As a CEO, your strengths and capabilities are numerous. But you won’t succeed at any of them if you aren’t good at managing your time. Working first-hand with CEOs, I’ve seen the bottlenecks that get in the way and how to overcome them.
1. Figure out what you can delegate. Often, there’s more you can delegate than you actually want to. Start by making a list of the things that only you can do: make an executive decision; hire the CFO; approve the final product. Then make a list of all the other things you do: this is where the opportunities abound for delegation. Once you understand what others can do, you can put more energy against doing unique tasks that only you can do, or what you are best at.
2. Hire people who are smarter than you. When building a cohesive team, the most successful CEOs will often look for people who excel in areas they do not: a general counsel with intellectual property experience, or a CFO with an international acquisitions background, for example. This will allow you to focus your time on what you do best.
3. Maintain a strong familiarity with your product line and customers. You’ll make faster, smarter decisions if you completely understand for whom and why you are making them. Set aside some time, perhaps monthly or quarterly, to roll up your sleeves, get down in the trenches and walk through the customer funnel. Howard Schultz, the chairman and CEO of Starbucks, doesn’t just know business, he really knows coffee and how to pull a perfect shot of espresso. Getting your hands dirty and understanding what your clients want from you—from their point-of-view—helps get the culture fit right. It also motivates employees if they see that everyone from the highest executive to the newest employee thinks and acts the same way.
4. Block off creative time. Breaking up your day into scheduled blocks will make you more productive. For example, in the morning, when you have the sharpest mind, schedule an hour to work on a creative project, such as brainstorming or five-year planning. In the afternoon, when your focus starts to diminish, stop, take a break, and do something reactive, such as returning phone calls and emails or holding short meetings. If you push yourself to squeeze everything out of every minute of every day, you will burn your mind and body out. Also, you lose control of your day and end up in a constant cycle of reactivity. Allow yourself time to have a creative breakthrough, to put together an amazing proposal, or to talk with the team about a hurdle they need to overcome.
5. Establish staff accountability. Let your staff know exactly what they are accountable for and when. “Do X, by Y time, and these are the things you will be measured on.” Shorter deadlines with smaller project chunks are proving to be more successful (i.e., “agile” project management). You will get a better result, it limit the amount of time you spend directing them and they will feel more productive, as well.
There are dozens of tools and gadgets that can help CEOs manage their time. But don’t get bogged down in figuring them out. Discuss with your techspert the time management goals that you have, and let him or her vet them and set them up for you.
Maren Kate Donovan is CEO of Zirtual. She helps executives streamline their time management practices through delegation to virtual assistants.