In our last blog we talked about what it means to successfully fill the role of CEO in your company. As every solo entrepreneur knows, being the CEO is a bit like being both the conductor and the engineer on a train—at the same time.
Managing your time productively is key to keeping that train on the tracks. As CEO you need to spend a portion of your time strategizing and planning for your business’s growth, but you don’t want to get too far away from the processes and output.
As Hootie (or perhaps it was a Blowfish) once said, “Time, why you punish me?” Time is probably the most valuable and scarce resource a CEO has, and organizing it effectively can mean the difference between growing your business and inadvertently suffocating it.
But first, be prepared to work long hours as the chief of your business. A 2018 Harvard Business Review study showed that CEOs work on average 9.7 hours per weekday, 79% of weekend days (an average of 3.9 hours daily), and on 70% of vacation days.
Let’s talk about some key tasks to focus on to be an effective and productive CEO:
- Work face to face when possible
- Set reasonable expectations for email
- Develop and follow agendas
- Leave time for the unexpected
- Delegate to trusted advisors
- Create the right processes
- Audit your time.
Work face to face when possible
Global pandemics have taught us that remote work can be as productive—if not more productive—as working from an office. But whether it’s in-person meetings in an office setting or Zoom meetings (cameras on!), it’s important for CEOs to have direct person-to-person contact with their staff as often as possible. Interacting directly with employees allows a CEO to gauge emotions, spot problematic inter-employee relationships, coach and guide, and make decisions expeditiously to improve productivity. The culture of a company starts with and is the primary responsibility of a CEO. Communicating only through email, IM chats, or delegates silos a CEO and prevents that leader from having a true understanding of the company’s progress.
What does this have to do with time management? In a crunch, it’s easy for leaders to sacrifice standing meetings or falling back on email or text messages to convey thoughts and decisions. That can lead to poor decisions relying on limited information and a general feeling of disconnection from employees, both of which can be disastrous for a business’s success. In the temptation to save time, it’s important not to sacrifice future growth for an extra 30 minutes today.
Set reasonable expectations for email
While face to face communication is important for leaders, it will still always be true that there are meetings which “could have been an email.” In addition, CEOs are often copied on an FYI-basis on a multitude of emails between different departments and leaders. As then head of your business, determine how email works best for you and set those expectations with your teams and direct reports.
- When your direct feedback is not required for actions to proceed (i.e. FYI emails), ask employees to designate as such in the email subject line. “Schedule for upcoming client kick-off [CEO-FYI ONLY]”
- Set times when you check and respond to email. Be diligent about sticking to this schedule, including blocking time on your calendar. Make sure employees know so they can plan when to expect to hear replies.
- Make use of email filters and other tools. Set FYI emails to filter directly to a folder other than your inbox. Schedule emails requiring actions that you don’t have time for right now to come back to the top of your inbox at a better time.
- Take time once or twice a month to unsubscribe from spam and other lists filling your inbox. Even 20 minutes can greatly reduce the amount of email clogging your day.
Develop and follow agendas
Agendas are a leader’s best friend. Whether it’s a “30,000 feet agenda” for long-term growth plans, or structured agendas to keep meetings on task and as short as needed, agendas are the maps and guide posts the entire company needs to stay on track and meet goals.
Leave time for the unexpected
Some things you can’t schedule. Telling everyone that you are free from 1-3 p.m. every Wednesday for emergencies is… well a little nuts. Emergencies by definition are unexpected and urgent. But leaders can take some panic out of emergencies by working diligently to be able to address them when they happen.
There are two key actions to handling the unexpected:
- Avoid procrastination.
- Empower your team.
We’ve all seen articles about the habits of successful people. They wake up early. They make their beds. They are highly organized. Most of that boils down to a simple concept: successful people work to eliminate distractions and make the most of their time so they get more accomplished. As you follow the other guidelines, stick to your agendas, your schedule, and your task lists. When you have time to do work, do the work. The more on track you are with scheduled and expected work, the easier it will be to pivot and address emergencies without creating other problems at the same time.
Second, empower your team to take action and make decisions. If you are on vacation, on a flight, or otherwise indisposed, your company cannot be left aimless in your absence. Regular face to face coaching and discussions of goals and expectations with your direct reports ensures that they understand your priorities and your thought process when solving dilemmas.
Delegate to trusted advisors
We’ve discussed why hiring and empowering the right direct reports is essential to growing your business. An effective CEO is not an octopus doing all things for all departments. CEOs are not experts in every field and department, and cannot be everywhere at once. You need help, and proper delegation ensures that you have time for planning and strategy while important tasks are completed by those with stronger skill sets in their areas.
Also leave time to include senior managers (think trusted advisors to the trusted advisors) as an expeditious way to hear the views and feedback of those in the trenches. Consider the premise of the television show Undercover Boss: a boss is given the opportunity to get into the trenches and talk to employees dealing with the day to day operations that embody a business, hear their thoughts and ideas, and see for themselves where problems are originating. Rather than donning a disguise, effective leaders make sure to create opportunities where they can regularly hear from those deeply engaged in specific areas of the company.
Create the right processes
CEOs don’t need to get into the details of how a product is packaged and shipped. They should get into the details of how department heads and others can make smart decisions that contribute to company goals. CEOs need to avoid the time-suck and productivity killing side effects of micromanagement and focus on “macro”management.
How can you quantify and detail the way to make correct decisions that positively impact a business’s goals? How do you receive feedback from employees affected by the way work is managed and completed? How do you communicate operational standards to meet your expectations for quality of product/service and also company culture? These are the processes where CEOs need to spend their time. Delegation in a vacuum is not conducive to a leader both maintaining control of a business and having the time to grow that business.
Audit your time
Introspection is such a positive activity for any leader. A few times throughout the year, set aside time to look back at the accomplishments and failures of the past few months and consider what your role as leader was in making them successful or not.
Bonus tip: Pick the right tools
As you shift from a side hustle mentality into a CEO focus for your solo business, use these tips to focus your attention where it will be most effective. In addition, consider the tools you need to work smarter, not harder, especially as your company is still in growth stages. For example, a tool like Solo Hustle can help simplify invoicing, payment tracking, and proposals, making it easy for you to manage those crucial functions without specialized expertise. In turn, that makes it more sensible to invest initial employee hires in other areas that are focused on growth (such as marketing or sales) rather than bookkeeping or paperwork.