How Do CEOs Actually Spend Their Time?

"CEOs know that life isn’t all about work—saving time for personal relationships is imperative."

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Ever wonder how CEOs actually spend their time? Harvard Business School did an in-depth study to find out. The research, published this month, found a number of common habits among the successful execs they tracked that the rest of us could benefit from adopting, too.

1. They don’t skimp on ZZZs.

On average, CEOs work 9.7 hours each weekday—a lot of time that’d be useless if they were dozing off. Sure, there are some, like Virgin’s Richard Branson and PepsiCo CEO Indra Nooyi, who seem to be fine on five hours of sleep or less a night. But most allow more time for their bodies and minds to recharge, sleeping an average of 6.9 hours every night.

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2. They exercise regularly.

In addition to sleep, being active keeps you healthy. And studies show that regular exercise helps improve your brain function, allowing you to focus better and react quicker. No wonder CEOs save 45 minutes a day (9 percent of their non-work hours) for fitness.

3. They make time for loved ones.

CEOs know that life isn’t all about work—saving time for personal relationships is imperative. On average, they only have roughly six waking hours a day when they’re not working, much of which they devote to family time. Doing so helps give them perspective and allows them to better tackle the demands of work.

4. They make time for themselves.

Me time is important, too—at work and at home. During working hours, CEOs spend 28 percent of their time working alone, allowing themselves uninterrupted time to reflect and prep for meetings. During personal hours, they have 2.1 hours a day of downtime, when they unwind by watching TV, reading for pleasure or engaging in hobbies.

5. They put in facetime.

It’s easy to rely on texts and emails to speed up communication and increase efficiency. But doing things in person adds to the quality of your interactions. “How a CEO spends face-to-face time is viewed as a signal of what or who is important; people watch this more carefully than most CEOs recognize,” the report says. CEOs spend 61 percent of their work time on face-to-face interactions.

6. They leave unscheduled time.

CEOs may benefit from sticking to their agendas, but they also reserve some time for when the unscheduled parts of life pop up. Planning for spontaneity gives them the flexibility to deal with the unexpected, as well as the opportunity to seem approachable. CEOs typically leave 25 percent of their work time open for more spontaneous interactions, including same-day appointments, opportune conversations and the space to respond to unfolding events.

7. They limit routine responsibilities.

Ever get stuck responding to emails for hours on end? CEOs don’t. They limit the time they spend on the more mundane parts of work to just 11 percent of their workdays.

Of course, not all of us can delegate these things to assistants and underlings. But you can set blocks of time for yourself that are reserved for, say, responding to emails or updating your schedule—and force yourself to only do those things during those times. This helps free yourself up for more engaging and meaningful work.

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