How Leaders Spend Their Time

How Leaders Spend Their Time

We’ve all heard the advice that one of the best ways to become the kind of person you desire is to model the behavior and habits of people you admire or who have achieved the success you are striving for. So if you want to be a great leader, do what great leaders do. But, what are the common things that successful leaders do that we all can emulate? We decided to find out.

CMOE recently asked influential and successful leaders across North America a simple question: How do you spend your time during the work week? We collected, analyzed, and reviewed the responses from leaders across a variety of organizations from John Deere to Kellogg’s; Google to Adobe. We found out just how much time they spend doing various activities throughout the day and the consistent habits they have developed along the way.

We averaged the time spent daily for each activity and identified the typical time-of-day certain activities are performed. We then used this information to outline how the average day of a leader might look.

Here is what we discovered (click the image for a larger version):

The Average Leader

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Let’s break down the day with some suggestions and tips:

Wake Up

Get up early! The average leader starts their day at 6:15 am. That is good, but if you really want to get a jump-start try 5am. These hours tend to be distraction-free and have a substantial impact on performance.

If you aren’t sure this habit is common, just take a look at how automobile advertisers target commercials throughout the day. In the early hours the commercials are for luxury and higher-end type cars. As the day progresses, more moderately priced vehicles are highlighted. This is not coincidence. Advertisers spend millions to reach their target audience so it’s safe to assume that most financially successful people get an early start on their day and we recommend you do too.


It’s commonly known and we hear it a lot: exercise controls weight, improves mood and boosts energy. Exercise also helps to get the blood flowing early and quickly.

If you think you just don’t have time for exercise, consider the fact that the average (very busy and successful) leader exercises for 45 minutes per day. If they can do it, can’t all squeeze in 45 minutes for an activity that will add years to our lives later on? If you don’t have 45 minutes, then at least squeeze in 30 minutes. Online journals, publications, and exercise research commonly recommends 30 minutes or more for exercise to be effective.

Utilize the Commute

We all have to get ready for our work day, and most of us commute. While more and more people are working from home and employers are becoming more flexible with this option, the commute still exists for most.

The leaders who responded to our questions said their commute averages 25 minutes each way. But, they don’t waste this time. If at all possible, they are productive on some level. Use this time. If you are the one driving, listen to audio books or make urgent phone calls (hands free of course!). If you ride a bus, train or subway, catch up on your reading or respond to e-mails. Completing small tactical tasks and making the most of your time during your commute can help free up precious minutes you can use later on in the day.

Manage Your Email and Texts

Leaders told us that they spend an average 2 hours and 25 minutes of the day on email and texting. Email and texting are the most used forms of communication. Depending on what you are doing and the tasks at hand, you may be doing more emailing and texting than the average. This is perfectly acceptable as long as it’s productive.

Keep your email and texting time productive by implementing the following strategies:

  • Schedule your email and text time. Identify a specific time each day or an allotted time span between checking your messages, and adhere to this schedule. Of course, you can make exceptions for emergencies, but most of the time the messages can wait.
  • Limit your time. Along with scheduling your time, make sure you limit the time you spend doing these activities.
  • Keep your emails/texts short. Be clear and concise. Not only will this help reduce the time you spend, but it saves time for the recipient as well.
  • Consider a phone call instead. If your email or text is lengthy, requires a response, may strike further discussion or need clarification, then make a phone call instead.

Planning and Strategy

As you can see on the infographic, the average leader spends 25 minutes per day on strategy and planning. We know that some strategy sessions last longer than others and the time spent on strategy per day will sometimes be less. However, carving out time any amount of time in the day to focus on true strategy or long term planning is critical. At CMOE, we’ve been researching strategy – and teaching leaders on how to be strategic thinkers for over 35 years and we have found that if you spend 15 minutes or more in a single day in this area, it will allow you to capitalize on strategic opportunities that others miss.

Meaningful Meetings and Conference Calls

Meetings are useful and needed, but they need to be productive. Don’t just have a meeting to have a meeting. Here’s how to deliver a high impact meeting or workshop if you are interested in learning more about how to have productive meetings.

Don’t forget that a conference call is a virtual meeting, so the same rules apply. Keep them productive and meaningful. You can use some of the same tips from the post mentioned above. After all, 2.44 hours per day that the average leader spends in meetings should not be wasted.


One of the 10 traits of strategic leaders is to be collaborative. This rings true to many leaders as most leaders only spend 1 hour and 45 minutes per day on their own personal tasks and projects. The rest of their working hours are spent working with other people and teams. This solidifies the fact that strategy is a team effort and that an effective leader spends the majority of their time working with and helping others.

You Time

One of the most important things we learned when we asked leaders how they spend their time is this: the importance of carving out some time every day for themselves. The average leader spends 30 minutes per day on personal development. We feel that this should be closer to an hour, but we also understand that time is limited. Maybe more time can be squeezed into the 3 hours of unaccounted time identified by the leaders we heard from. Nonetheless, time spent improving yourself, your skills and even learning new skills, is never time wasted. It is one more critical action you can take as you model the behavior of great leaders!

How does your day compare? Let us know in the comments below.

About the Author

CMOE Design Team

CMOE’s Design Team is comprised of individuals with diverse and complementary strengths, talents, education, and experience who have come together to bring a unique service to CMOE’s clients. Our team has a rich depth of knowledge, holding advanced degrees in areas such as business management, psychology, communication, human resource management, organizational development, and sociology.