CEOs are busy. They're the face of the business. How they use their time says a lot about the company.
How should CEOs use their time?
A CEO's job is inherently anti-focused. Since they're pulled in so many directions at the same time, they can't afford to put their heads down for too long. With such a hectic schedule, and a constant inflow of data, how do they stay in control and still get things done?
In my previous article, I wrote about why a CEO's schedule is so slammed and why some get paid enormous salaries. In this piece, I'd like to take a look at the best uses of a CEO's time, using President Donald Trump's daily schedule as an example.
The "CEO of North America" is arguably one of the busiest leaders in the world and his daily actions depict how CEOs could use their time more effectively.
An analysis of Donald Trump's daily schedule, published at 1600 Daily by the White House, and also at Today in Trumpworld by Politico, shows the President's actions can be divided into three general categories: briefings, signings, and meetings.
Briefings: How the President receives information
According to analysts at Mother Jones who reviewed one of Trump's Daily Briefings, "less material, less nuance" is a guideline for his daily memos. He prefers the number of topics covered in the Briefing to be limited to three. Trump told Axios he prefers one-page reports with bullet points.
"I don't have to be told the same thing in the same words every single day for the next eight years," he said in an interview.
Like any CEO, the President needs to be informed and updated on important matters. While Trump is briefed on issues like national security, global affairs, and economic activity, a CEO might be briefed on new hires, new clients, or business development opportunities.
The point is that anytime a CEO receives information it should be brief. Repeat nothing. Limit it to only three topics using bullet points on a single page.
Takeaway: How can you limit (but not sacrifice) your ingestion of company updates and information? How can you make your meetings more brief?
Signings: How a CEO makes decisions
A major limitation for CEOs is that they can't be everywhere at the same time. A CEO is inevitably one body with one brain in the same 24-hour day. But there's a workaround: a CEO can be present in multiple places at the same time using their handwritten signature.
For example, a team meets about a big initiative that requires the CEO's input and approval but the CEO has a conflict and can't make it to the meeting. Instead, the team takes good notes, edits the notes down to the most important pieces, formats it in bullet points on one page, and sends to the CEO. With her signature, she approves (or doesn't, and amends) and the initiative moves forwards.
The benefit of this approach allows the CEO to have many more "meetings" and make more decisions in one day than she normally could.
This is why the President has "Signing" meetings. Trump's single John Hancock sends ripples throughout the U.S. government. Instead of repeating himself, the decision is in ink and it is thereby shareable and actionable, with or without him present in the room.
Takeaway: Don't go to a meeting when your signature can accomplish the same outcome.
Meetings: How a CEO negotiates and builds relationships
Perhaps the largest amount of the President's time is dedicated to meetings. He hosts foreign officials, leads discussions, dines with the powerful, and speaks at events.
While a signature carries power, nothing can replace the physiological presence of the CEO. Hence, meetings will always be necessary.
Unlike meetings, briefings and signings are relatively black and white. "Based on what happened, here is the information." "Based on this information, here is the decision."
Meetings are utterly different. It's hazy, unclear, and the future is unknown. People are not documents. They can't be stacked and read efficiently. When brains with different perspectives and goals come together, it's complex and malleable.
Meetings are where Trump negotiates. Comedian Steve Harvey recalls from his meeting with Trump that the then-president-elect "immediately" picked up the phone to call Dr. Ben Carson and have them meet to discuss how to improve the country's inner cities.
In his meeting with the CEOs of the nation's biggest tech firms, including SpaceX and Tesla's Elon Musk, Apple's Tim Cook, and Alphabet's Larry Page, and many others, Trump had everyone introduce themselves around the table. When the turn reached him, he struck an amicable tone and said, "We want you to keep going with the incredible innovation. There's nobody like you in the world. There's nobody like the people in this room. And anything we can do to help this go long, we're going to be here for you. You call my people, you call me, it doesn't make any difference. We have no formal chain of command."
When Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella brought up the prickly issue of immigration and tech talent, Trump responded, according to a Recode article: "Let's fix that," he said, "What can I do to make it better?"
What's going on here? What is Trump like in this meeting? He was building rapport. He complimented people publicly. He garnered trust. Why?
One CEO wrote a Forbes article in which he stated the most valuable business commodity is trust. Trust gets deals done and meetings are where deals are made.
Takeaway: Are your meetings a place where you build trust? Whether it's with your employees, partners, investors, or customers, are you leveraging your time to create trust, and thereby strengthen your negotiation?
So what are the best uses of a CEO's time? Using the Head of the United States as a case study, we see CEOs can use their scarce time in three ways: briefings, signings, and meetings. There are plenty of articles with tactical email management hacks and calendar tweaks, but on a strategic level, this analysis showed a CEO's time is best spent receiving information efficiently, signing off on written decisions, and building trust in meetings.