The CEO Schedule: What You Can Learn From It And How To Implement It

In Buddhism, they call a wandering mind “monkey mind.” I have more of a “gorilla mind”, stampeding out of control, acting on every impulse, and laughing off my attempts to tame it. 

That’s why I found the CEO Schedule so effective. It’s not a regimen; it doesn’t require you to get up at 4:45 am, pound 40 grams of organic protein, and perform yoga poses during conference calls. 

Rather, the CEO “Schedule” is merely a list of habits. Extracted during a 12-year Harvard Business School study of 27 CEOs, the CEO Schedule highlights ways high-level executives can more effectively manage their time. 

While I’m neither high-level nor an executive, certain elements of the CEO Schedule have massively helped me manage my time better without disrupting my existing regimen (i.e. upsetting my gorilla).  

In this article, I’m going to highlight certain habits within the CEO Schedule that I think would help anyone manage their time better and make work more enjoyable. Even if you can implement just one habit from the CEO Schedule, it can be a huge help.

Bundle together similar tasks

Ever feel like you’re “shifting gears” too much during a workday, between emails, personal stuff, and the primary task at hand? 

The problem with “shifting gears” too often is twofold. First, it wears out your clutch, aka your brain. Second, when your brain has to constantly start over and refocus, productivity is lost. 

While minute-to-minute focus can be achieved through meditation and mindfulness, a quick fix you can perform on your calendar is to bundle together similar tasks. The study found that highly effective CEOs all made an effort to stack admin/meeting/problem-solving tasks together so that they could preserve mental energy and momentum.

Try this:

Head over to your calendar and try to create as many large blocks of tasks as possible. Instead of peppering meetings throughout the week, try to stack all of your meetings on, say, Wednesday and Thursday, and keep Monday and Tuesday sacred for hunkering down and writing. 

Put downtime on your calendar

Time spent away from work is just as, if not more important, than the work itself. For that reason, it deserves a spot on your calendar! (Note, I’m keen on calendars -see my piece on keeping your finances on track with a financial calendar!)

The study found that even the busiest CEOs spend at least three hours socializing with friends and family, two hours on hobbies or TV, and one hour in the gym. The precision timing is no coincidence; the 27 CEOs treat their mental and physical health like clients – they’re never late to a meeting and they give them full attention. 

Try this:

A simple checkbox in my Gmail settings provided a nice boost to my mental health. 

  1. First, set your default view from five-day to seven-day, so that each time you visit your calendar you can see your weekend activities and not just your work. 
  2. Next, bake your personal time into your calendar. Color code your gym time, your quality time with family and friends, and your solo downtime, whether it’s spent gaming, browsing Netflix, or figuring out your next investment.

All of these restful activities are just as important at work, so they deserve space on your calendar.  

Pick up the phone more often

Despite most of their jobs revolving around communication, the 27 CEOs spent just 24% of their time on email, and 76% of their time face-to-face or on the phone. 

While that might sound inefficient and a little old-fashioned, communicating in-person or at the very least on the phone is actually a huge time saver. Emails are disruptive, prone to misinterpretation, and are no faster than a telegraph for communicating with a single individual. 

Plus, CEOs value meetings and Zoom calls because they build trust and relationships. Tone, emotion, and subtlety are lost in plaintext format. 

Try this:

If an email upsets, annoys, or confuses you, or if your email might elicit such emotions in the other party, pick up the phone instead. By communicating more directly via voice, you’re less likely to have a miscommunication and end up saving time in the long run. 

Shorten your meetings

During the study, one of the most common “confessions” among CEOs is that many of their one-hour meetings could and should have been 30- or even 15-minute meetings. However, they generally refrained from suggesting shorter meetings because they didn’t want to appear too busy or self-important (49% of their meetings were scheduled by the other party). 

I’m sure you’ve been in a meeting that went on way too long because someone was arbitrarily trying to fill the hour they asked for, or the conversation was caught in a “swirl” where attendees began repeating themselves and somebody says “what we need to find is a balance.” 

When meetings are shorter and end early, you’ll find that the first casualty is that time-wasting fluff and swirl. Tighter time windows push for expediency and let everyone return to their days sooner. 

Try this:

Reset your default meeting duration from one-hour to 30-minutes. You’ll end up saving yourself and all in attendance a lot of time. To fit everything in, stick to a strict agenda, take notes, and establish clear owners/due dates for all follow-ups. 

If you end even earlier and want to wrap things up politely, simply say “if there’s nothing left to cover, I’ll give you 15 minutes of your day back.”

Always have an agenda

Perhaps unsurprisingly, the word “agenda” appeared 27 times in the HBR report. Most of the time it wasn’t in the context of a meeting, but rather in reference to a greater set of personal goals. 

At one point during the study, the researchers asked the CEOs to describe their goals for the quarter and the hours devoted to achieving them. All 27 CEOs provided this data on the spot. 

As someone who’s battled feelings of depression, I’ve learned that one of the secret killers of mental health is a feeling that you’re lacking momentum. You have things that you want to accomplish, but you’re not moving towards them. Consciously or subconsciously, that feeling of stagnation really sucks. 

Thankfully, by contrast, any feeling of progress, or that you’ve pushed the ball forward just a little bit, can be a huge source of reprieve. 

Try this:

Right now, make a list of three goals. They can be a mix of personal or professional, like “lose 10 pounds” or “get my personal finances in order”. 

Next, look at the last two weeks of your calendar and ask yourself: how many hours did I devote to those goals? Which might need more attention next week?

By keeping an agenda of any kind, and chipping away at it each day, you can ensure that you’re always moving towards your goals. 

Summary

As you can see, there’s a reason CEOs can pack so much into their days. And you too can take some of the most common CEO strategies and apply them to your own life.

No matter if you take all of these and run with them, or you find just one way to improve your productivity, you’ll certainly be happy you did.

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