Leaders Weigh In: Is There Ever Enough Time?

New data on how CEOs invest their time… and how they feel about it

By Michael J. Tomlinson, CEO and President

As a nonprofit leader, you may still occasionally entertain the common daydream about a moment when things at your organization will finally slow down.

Today, I’m here with a hard truth for all of us: That slow-down moment is not coming. 

To wit: For months now, I’ve been hoping to launch my own podcast that brings forth the experiential wisdom of leaders from different corners of the philanthropic world and offers discussions regarding the biggest issues facing our industry. I’ve grieved watching this fun and high value project get pushed down the road as the “tyranny of the urgent” takes precedence quarter-after-quarter, not because of a lapse of willingness, but simply a lack of sufficient additional time.

“Time,” as author Nathaniel Hawthorne once said, “flies over us.” 

On the other hand, last month, I had the pride and joy of attending my eldest son’s wedding in Hawaii. I knew that it would be a time filled with moments that were once in a lifetime – and there would never be the chance to go back and relive those moments. Accordingly, I focused my time solely on the priority at hand – a celebration of my son’s and new daughter-in-law’s love for each other.

“The key,” author/speaker Stephen R. Covey writes, “is in not spending time, but in investing it.” 

In the new working order, CEOs and Nonprofit Leaders have more demands on their time than ever before. They’re being called upon to do more, be more, say more and innovate more. But the question is, where is all the “more” leaving us – professionally and personally? 

Last month, I shared 4 challenges that CEOs are universally facing right now. This month, I want to share an article with you focused on research on how CEOs invest their time and manage priorities – driving toward implications of where they spend too little, just enough or too much time. Many are feeling the effects of “time overspend,” and for them, there are also 5 takeaways that CEOs should consider as they look to optimize their time spent for impact. 

This is a meaty article, which is why I hope you’ll spend some time digging into it. This research from Russell Reynolds Associates is fiercely data-driven, eminently wise in its practical takeaways for leaders – and, yes, very timely as well. 

Stretched Too Thin? Are CEOs happy with how they spend their time?

CEOs must manage a greater array of issues than ever before, yet they have less authority and control. They must manage on multiple time horizons – balancing short-term demands with long-term investments and thinking – and engage with a multi-faceted web of stakeholders whose agendas rarely align. Environmental, social and, at times, political issues now compete for their attention, requiring astute management. Focusing purely on the financial and operational fundamentals of the business is a luxury few CEOs have today.

We at Russell Reynolds Associates wanted to understand how CEOs today allocate their time. Via our 2022 Global Leadership Monitor, we gathered data from close to 200 CEOs, asking them to review a set of activities and grade whether or not they felt they allocated too little, the right amount, or too much time to each activity. We then also asked them to complete the same exercise for a set of stakeholders. In short, we measured CEOs’ perception of the degree to which they effectively allocate their time. From this, we learned that:

  • The vast majority of CEOs feel they could spend their time more effectively in at least a handful of places, while a significant minority feel that the bulk of their time could be spend more effectively.
  • Notable proportions of CEOs have trouble allocating enough time to activities with a long-term orientation—including setting future strategy, succession planning, and product/service innovation.
  • With whom do CEOs invest the least amount of time? Themselves and their families.

75% of CEOs felt they spent the right amount of time on five or more of the nine activities that we tracked, but only 20% said so for seven or more of the activities. A very small proportion (4%) said they spent the right amount of time on all the activities [see figure 1]. Put another way, the vast majority of CEOs feel they are sub optimally spending their time in at least a handful of places while, for a significant minority, the bulk of the activities they focus on are suboptimal.

Source: Russell Reynolds https://www.russellreynolds.com/en/insights/articles/stretched-too-thin-are-ceos-happy-with-how-they-spend-their-time

When I quoted Nathaniel Hawthorne earlier, I left out something important: 

“Time flies over us, but leaves its shadow behind.” 

The number of demands on our time won’t slow down. Time will continue to outstrip us as we race to squeeze in another meeting, another phone call, another email. We’ll never win there. Where we can win is making sure that our time is invested wisely, allowing us to leave what Hawthorne refers to as the “shadow behind” – that is, the impact we leave by investing our time focused on helping those in the world who are hurting, broken and hopeless. 

I stand with you in working to not just spend time, but invest it wisely. 

“For it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.”  – Philippians 2:13, ESV 

See what 2 traits CEOs value most! Read “Turbulent Times: CEOs Identify 2 Keys to Thriving” >>

  • Michael Tomlinson, BDI CEO and President

    Michael J. Tomlinson, CEO and President

    Michael J. Tomlinson, better known as “MT,” is an accomplished marketing and media executive who has developed highly successful fundraising programs for faith-first charities and organizations across the U.S. and abroad. He brings more than 30 years of executive leadership in business and holds a master’s degree in Organizational Management and Marketing.

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