There’s so much to do when starting a business. It’s a long, stressful process, but somehow, you got through it. It’s finally time for some well-deserved downtime while you watch your business coast to success, right?
Wrong. By now, you’re realizing you’re even busier than before. It seems like there’s no time for family, hobbies, or anything else, and you’re always playing catch up.
The most successful CEOs will tell you that they couldn’t make it without a strategy to take back some of their time. If all your energy is spent on work, it’s easy to burn out, which can cause things like depression and illness. New data shows that, on average, people have work-related burnout by the time they’re 32.
This guide will offer advice on how to manage your time as a CEO. You might find that some of these tips not only help you open up your schedule but also get more done during the workday.
You may not be running a Fortune 500 company with a lot of board members, but being the CEO of your own small business can still be overwhelming. Everything’s your responsibility. Sometimes, it feels like you’ll never get it all done.
So, how do the CEOs of big corporations get their work done and maintain a personal life? They prioritize tasks, coordinate their schedule, and use great time management techniques. The goal isn’t to work longer hours; it’s to make the most of the hours you work. The following recommendations will help you work smarter, not harder.
Your drive to work can be a great time to take business phone calls (on speaker mode), listen to podcasts about your industry, or mentally plan your workday.
If you take public transportation, you can even sit down and get work done or write your to-do list. Jack Dorsey, the CEO of Twitter, doesn’t need to ride the bus to work. However, he rides it so that he can take time to write emails and prepare his calendar each morning.
If you’re a freelance human resources consultant for instance, a long bus ride might give you the time to perfect a new HR training program for a client. Conversely, a car ride might give you the chance to call a business leader and go over a few conflict resolution strategies.
You can also do something that motivates you. Listening to your favorite music can elevate your mood and make you eager to tackle the day. Playing your favorite puzzle game on the computer can get your mind ready to solve problems. If you’re a freelance fashion designer, something as simple as people watching can give you ideas for your next masterpiece.
As the CEO, you’ll be going to a lot of meetings — even as a small business owner, it always seems like there’s someone to meet with day-to-day. But not every meeting is productive. Studies show that inefficient meetings not only prevent actual work from getting done, but they can even cause a loss in income.
One strategy to handle meetings is to bunch them on a certain weekday. You might schedule all your meetings from 8 a.m. to 12 p.m. on Monday or Wednesday. This ensures you won’t be interrupted from important tasks for the rest of the week.
But how can you make sure meetings are productive? One way to keep them short is to conduct stand-up meetings. These meetings don’t let people get comfortable or ramble. You can take it a step further by having walking meetings. Obviously, this strategy won’t work for every situation. Some meetings require a lot of time and attention.
Not everyone works the same way. You might like having meetings dispersed throughout your day. The point is to be deliberate about the way you schedule your meetings or set up boundaries for when others can book your time.
As a CEO or co-founder, you need to be selective about what you take on. Generally, you’ll want to be focused on the big picture of your business’s success. You don’t want to be pulled into the time-stealing minutiae of lower-level operations.
That’s why it’s good to automate as many processes as you can. Tools exist to help you automate things like posting on social media or sending emails to potential clients. Make a list of the tasks your company completes daily, then look into what you can automate.
For example, Buffer is a great automation tool for small businesses that lets you schedule social media posts on sites like Facebook and LinkedIn. All you have to do is create posts one time and tell the software when you want to release them.
No matter how well you make your schedule, things will pop up. For example, if you’re a freelance IT expert, you might have to take an impromptu drive across town to save the day for a client whose network has gone down. It’s important to have some flexibility so that these little surprises don’t completely throw you off track.
Give yourself some wiggle room when you make your agenda. Keep time blocks during the day open for things like rescheduled meetings and emergencies. Remember that these time blocks should be saved for important things. Just because you have availability doesn’t mean you have to take meetings you don’t think will be valuable.
You can also block off longer periods for events in your day. If you think a batch of phone calls will take 45 minutes, schedule an hour and 15 minutes to make them. The extra 30 minutes will be useful if a call goes longer than expected. If you don’t use the extra time, use it for a less important task or just relax — remember, you’re trying to prevent yourself from burning out.
Project management tools make it easy to see what everyone in your company is working on. You can also use them to see how far along people and vendors you work with are with certain projects, check what projects still need to be done, and communicate with team members about those projects.
Software like Trello and Monday.com provide visual layouts that let you see everything going on with your business. They even have calendars so that you can see important dates or deadlines, and both have either free or free-to-try options.
The U.K. publisher WIRED uses Trello to create content. The software provides a place where writers, editors, and SEO specialists can collaborate on an article in real time. The process saves the time that it would normally take for content to be emailed back and forth.
When your business is just getting its feet wet, the advice of an experienced mentor can be beneficial. This can be especially beneficial for minority business owners who sometimes face different challenges when it comes to operating.
But why do you want a mentor? A UPS study found that small businesses that benefited from having a mentor were twice as likely to last over five years than businesses that didn’t. The U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) has resources to help you find a great mentor for your business. There’s no shame in reaching out and getting help from a mentor — in fact, as the UPS study shows, seeking one out is a very business-savvy move.
Having an assistant can save you a lot of time. They can answer phones, set up meetings, follow up with client emails, and create direct reports. With virtual assistants, you don’t even have to have meetings. You can use sites like Magic or Virtual Staff Finder to find quality virtual assistants for your needs. A virtual assistant’s rate will vary, depending on their level of experience and what type of assistance you might need. For virtual assistants located in the United States, costs might range from $15 to $50 per hour.
On the other hand, an assistant will be another person on your payroll. You’ll have to worry about things like taxes, benefits (if you choose to provide them), and training. The average executive assistant salary is nearly $70K per year, which does not include what you’ll need to pay in taxes and benefits. Further, you’ll share all aspects of your business with a new person, so it’s important that you trust them. Sometimes, virtual assistants can be located in different countries, making it more difficult to check in and talk to them.
Full-time employees who take more vacation days are not only happier, but they are also more productive. Personal time for things like family, exercise, vacation, and hobbies is important. It can make the time you spend working more effective.
For example, having a healthy daily routine is always important for a CEO’s well-being. Do your best to get to bed at the same time at the end of the day and try to get in a healthy breakfast before work. A quick workout in the morning can also help you focus and feel more awake during your day.
As the CEO of a small business, it’s easy to get sucked into your work, but if you never take time for yourself, you’ll eventually burn out. The World Health Organization (WHO) even classifies burnout as a medical diagnosis. Getting away from the grind can allow you to see problems from a new perspective, making them easier to solve. CEOs in the US, like Jeff Bezos and Bill Gates, know the value in unwinding and unplugging from work. These top business leaders disconnect with fitness, self-care rituals, putting their phones and devices away, and more.
When you start a small business, it can be really hard to get your time management down. Don’t beat yourself up if it takes some time to perfect your schedule. Ideally, you’ll constantly tweak your time management strategies to be more productive over time.
Just remember to work smarter, not harder. Pushing yourself too hard can actually hurt your productivity, creativity, or mental health and ultimately lower your income. By keeping an efficient schedule, you’ll have a work-life balance while growing your business — something that doesn’t just sound like a good idea, but will definitely help you run your business long-term.
Is starting your business stressing you out? ZenBusiness has great resources for things like incorporating and staying in compliance that will help your business start, run, and grow. Let us focus on these aspects of your business so that you can work on what you’re passionate about.
CEOs can expect to work many hours, but there’s no set amount of time needed to be successful. What’s important is that you make the most of the time you spend working.
There’s no set amount of time for a CEO to spend on crises. Collaboration software like Trello can help you project plan and keep track of developing crises before they happen, lessening the amount of time you need to spend fixing projects when they don’t go as planned.
It’s good to spend a little time each morning or night planning how you’ll accomplish your top priorities. The more time you spend being proactive about your business, the less you’ll have to react to. Try to watch out for any problems that could arise so that you can prevent them.
If a CEO isn’t particularly skilled in an area like marketing, it’s wise to hire marketers to handle it. However, even if they’re an expert in an area, it might be cost-effective to delegate the task. A CEO’s time is extremely valuable and should be spent on decision making.