Successful leaders: Time is of the essence

What are the most successful leaders out there actually doing with their most valuable resource: time? What goes in their diaries?

Excitingly, we now have better insight into the answer, thanks to a recent detailed study by Harvard Business School researchers, analysing how successful CEOs use their time – and importantly, the time-wasters they avoid.

And one thing is clear from the start: the way business leaders manage their time impacts not only their own effectiveness and success but the success of their whole organisation.

First things first: they’re strategic

The CEOs in the study were crystal clear about their role and the things that deserve their attention: strategy, systems and people. Everything else is to be delegated, outsourced or foregone.

They love what they do

This won’t come as a surprise: they love what they do, and they work hard. On average 62.5 hours a week. Even on weekends and holidays, they make time to check in about the urgent things. Their businesses need them, and they are not about to be caught out by being absent.

They’re brutal with the diary

Successful CEOs have strict rules around their diary, avoiding:

  • Long meetings. While 72% of their time is spent in meetings, they make sure the majority run for an hour or less.
  • Giving in to demands made on their time. They set the agenda and push back whenever needed, shortening time slots and freeing up time.
  • Over-booking. They deliberately leave 25% of their time available for the unexpected things that come up. This allows them to be flexible, attentive, and remain in touch with the whole organisation.
  • Too much time in the office. They make sure more than half their time is spent out and about.

In contrast, they make time for their direct reports and next generation of leaders. It seems that spending time with these key individuals is one of their highest priorities, and (perhaps surprisingly) the more the CEOs trust these people, the more time they spend with them.

No compromises

These leaders don’t let their busy schedules, and the demands placed upon them, limit their personal life. On average each day they:

  • Enjoy over three hours with family
  • Make sure they have around two hours of downtime
  • Exercise for 45 minutes
  • Sleep for nearly seven hours.

Other traps

There are a few other things that successful leaders avoid:

  • Excessive use of email. They ensure that over 60% of their time is spent in face-to-face interactions.
  • Micro managing. It just isn’t possible for them to make or even ratify most decisions directly. Instead, effective CEOs put in place well-designed structures and processes that help everyone else in the organisation make good choices.

How about you?

Do you know where you spend your time? Do you make the best strategic use of your time, or does something need to change?

In my role as a business adviser, I’ve been fortunate to work in partnership with a variety of business leaders, challenging them to focus strategically; delegating and saving time. There are rich rewards, both personal and financial, that can be achieved by improving the way we use our most valuable resource: time.

Do you want to master your time management? Contact our business advisory team on +61 2 4962 2688.

Related insights

Subscribe to our newsletter


Propel your career

Learn more about Careers

Follow us

Find your closest office


Read our latest Clarity mag

View now

About the firm

Transparency reports