Over the past five years, I have probably worked around 80 hours a week, every week. While this was doable before kids, it became increasingly more challenging with the arrival of my first and then my second (perfect) children.
Over the years, I have asked for advice about CEO workload from founders and CEOs who have had large exits. Their responses weren’t particularly encouraging:
“How did I manage to do this with kids? Simple: I had kids after we exited.” (I got this advice from two people who built multi-billion-dollar companies.)
“There are usually five dimensions in your life: health, family, work, friends, and hobbies. Pick three.” (CEO of a multi-billion-dollar company.)
“You should be aware of burnout and not work these wild hours.” Me: “How much did you work in the early days?” Him: “In the early days? We didn’t sleep.” (CEO of two massive public companies.)
As you can see, most of the advice wasn’t that useful. At least for me. Part of the reason is that I’ve already had kids, so waiting until post-exit isn’t an option. Also, I think that for first-time CEOs and founders like me, the workload is higher since we haven’t done it before and must work harder to stay ahead. So what can we do?
Steps I took to go from 80 to 60 hours of weekly work without reducing my impact
I don’t believe that you can run at 80 hours a week for years. You will collapse, if not mentally, then physically. If you are a parent, caregiver, or partner, it becomes almost impossible — and very challenging for your partner.
Many people talk about how much Elon Musk works. He says he works 80 hours a week. Even if true, he’s running two multi-billion-dollar companies. So he isn’t working 80 hours a week on each. On average, he’s working 40. That means, on a per-company basis, compared to most CEOs, he’s a slacker. So you should be able to run one company well in much less time than 80 hours a week.
And if you don’t get deliberate about your workload, it can be dangerous to the company and you. That’s where I was before realizing that I needed to make a change.
So I spoke to around 15 CEOs of hypergrowth companies and got some excellent advice. Before I share it, note that most CEOs I talked to work about 60 hours a week at this stage and are remarkably efficient with their time. This finding aligns with research that says CEOs work 62.5 hours a week on average.
Here’s how I reduced my workload from 80 to 60 hours a week to ensure I can service my company for many years:
- Added one hour of sleep (I now sleep seven instead of six)
- Wake up at 5 AM instead of 4:30 AM
- Work out every day for 45 minutes and meditate for 5
- Stop working once I hit 11 hours for the day (unless there’s something urgent)
- Track how many hours I work each day to ensure I’m not taking on too much
- Created 90 minutes of white space in my calendar every day
- Hired a Chief of Staff
- Hired an executive assistant
- Started saying no more often to things that don’t drive impact
- Changed all 30- and 60-minute meetings to 25 and 55 minutes
- Blocked 30 minutes for lunch each day
- Take a day off when things aren’t busy instead of waiting for the perfect time — which will never come; I take advantage of the downtime to recharge
- I use Boomerang to pause my inbox on Saturdays
- Delegate everything I can while holding others accountable
- Started asking myself questions weekly that probe whether I’m doing my real job:
- Am I setting the bar where it should be for my team and holding them accountable?
- Am I doing only what I (the CEO) can do?
- Am I deliberate on how I show up?
- Am I building a strong culture?
- Am I addressing all of our biggest threats?
- Am I communicating our mission, vision, and strategy to the company regularly?
- Do I have the right people working on the right things?
When you are CEO of a startup, the work is endless. And since you love it, you never want to stop working. But I have learned that you have to if you’re going to win.
How are you managing your workload?
Full disclosure: I was able to make the changes above after our B round. I don’t know if you can make all these changes at all stages of a company’s growth.