You’ve probably read countless articles that highlight the typical schedule of a big startup CEO. Popular founders such as Mark Zuckerberg, Mark Cuban, and Jeff Bezos are constantly mentioned in the news for their tiresome schedules. Catchy headlines such as “What time Jeff Bezos wakes up everyday” or “How many hours of sleep Marc Cuban gets a night” pull us in and make our brains rethink the way we work and live.
Should we also be waking up at 4am? Can you be successful if you don’t work sixteen hours per day? You begin to wonder if you’re doing it all wrong. We compare our work lives to the status-quo society CEO’s way too often.
It’s time we shift our mindsets and realize we don’t have to follow their lead to be successful.
The “typical” CEO schedule and comparison
You read that the typical CEO wakes up sometime in between 4:00am-5:00am and that their day looks something like this:
4:00am-5:00am: Meditation/check emails
6:00am-7:00am: Shower/drive to the office
7:00am-8:00am: In the office ready to go
8:00am-7:00pm: Grind, grind — meetings, work, client projects, etc
And some even work longer and harder than this. Big CEO’s report staying in the office to as late as 10:00pm on some weeknights. Here’s the thing to keep in mind: what works for one person, doesn’t always work for another. So although this schedule might be conducive to Mark Cuban’s life, it’s likely not going to work for the majority of the population.
Hard work is great, but when does it become too much? When do we begin to realize that our time isn’t being used as efficiently as possible? Burnout is real and you need to try to avoid it. Over the past decade, we’ve promoted an unhealthy and unsustainable work-culture in America and big CEO’s have a lot to do with it. So hats off to you, Jeff Bezos, but sixteen-hour workdays aren’t always necessary or warranted.
Ask yourself: are you being productive or are you just super busy?
Productivity > being busy.
The schedule of a “mindful” CEO aka me Colette Nataf (CEO of Lightning AI)
I founded Lightning AI a little over three years ago. And although I was initially caught in the trap of thinking I had to be busy 24/7 in order to be productive, I thankfully escaped that mentality fairly quickly. I’m mindful with my schedule now and know what I need to do in order to lead my company to success.
Nowadays my schedule looks a little something like this:
Wake up whenever — I honestly don’t set an alarm and I naturally wake up sometime between 8:00–9:00am.
9:00am: Check emails and respond to anything super urgent
9:30am: Take my dog for a walk
10:00am: Officially start the workday
10:00am-1:00pm: Daily standup + 2–3 hours of meetings
1:00pm-2:00pm: Lunch break! Woohoo!
I keep a running list of prioritized tasks at all times. For anything that needs to get done, I add to this list and prioritize. Personally, I enjoy doing technical tasks in the afternoon right after lunch, so these are usually quiet and scheduled blocks of time. I turn off slack and close my email to stay focused. Find what works for you and stick to it.
2:00pm-3:00pm: Work on top priority tasks from the running list
3:00pm: Break time! I either go for a walk, watch tv, or do something non-work related to de-stress.
3:30pm-5:00pm: I finish up the day by checking emails and responding to messages. I’m usually done with my workday by 4:00pm or 5:00pm. This might “only” be a six to eight hour workday, but by the end of the day I feel both productive and like I can still function for the rest of my day…aka spend quality time with my family!
This isn’t all sunshine and roses — as a CEO, there are often times where I have projects that I have to work on and finish even though I wouldn’t necessarily choose that project. By the end of these projects, I’m typically exhausted and have no interest or desire to keep working. But I don’t beat myself up over it. Instead, I stop working for the day or take a break until I get my mental energy and clarity back.
Being busy isn’t the same as being productive.
Over the past three years, I’ve learned that being busy isn’t the same thing as being productive. We all fall into the trap of thinking just because we are working more, we’re being more productive. And more often than not, that’s simply not the case.
Being busy is frantic while being productive is focused.
Take a step back and look at your business model. Look at your revenue over time. If you’re waking up at 4:00am and “grinding” until the sun goes down — I hope your sales aren’t just increasing but doubling. We can usually be a lot more efficient with our time than we originally thought. The current hustle culture in our society is to blame for thinking that we have to have crazy, ultra-demanding schedules in order to be successful.
I used to work 15+ hours every day, and now I work 6–8. I was able to cut out a lot of unnecessary “business” and increase productivity at the same time. And in my professional opinion, being mindful of your schedule is the key to being a successful CEO.