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THE INC. LIFE

This 12-Year Harvard Study Shows How the Most Successful CEOs Spend Their Time

Researchers at Harvard made in-depth discoveries about a CEO’s day, including how much time they spent sleeping, in meetings, working and well, not working.

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BY Jackelyn Ho - 29 Jun 2018

PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images

In a company, you have people selected for very specific roles in specific departments, but what exactly does a CEO fall under? They're kind of the catch-all of the company and the first one looked at publicly if something goes wrong. When a person has that much pressure and responsibility, what is it they do all day?

That single question launched a 12-year study.

Led by Michael E. Porter and Nitin Nohria, University Professor at Harvard and Dean of Harvard Business school, respectively, it took a magnifying glass to 27 CEOs -- 25 men and two women.

The CEO's executive assistants were tasked to review how the CEO spent their time for three months straight. This data included time both in and out of work, totaling almost 60,000 logged hours for the study.

They discovered a plethora of data, but perhaps the most important takeaways were the ability for the subjects themselves to see how their time was spent. With that, they were able to understand where their day went and what needed to change moving forward - data that you can now make use of, too.

Get a good night's sleep and maintain a structured exercise routine.

The study noted that CEOs slept an average of 6.9 hours a night and had regular exercise routines that were about 45 minutes long. These healthy habits allowed them to maintain a reliable routine that would keep their mental and physical health strong. The average workweek totaled 62.5 hours a week, leaving approximately 15 hours a day to balance sleep, commute, a workout, extracurricular activities, and of course, relaxing.

For those struggling to get here, try setting a hard stop on your bedtime and wake-up time with few exceptions. As for that workout? Know exactly when, where, and how you'll work out before the next day comes. Classes, workout buddies, or written plan all help keep this in check.

Have direct reports that you can trust.

Of the CEOs that were studied, only 21 percent spent time with direct reports. This is a pretty low number, signaling that many CEOs either take on the work themselves, don't know what's going on in the rest of the company, or, as the study mentions, don't have great confidence in their direct reports.

If you find yourself in the latter, know that it's okay to switch people into different roles if they are not performing as good leaders or managers. Remember, your direct reports have a direct line of access to the trenches and you need to have a comfortable relationship with them.

Spend more time with your customers.

The study showed that CEOs spent an average of 3 percent of their working time with customers. This shockingly low number shocked the subjects themselves and many vowed to change this habit.

Yes, although days get filled with meetings (72 percent of the working day, according to the study), knowing who you are working with is hands down the most important thing for a CEO to do. Working on high-level items are important, but it makes it easy to forget why you do what you do. Make it a point to interact with your customer base more -- whether it's digitally or in-person -- because it's here that you learn exactly what impact you are (or aren't) making.

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