The life of a modern-day CEO can be hectic and challenging.
Running a successful business takes skill, commitment, attention to detail, and process management. At the same time, CEOs are people with families and interests that require their full attention.
So how do successful CEOs stay on top of their to-do lists, balance work, and family, and keep their companies heading in the right direction?
We asked ten CEOs how they structure their schedules, create healthy routines, and maximize the time they are awake every day.
A Day in the Life of a CEO
If you are looking for ways to optimize your day as a CEO, then you’ve come to the right place. These CEOs have revealed their blueprints for making every day rewarding and productive.
Dive into these raw profiles to get some useful takeaways for structuring the days in your life. Apply these productivity tips to become a more powerful and effective CEO.
One of the things that I love most about being a CEO is how different my days can look. I can go from hosting a meeting with upper management to thinking strategically about what the business needs, performing an interview, to attending a website review meeting. The days are full, and I love the variety.
So, let’s dive into what my actual day looks like.
I often find myself waking up early in the mornings, so my rule of thumb is if it’s before 5:00 a.m., I try to go back to sleep. If it’s later, I wake up and start working.
I actually love working in the mornings. That’s probably my most productive time, especially if I have something hard or complex to work through. I tend to be a little bit sharper in the mornings, so if I have something that’s more important, I’ll prefer to put it earlier in the day if possible.
Around 6:30 a.m. or 7:00 a.m., I work out, which I make it a habit to do almost every single day. I have a trainer twice a week who comes to the house, and the other days I work out in my home gym. Sometimes I go for a run, and every once in awhile, my wife and I will go to Barry’s Bootcamp. I can’t imagine starting my day without a workout.
Then, I’m usually in the office around 8:30 a.m.
I have my executive team meeting on Mondays, but otherwise, I try to spread 1:1s throughout the week to have balance.
I follow the Patrick Lencioni “Death by Meeting” framework for running most meetings. This means that we have a weekly tactical with a brief agenda, a monthly strategic, and a quarterly off-site to work through longer-term issues. The idea is that a news bulletin is different from a 30-minute sitcom, which is different from a feature film, which is different from a mini-series.
For my 1:1s, I always prefer to walk. This is more about me – I find that it’s good to get out and get some fresh air. I like to change the dynamic. When you’re walking, it encourages more free-form thinking and discussing top-of-mind items. This is opposed to sitting in a room looking at a screen, which is much more focused on a specific agenda and planned topics. Sometimes, you have to have those 1:1s sitting in a room or looking at your screen, so keeping a mix is best.
I’m a big fan of the thesis behind the book Never Eat Alone. I try to schedule lunch meetings as much as I can. I love getting to know our new employees, so as part of the onboarding process, new hires will book a time to have lunch with me. It’s literally an item on the checklist for new hires to set up a 1:1 lunch with me. This is a great way to get to know everybody and their different personalities. Then, I try to fill up the other lunch slots with 1:1 lunches with colleagues, friends, etc. Occasionally, when I’m too tired or need a break, I’ll eat by myself, but I love to take a real lunch and use it to talk to people, and I encourage everyone at Engagio to do the same.
Towards the end of the day, before I head out, I try to catch up on things like following up on a meeting or sending emails. I usually leave work sometime between 6:00 p.m. and 7:00 p.m. Sometimes, that’s managed by the fact that I have to pick up my daughter from one of her activities, like gymnastics.
I don’t have any routines per se, but I make a cocktail almost every night to relax (I make everything, but I mostly tend towards Manhattans because they’re good and relatively easy). I also like to watch trashy television with my family. It’s a great way to wind down and spend quality time with them.
I try to get into bed no later than 9:30 p.m., which is pretty early, but that’s what you have to do if you’re waking up at 5:00 a.m. the next morning. I’m one of those people who wants close to eight hours of sleep every night to work at my best.
CEO, Single Grain
I try to wake up around 6:00 a.m., depending on how I’m feeling. The first thing I’ll do is check my phone to see how my sleep performed through my Oura Ring.
After that, I’ll typically read the news and save a bunch of interesting articles to Pocket. Then, I’ll fill out my ‘5 Minute Journal’ and brush my teeth. I just got my Peloton bike, so right now I go for 20-30 minute HIIT rides while listening to podcasts, and then jump into the shower. I skip breakfast and jump right into work.
Usually, I’ll only eat two meals a day in an eight-hour window. Mondays are usually packed with meetings since we run on the Traction methodology. I try to focus on the actual “work” on Tuesdays and Wednesdays. Thursdays are for recording podcasts and video content. I try to block off Fridays from any meetings to save time to think strategically or catch up on some big things.
In the evenings, I’ll try to go to sleep by 9:30-10:30 p.m. and read for at least 30 minutes. Lastly, I’ll fill out my ‘5 Minute Journal’, and my day is done.
One thing I’ll add about being a CEO is that Monday mornings are very different these days for me than they were in my corporate days. I heard a sobering statistic once that more heart-attacks occur on a Sunday night than at any other time, as people prepare for another week of stressed-out existence, in their relentless battle up the corporate ladder. Someone far wiser than me summed it up, “Even if you win the rat race, you’re still a rat.”
I truly believe that cultivating great habits compounds, and you’ll eventually see the results you want no matter what.
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CEO, Avenue Talent Partners
I firmly planted myself within the startup, sales, and recruiting ecosystem. My business is driven by people and service versus products. No day is ever the same for me, but it goes something like this:
If you looked up the term “workaholic” in the dictionary, I’m afraid you’d see my smiling face waving back at you. I have yet to master the ‘off switch’ and the very first thing I do when I wake up is reach for my phone to see if what I planned for last night is still the case this morning.
All things nature and animals balance me, and I make sure I have proper time before getting out of bed to snuggle up with my fur babies and take a long look out of my window to listen to the sounds of my backyard.
After that, I get my hands on a big glass of water, get into my workout gear, and get my blood pumping. It’s easy to get caught up in all of the things that can go wrong, that do go wrong, and the stress list goes on. Gratitude is a big deal for me, and I meditate in the shower to set my intentions for the day while reflecting on at least three things I’m grateful for to start my day off on the right foot. Mindset is so very important when you’re riding the entrepreneurial roller coaster!
I celebrate the remote work model and am fortunate that I don’t have to deal with a bear of a commute. The only thing I need to worry about being ‘on my way in’ to work is making the perfect cup of tea to start my day.
I’m a big believer that this business is the sum of its parts, and I work closely with my team to make sure I can block and tackle to remove barriers to continue to deliver results or make their lives easier.
We have text, chat, email, shared docs, NoteJoy, Trello, and the list goes on to make sure the flow of our communication is natural, collaborative, and that we are here for each other. I talk to my team throughout the day.
The very first thing that I do is take time to revise my plan for the day, considering what’s crept up in text or email. I’m a big content fan and use the very first hour to knock my content out. From there, I tackle email with my favorite podcast on in the background (sometimes it’s Howard Stern). I closely evaluate my client’s candidate search to see how we can over-deliver, finish essential project tasks such as planning, ideation, and iteration.
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That list goes on and on when it’s your own business.
The rest of my day is riddled with calls and constant gear shifting: clients, potential clients, research, interviews, sourcing, negotiations, team calls, strategy calls, and networking.
No matter how bananas my day is, I take at least one hour every single day to focus on sales. I live and die by the pipeline. It’s always been my North Star and always will be. If I don’t take good care of it, the neglect will come back to bite me. #WhatYouPutInIsWhatYouGetBack
I’m an avid reader and make sure there is an hour daily to read. I like to challenge myself to learn something new. If I don’t, I feel like I’m getting worse versus better.
Before I step away for the day, I’m a big fan of the to-do list. I audit the current day’s list and build out the following day. I’m a total geek that gets a big charge out of checking items off and seeing it visually.
I’d be lying if I said I just shut it all down and walked away because I have yet to master the “off switch.” The rest of my night has checks and balances of reading blogs, checking my social feeds, peeking back into my email, and performing one last check before I call it a night to make sure I’m mentally prepared for the next day.
In the evening, I celebrate time coming up with my latest recipe in my kitchen, which is my happy, creative place. None of this happens well without my husband, who has so fantastically jumped on this rollercoaster ride with me. Quality time with him taking a walk, watching our latest Netflix series, playing cards, or sitting in our backyard having a chat is the top priority to round it all out.
Before bed, I try to reflect and meditate. Sometimes I’m good at this, but it can be a perpetual challenge. For me, meditation is a work-in-progress, as they say.
Routine is essential for me. I commit at least ten minutes for my mind or body every day. After I make breakfast for my kids and talk to them about the day ahead, I will do a core workout or a Peloton session. I will often spend some time meditating or thinking about my top priorities for the day.
I start with a list of what is important versus what is urgent. I will block off time for important projects, making sure I am working towards those priorities. Tackling the urgent tasks is always a work in progress. Momentum is what matters to me. As long as I keep moving the needle towards the big picture important projects, my time is well spent.
I am constantly auditing how well I have spent my time. When you do different kinds of work, time is clearly important. I do my most creative thinking in the mornings, so I block off a few hours at the start of the day to map out big-picture ideas with pen and paper. I move to meetings and more tactical desk work later in the day when I am the most efficient for those tasks.
I wrap up the day scheduling calls with members of my team. I want to stay very closely connected to our customers, so I will review two or three Chorus recommended calls on my drive home.
After spending time with my family, such as having dinner and getting the kids ready for bed, I have a few hours left of work before my disconnect time. I am strict about disconnecting internet access at 10 p.m. every night. This allows me to clear my mind and step away from the reactive instinct to respond to the sheer amount of communication I’m dealing with at every turn. I meditate, stretch, or do yoga to relax my mind and body so that I can have high-quality sleep and performance the next day.
CEO, Fancy Rhino
Here’s the real picture from today: #NoFilter.
I wake up at 8:46 a.m. after being up all night with a three-month-old. I’m in the car before 9 a.m and off to a coffee shop to focus. I say “hey” to the regulars. My first prospect emails (scheduled the day before) go out at 9:06 a.m.
The next two hours are a flow state: email prospects, check-in with clients, Slack the team, write up a brief. I’m always digging for those deeper interactions with people that make our work worth doing.
I break from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. to meet over espresso or food. I spend this time face-to-face with the people that matter most. My team. Mentors and advisors. A call to my business partner in Los Angeles. Interview a candidate. Brainstorm with a director, a poet, and a brand manager.
After lunch, we’ve got a pitch with a client in San Francisco and Birmingham. We spend way too long figuring out who’s in what time zone and how the screenshare works. Then, we have a blast sharing new ideas; and they’re ready to make something – sweet.
Green lights make everybody’s day.
Nothing good happens in my brain mid-afternoon, so I take a shift back home with the baby. I get back in the zone at 4 p.m. working on tomorrow’s emails, mapping next moves for the team, and texting ideas out.
My evening is for food and family. You have got to draw a line somewhere. Read good books. Hang with people in the community over beers. Build a vision together. This is far more valuable than anything that happens inside a computer screen.
Stay up all night (with the baby). Go for long walks with him in the ergo when everyone else is asleep. Ask myself what I’m doing and why I’m doing it. All my best thinking happens then.
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Finding an ideal day is a moving target, but most mornings start with exercise. I prefer classes, so someone else tells me what to do and kicks my ass. Fortunately, I’m able to go to a gym within walking distance of my home. I try to avoid traffic when I commute, so I bought my own electric scooter to get to work. That allows me to go door-to-door in under 10 minutes.
Whether I’m in the office or on the road, I connect with my team daily to understand how things are going, the highs and the lows, and see where I can help eliminate roadblocks. I also prioritize my to-do list by identifying the top one thing and then doing everything I can to knock it out.
A dinner ritual at home is my favorite way to settle in, especially following a long travel stint. The day could be complete chaos, but I know my corner of it will end with a great meal at home with my fiance, Ana. Balance is important, and I try to achieve that by slowing down with music and reconnecting at home.
I also find it’s important to make time to indulge in my favorite off-work activities, like working on music (hip-hop), duck hunting, watching sports (Chattanooga FC, Arkansas Razorbacks, Atlanta United, and the New York Knicks are my teams), or setting up my next weekend with my college buddies.
CEO, American Exchange
As CEO of American Exchange, I try to focus on the long term vision of the company and new opportunities that exist within the healthcare landscape.
New opportunities demand that I implement the process behind our organization serving that business, but day-to-day, I try to align our services in the best way that helps families and individuals understand their options when it comes to gaining access to healthcare.
By focusing on the long-term vision and allowing upper management to implement new opportunities, I ensure we can serve as many people and organizations in the most effective way possible. Upper management has to have a customer-first mentality to serve the community effectively.
To that end, I spend most of my days focusing on people, processes, and products. How do I maximize my upper managers and incentivize them to perform their best? What processes do we need to implement or improve to make serving our customers as seamless as possible? Why are our customers buying from us or our competition? Why are they renewing or churning? How can we better serve their needs?
My focus across these different aspects of the business tends to vary. But ultimately, all my days map to solving the key questions around optimizing our people, process, and products each and every day.
I get up by 6:30 a.m. and start my day by taking care of personal stuff and helping ship my kid off to school. After that, I check in with the team on Slack as there are usually a few quick inquiries I can resolve rapidly.
From there, it’s time to dive into the meat of my day. Google Calendar is how I run my life. I scan through what we need done item-by-item. I’m all about delegating work effectively to my few direct reports, so I check in on the status of mission-critical initiatives they are running to see if they need help or if they are facing any roadblocks. If there are things that bubble up to me, I make sure I can get them done effectively.
In the mornings, we have our product meetings, which is where I’m very hands-on involved. After that, the nature of what I do changes day-to-day.
Much of what I focus on is process-building, figuring out where we can improve processes, and making that happen. That consumes the majority of my workday.
Like most people with kids, I spend 60–90 minutes away from work when I get back from the office. I’ll unplug for a couple of hours while I spend time with my kids and my family.
Once they go to sleep, it’s the most effective time in my day. At night, once all my family’s asleep and my team is largely offline, I get to focus time on things that cannot be done during the day because of meetings. Paul Graham calls it The Maker’s Schedule.
Nighttime is the time to go deep on stuff that doesn’t require other people. I find things that need to be thought through, implemented, and planned out. For me, it’s the best time to get more strategic and get the bigger picture.
I usually punch in for bed around 11 p.m.–12 a.m., ready to awaken seven hours later and do it all over again.
All the flexibility your business needs to scale.
CEO, Trinity Perspectives
Today began at 6 a.m. for me, giving my baby daughter breakfast and allowing my wife a much needed extra hour in bed. We then wrangled our kids and breakfasts together before I headed to the gym for a quick workout. My wife and daughter met me there later for our baby daughter’s swimming lesson.
All that was wrapped up by 10 a.m., and I headed to my first meeting, a Zoom call with a client in Western Australia. I’m emceeing their annual partner conference in a couple of weeks, so we talked through the audience for the event, the timing and content of the day, plus the key message we wanted people to retain when they leave the event.
From there, I went straight into my next call with the founder and CEO of a business in the Artificial Intelligence and Digital Employee space. He’s interested in working with Trinity to advise him on sales strategy and mentor some of his sales team as they pursue their aggressive growth targets. I liked this CEO because he was very clear on what he was good at, where his gaps existed, and his expectations about the outcomes he needed us to deliver for his business. My approach in these types of prospect meetings is to treat people like they are already a customer, be as honest and transparent as I can be, and try to find ways to add a bit of value. If we work together, great. If not, then at least we both part better for the interaction.
A chunk of the rest of my day today has been devoted to exploring how we transition Trinity’s Win/Loss Service into a software platform, which our customers are screaming for, to deliver a solution that can impact many more deals. I try to switch everything off when I’m focusing on what Cal Newport calls Deep Work. I close down my email, switch my phone to silent, and turn off desktop notifications to avoid slipping in and out of focus.
As I approach the end of the day, I’ll smash through some emails, drop by Linkedin and maybe respond to a few messages, then take a break for a quick game of soccer with my son, followed by a family dinner.
Tomorrow, I fly from Sydney to Adelaide to run a Sales Retreat for a client, so later tonight when the kids are asleep I’ll have a final look through my presentation deck, which I’ll email myself in PDF format for an easy flick through.
Before bed, I’ll pick up either Sapiens by Yuval Noah Harari or The War of Art by Steven Pressfield, which are both sitting on my nightstand and read until my brain quietens and sleep arrives.
Another bit of advice I received from a high flying cubicle escapee that resonated was to redefine what constituted success and each year to measure my new success criteria against my old corporate life. Otherwise, I can feel like a failure when comparing my current income stream to my big fat paychecks of old. But once you add in health, time with family, the opportunity to travel, learning and interesting projects, access to fascinating new people, being your own boss, making an impact, leaving a legacy, having a sense of purpose—suddenly, the golden handcuffs of corporate life don’t seem that appealing anymore.
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CEO, The Silberman Group
A typical day for me starts out with a morning devotional that I send to my team members and close friends. It’s a great way to start the day with positive reinforcement on how to make today the best day of your life.
Many mornings, I meet with leaders and other influential people for breakfast. I have found that to be extremely energizing and educational. It’s amazing the incredible advice you can get from someone that knows nothing about your industry but has transcendental wisdom about business or life that you can apply to your work.
Once I get to work, the first thing I do is prepare for sales meetings. I run through upcoming opportunities, success stories, and failures with our sales team. It’s great to share stories with each other to learn from all of our experiences.
Much of my day is spent with client-facing phone calls and meetings, but if I am not with a client, I’m typically strategizing with the executive team on how we can continue to create a vision and be a forward-thinking company.
Before lunchtime, I often find myself running through emails. I do my best to answer every email within an hour.
During lunch hour, I’m typically getting some sort of exercise in. Whether it’s spin or a high-intensity class, I’m usually in and out. I like to exercise hard and get a good sweat going. It energizes me for the rest of the day.
Lunch is usually on-the-go. I often eat a light lunch and avoid bread as I found myself having more energy in doing so.
The afternoon is typically spent in one more client meeting. I typically wrap up the afternoon by closing out every outstanding email.
In the evening, I have committed to shutting work down until all three of my boys are in bed, and I’ve hung out with my wife. I oftentimes jump back online just before bed and run through and prepare for the next day.
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Daily Routines to Succeed as a CEO
These daily rituals help these company leaders capitalize on every day. After reading them, there are several tips that you can apply within your own life.
Whether you have a lean startup or a million-dollar business, you can achieve even greater success with these tips.
- Plan your day before starting it. Most of us wake up and show up to work with little thought more than an hour ahead. CEOs dedicate time to planning their day and week ahead—then they leap into it.
- Be extremely intentional. Whether it’s checking an email, hitting the gym, or adding an item to their task list, these executives value their time above others. They account for every minute of their lives.
- Say no more often. One phrase wields anyone more power than they realize: “no.” By respectfully declining meeting invites or every single request, an executive increases their effectiveness by focusing on what matters most.
- Develop meaningful connections. Instead of choosing between work or family, many executives make time for both. Since their time is a most valuable asset, they use it to spend time with people they cherish.
- Be accountable. Executives embody the ambition to run their personal lives like their businesses. Some even share a routine of reviewing themselves like they would an employee’s annual performance.
The best part about these tips is that you don’t need to be a founder of a company to benefit from them. It’s not every day you think about the habits and routines it takes to be a successful business leader.
Even if you work for one of the best employers out there, you can use these tips to advance in your career and even launch your own business on your terms.
Best of luck to all the hard-working CEOs out there running a business and maximizing their time for friends and family.
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