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The 5 Biggest Time Wasters for Chief Executives

Meeting with and coddling employees can be a big time-waster. Meeting with and coddling employees can be a big time-waster. bikeriderlondon/

I constantly hear from executives that they have way too much work to do and can never seem to catch up and actually get their job done. After years of watching this behavior and analyzing the root causes, I’ve found that there is plenty of time to get things done if people stop doing the wrong things.

Here are the most common time wasters for CEOs and how to avoid them:


Specifically, meetings that you don’t need to be in. Leaders have to jealously protect their time and only attend the meetings they really need to be in. Instead, have someone else attend and brief you on what you need to know.

PowerPoint Presentations

Unfortunately this application has become embedded in corporate America. The purpose of presentations should be discussion, brainstorming, and collective intelligence, yet too many executives have fallen victim to extensive slide presentations, which are a terrible waste for executive teams.

It may be hard to muster the strength to banish PowerPoint altogether, so here are my five rules for using it.

  • Anything to be presented at an executive team meeting has to be sent out five days in advance.
  • No more than five slides in any presentation.
  • No more than five bullet points on a slide.
  • If you are asking for people, money, or other resources, it must be stated on the first slide.
  • Do not read the slides or you will be asked to leave—everyone has read them ahead the meeting of and it is an insult to have them read again.

Answering Questions

It’s not the CEO’s job to give employees all the answers. As an executive, if you allow your employees to ask you questions every time they have a doubt, you’ll end up spending a chunk of your day doing your employees’ work for them. Plus, having your employees find the answers themselves allows them to think more deeply, grow, and become leaders themselves. When asked a question by a subordinate, the best answer often is, “I don’t know; what do you think?” My rule: for every 20 questions, I answer one.

Coddling Employees

Executives spend too much time trying to fix the C players in their companies, a nearly impossible mission to accomplish. There is a much better return on investment by coaching a B- to become a B+ or a B+ to become an A than trying to fix all the C players in the world.  Further, A players don’t want to work with C players. By wasting time trying to fix the Cs you may lose the As.

Technology Changes 

Most entrepreneurial companies (and even larger ones) spend way too much time trying to implement technology systems. Often, small to mid-size companies don’t have the experienced talent at the executive level, like a CIO, who has led multiple system integration projects in the past. CEOs try to make these critical changes with a current staff that may have little experience with technology, processes, and change management.

Unfortunately, large technology projects can be a “you bet the company” phase of evolution. The world is littered with companies that started enterprise resource planning projects and failed, even going out of business or customer management systems that cost substantial dollars only to be abandoned. And of course, during these implementations, very few people pay attention to the customers—everyone is focused internally, trying to learn how to operate with the new software.

Virtually every company I have ever met with has plenty of time to run the business if it would just stop doing the things that no longer add value. In my opinion, more important than any “to-do” list is a “stop doing” list. Come up with one every quarter—it’ll help you identify unnecessary tasks, delegate, and uncover hidden time that could be re-deployed into productive and relevant activities.

Reprinted with permission from Quartz. The original story can be found here

(Image via bikeriderlondon/

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