An analysis of CEOs' schedules scrutinised 60,000 hours and found email is an even bigger time sink than people realise
- The Harvard Business Review tracked the time usage of 27 CEOs of public companies worth an average of almost R180 billion over three months.
- For the study, each CEO's executive assistant recorded time in 15-minute intervals, 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
- Time management is the top recorded challenge for CEOs.
- Email usage interrupted workflow for CEOs and extended the workday.
CEOs regularly say time management is their greatest challenge.
At the Harvard Business Review, Michael E. Porter and Nitin Nohria launched a study in 2016 tracking the time usage of 27 CEOs over three months. These CEOs included two women and 25 men, who led primarily public companies worth an average $13.1 billion (almost R180 billion).
The study is the first comprehensive and detailed examination of CEO time usage over an extended period showing how, where, what, and with whom a CEO spends their time.
For the study, each CEO's executive assistant was trained to track and code the CEO's time in 15-minute increments, 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Overall, the study collected nearly 60,000 CEO hours.
Emailing took up about 24% of that time.
"CEOs are endlessly copied on FYI emails. They feel pressure to respond because ignoring an email seems rude," wrote Porter and Nohria on HBR. They continued: "CEOs should recognise that the majority of emails cover issues that needn't involve them and often draw them into the operational weeds."
On average, it takes six seconds to check a typical email after it arrives in an inbox, Adam Alter, a New York University professor, previously told Business Insider. But, he continued: "If you check an email, it's going to take you 25 minutes to get back into that state of productivity you were in before you checked your email."
Perhaps in part to lessen the mental energy going into emails, Gmail rolled out a new feature in May that may be of use to anyone, CEO or not: "Smart Reply" can send automatic replies, like "thank you" or "not at this time" on your behalf after scanning the email's content.
Emails from a CEO can also create a chain of unnecessary communication and set unrealistic norms, especially if a CEO sends late night or weekend emails, the authors found. They were able to link CEO email behaviour to overall poor company practice of overusing electronic communication.
Setting proper expectations and norms for which emails a CEO needs to see and respond to is essential, Porter and Nohria found. They suggest a message filter controlled by the executive assistant.
"Email interrupts work, extends the workday, intrudes on time for family and thinking, and is not conducive to thoughtful discussions," wrote Porter and Nohria. They continued: “CEOs have to stay human and authentic, and you can't do that via email.”
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