Life at the top of the corporate heap may be rewarding, but it is also just as challenging as can be expected. The most successful executives also tend to be those who put in a frighteningly high number of hours each week. These individuals are expected to make critical decisions on a daily basis, often with insufficient information or time to think, and they have no-one to turn to for advice when they aren’t sure what to do. They communicate with more than a hundred people each day, and may have to chat cheerfully with a client one minute, and then negotiate aggressively with a supplier the next without allowing the emotions from one conversation to affect the other. The level of pressure, the load of responsibility and the amount of self-discipline required to do this successfully, day after day and year after year, is difficult to imagine.
It is often enlightening to learn more about something by studying its extremes. If you wanted to improve your race time, you wouldn’t be interested in what the majority of average runners eat or how they train, but rather try to find out what approaches the best in the world follow. Similarly, anyone who is interested in being successful at work while still finding time for their families, and managing to do all of this without going bonkers, will likely find some useful lessons from those at the corporate apex.
Trend No. 1: They Stick to Their Schedule
One of the most significant common denominators amongst the most successful of businessmen is not that they plan their day ahead of time, but that they follow that plan, often to the minute. A meeting that is scheduled to end at 11:40 simply has to, otherwise it will start eating into the few minutes allocated to preparation for the next.
This may seem like a handy excuse to get rid of people who won’t stop talking, but there’s another aspect to this: snooze buttons don’t exist in the CEO world. If they have ten minutes to absorb a 100 page report, they will spend those minutes doing exactly that to the best of their ability, whether this means skimming it, asking someone to summarize the main points or otherwise making the best possible use out of those 600 seconds. If the typical CEO won’t tolerate another person’s being late, it is also something he can rarely be accused of himself.
Trend No. 2: Family Is Important
When surveyed, spending more time with family was the single activity occupying most of the average CEO’s time, after work and sleep. It was also what a quarter of those polled admitted to wanting to do more of, if they could.
It’s no surprise that the divorce rate is higher than average for CEOs; it would be too much to expect that they can simply switch their business personas off and on at will. However, they do make the effort to insulate their work lives from their families as much as possible, and treat time at home as valuable.
Trend No. 3: They Work Out
Stress clouds a person’s judgment, lets their emotions run out of control, ruins concentration and can easily wreck their health. The average daily time a CEO spends on exercise is nearly an hour, meaning that for each one that doesn’t make the time to exercise, some other puts in a full 120 minutes at the gym.
On the next occasion your mind tries to convince you that you don’t have time to work up a sweat, remember that people working 60 hours a week or more somehow manage it on a regular basis. Someone who wants to be smart, dynamic and more creative has to make exercise a regular part of their lives.
Trend No. 4: Taking Time to Read
The average CEO spends as much as a fifth of their working time reading reports and other corporate documents, which explains why their reading rate tends to be significantly higher than that of the average adult. What is surprising is that they also read many more books outside of work.
While some prefer business books, others read fiction to relax or works that help them develop personally. History and biographies are also popular choices.
It seems clear that part of the path to success is to put in the requisite effort – and this can mean a very great deal of effort. However, it doesn’t look like simply spending more time working is some kind of magical key; equally important is how this time organized and directed, and not losing sight of the other important stuff along the way to achievement.