How do CEOs of massive, complex, international companies find time to exercise, sleep, and enjoy their families when so many of us in much less complicated positions can’t seem to do even one of those things regularly?

While it may seem that a huge salary and an executive assistant are the answers, those only address part of the massive, relentless responsibilities of these leaders. Here are a few fundamental approaches CEOs use to control their time that the rest of us can apply in the coming days.

Thank you, EA!

The July-August 2018 issue of Harvard Business Review includes a package of articles about CEOs, their roles and related approaches to time management. One of the articles, "How CEOs Manage Time," explains the detailed data Michael E. Porter and Nitin Nohria collected on how CEOs spend their time; how this time could be managed better; and the picture their data paints about the role of the CEO.

Thanks to the executive assistants to the CEOs in this study, they collected data broken down in 15-minute intervals for every minute of every day the CEOs participated in the study.

In addition to the amazing amount of detail, the ability to categorize time into clearly defined buckets is important for the rest of us. In other words, how many of us can clearly state how we spend our time, and do it accurately?

Even without looking at our calendars at all, how many of us could create a pie chart of the major expenditures of our time that reflects all the demands on our attention? Step one in our crash course, then, is to get clear on our roles, including what they do and do not entail, so that we can understand what we are supposed to be doing and how long we spend doing it.


Another interesting, but not surprising, component of the research reflected the relentless demands on CEOs to be present, face-to-face. While physics currently limits our ability to be in multiple places at the same time, some of us non-CEOs still schedule and commit like we can.

Thus, the next step in better controlling time that we can apply right now is to get really clear on who our key constituents are and what requires our physical presence. Simply eliminating meetings where we are not truly needed and ensuring we are in the room when we must be will reduce wasted time, decrease stress and strengthen critical relationships.

This same principle can be applied to personal priorities. In other words, CEOs were in the habit of being present with their families, taking time to exercise and sleeping enough.

They seamlessly integrate these activities because they were clear on who and what are important to their success. When it came to what most of us consider personal activities, CEOs viewed them not as an entitlement, like many of us, but as a requirement for staying in-tune, in-touch and on top of their game. They could not be successful at work without honoring these commitments.

Next Steps

Regardless of the ability to maintain a solid family life, consistent exercise schedule or good sleeping habits, all the CEOs recognized multiple areas for improved time management.

As such, they continue to remain open to opportunities to improve. This drive to enjoy successes and strive for improvement, even while at the top of their game, should inspire us all continue trying to improve the way we spend our time.