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How CXOs can address toxic busyness to boost productivity and wellbeing

by Staff GBAF Publications Ltd
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By Simac Konkader, Action Coach

C-Suite leaders’ use of time is linked to a company’s success. Their schedule manifests how the leader leads, but as every CEO knows, there is always more to be done. A 2018 HBR study showed how relentless a leader’s schedule is. At 62.5 hours a week, it’s way above the average employee’s. Since that study, the increase in hybrid working, according to Microsoft (2022), has caused worker’s hours to creep with a “third peak” of productivity in the late evening hours, between 6 and 10 p.m. 

As an Executive Leadership Coach, these statistics reflect what my coachees tell me. Indeed, I’m yet to come across a CEO or business owner who does not struggle with time. Many even tell me they START ‘work’ at 5pm after a day of meetings. Is a packed schedule with back-to-back face time (one hour per meeting on average) the blueprint for success? Or does a more balanced life drive better outcomes? 

It’s a myth that all work and no play makes a successful leader. Indeed, the demands on leaders require them to be strategic about their schedules. Arranging their time to maximise their physical, mental and spiritual wellbeing will in fact boost their performance. Indeed, to sustain the constant intensity of the job, CEOs need to train for it like pro athletes, allocating time for health, fitness, and rest. And the best leaders are those who become disciplined about ‘grounding’ time with family and friends.

So how do you reduce toxic busyness and increase effectiveness?  

Reduce meeting mania

CEOs prefer to influence in person than on email. This, along with the sheer number of people wanting their ear, can mean a never ending stream of meetings. The HBR study found that leaders have an average of 37 meetings of assorted lengths in any given week and spent 72% of their total work time in meetings. 

Leaders that I coach often have a day of back-to-back meetings, with no topics or content in common, without even 10 minutes in between, so little to no ‘tee up’ time. Worse, many of the leaders I speak with tend to ‘start work’ at 5pm after the endless tide of meetings. 

I would argue that many of these admin-type tasks are unnecessarily absorbing time, with many leaders actually multitasking while being forced into yet another ‘catch-up.’ Canadian eCommerce giant Shopify, raised the question of meeting importance when it made the bold decision to remove all recurring meetings with more than two people “in perpetuity”. Shopify also encouraged workers to decline other appointments and remove themselves from large internal chat groups. 

So be strategic about meetings. Regularly review which ones are genuinely important versus those that can be delegated. Be brutal about letting go of ones carried over from previous roles. Be prepared to be brutal with meeting length. When an hour is the default, why not cut it back to 30 minutes or even 15? 

Think like an F1 driver – non-working life isn’t just a pit stop 

A CXO’s job is mentally and physically demanding, requiring consistently high performance to be successful. Therefore, they need a deliberate strategy to manage themselves in the stressful environments around them.

F1 drivers may seem, on the surface, to have little in common with business leaders. Dig deeper and you’ll find similar pressures to perform, with a disrupted homelife due to travel, an array of different relationships, and unconnected meetings, from their engineering team to management, investors to sponsors, and fans to family. They also spend a disproportionately high amount of time sitting down!  

Physical conditioning is of course important, but the sport’s top coaches focus on longevity. Though there are more young drivers in F1 than ever before, there are also more older drivers turning in great results than at any other time. Fernando Alonso and Sebastian Vettel are just two examples of older drivers notching up strong performances despite being the oldest drivers in the paddock. 

Like CEOs, much of the driver’s working day is away from their core task of driving. During race weekends even, gruelling 16 hour days are common, the bulk of which isn’t spent popping champagne corks and partying like playboys, but instead geekishly pouring over data, analysing strategies and experimenting with engineering tweaks. F1 coaches advise as much on sleep and nutrition as stamina work, but also on having a balanced life. 

For CEOs, staying in great physical condition, paying attention to good nutrition and rest is as critical to longevity in the job as being able to lead. 

Protect personal and family time. 

Preserving elements of ‘normal life’ keep leaders grounded and better able to engage with colleagues and workers—instead of distant, detached, and disconnected. Indeed, they shouldn’t treat non-work like a fast pit stop. 

They should work with their EAs to preserve quality time with family and friends, conduct regular exercise, and find good opportunities to recharge and reflect. Included in this rounded life are hobbies, with many CEOs enjoying photography, music and just socialising to help unwind. These behaviours are crucial to effectiveness and avoiding burnout which are necessary for success over the long haul.

Putting these three steps into practice will definitely buy you a lot of time back, but don’t fall into the trap of finding more tasks to burden yourself with. Instead, make sure you take a reasonable lunch break and allow for time to step away from the desk. Disconnecting from work is not only acceptable but critical for a career that’s not only successful, but healthy and happy at the same time.