldn’t get in the way of your real job. Make sure people understand how much time you can reasonably give. Sometimes it can seem easier to say yes and promise the earth, even though you know you’ll have to back out with apologies later. It’s far better to be upfront about how much you can commit from the start.
Finally, leave some room for spontaneity! Scheduling your time is essential, but if every minute of the day is accounted for you won’t have room to maneuver. If nothing else comes up to fill those deliberate gaps, then quiet time to think and reflect is invaluable. Take control of your schedule; don’t let your schedule take control of you.