Only 11% of CEO Time Spent Alone on Work

According to a study by LSE and HBS, CEOs on average spend one-third of their work week in meetings and just under 11% (six hours) working by themselves on projects. While 18 hours is a significant portion of time to be spent in meetings, the study doesn’t differentiate between types of meetings. So what exactly is this survey saying?

February 16 2012 by JP Donlon


The London School of Economics and Harvard Business School have just released findings from their Executive Time Use Project, a study monitoring how over 500 chief executive officers spend their time in the workplace.

According to the results, as reviewed by The Wall Street Journal, CEOs spent an overwhelming majority of their time in meetings.

The study notes a specific 65-CEO sample in which CEOs spent an average of 18 out of 55 hours in their work week in meetings. But what does this really tell us?

There is one singular and glaring omission. Where is the customer? Every CEO I know spends a healthy chunk of his time meeting with customers. Curiously, none of this appears in the reported findings or in the graphic circle chart indicating how a CEO spends his time. If it proves that some of the meetings that allegedly take up to a third of his time are spent with customers or on customer issues one would think it ought to be mentioned.

A most odd oversight as it changes the entire context were this figure known.

A third of a CEO’s time spent in meetings isn’t all that remarkable once it is known what the nature of the meetings are. In Chief Executive’s Best Companies for Leaders coverage we learn that about a third of a CEO’s time is spent on employee or human resource-related issues such as alignment, execution, talent guidance and retention. If this is where you find most of this activity then one would be hard pressed to find fault with the results of this academic exercise.

It is important to also note that with calls, lunches, traveling, or exercising, CEOs were left with only 6 hours in the week to work alone. Is this statistic perhaps more important?

In the article, the CEO of HR software firm SuccessFactors, Lars Dalgaard, commented “While you are sitting in a meeting, your competition is getting stuff done.” SuccessFactors is being acquired by SAP.

Many CEOs, when shown how they alloted their time, were surprised at the misalignment between their priorities and their daily realities.

Read: Where’s the Boss? Trapped in a Meeting