5 ways the world’s top CEOs maintain their work-life balance

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There are as many reasons to obtain an online Master of Business Administration or online Executive Master of Business Administration degree as there are applicants for the programs. In terms of the latter, many people pursue an advanced degree to sharpen their leadership skills and reach the C-suite level. These positions—particularly chief executive officer—require a time commitment that can infringe upon an executive’s personal life. Thankfully, the concept of work-life balance has taken hold in the business environment, and many CEOs have their own tips and tricks for maintaining such harmony. Here are five effective strategies these business leaders use:

1. They define their own balance

The phrase “work-life balance” inspires images of healthy executives who neatly spend eight hours at work, eight hours asleep and the remaining eight pursuing their personal passions. However, this concept ignores the fact that people prioritize their lives differently. Some entrepreneurs, especially those in new businesses and tech, are content working upwards of 50 or 60 hours per week. Many even relish it—this lifestyle suits them perfectly. Others need more leisure time with family and friends, preferring to spend only 40 to 45 hours in the office. Rather than conform to preconceived expectations of work-life balance, strong CEOs define the concept for themselves.


Executives create their own definitions of work-life balance.

2. They get creative with their time

Regardless of how many hours executives spend inside or out of the office, there are other obligations that take up their time. According to a CEO.com survey of 256 respondents, executives spend nearly 58 hours per week at work, averaging between 10 and 11 hours per day. They also spend between six and seven hours a night sleeping, leaving six to eight for other activities. This isn’t eight straight hours of free time, however; it’s interspersed with other necessities. Commuting, cooking, taking the kids to school, etc can take anywhere from a few minutes to a few hours, encroaching on an executive’s personal time—which is already in high demand.

That’s why CEOs who prioritize work-life balance get creative. They use carpools to school for family bonding, perhaps listening to a child-friendly audiobook as a group, and work out during their lunch break. Henrik Kjellberg, president of Hotwire and CarRentals.com, takes this concept a step further and trains for ultramarathons during his daily commute. He told Fast Company he sometimes bikes 16 miles from his home in Tiburon, California, to his office in San Francisco, arriving shortly before 8 a.m. Other days, he’ll run nine miles and take public transportation for the rest of the commute.

3. They participate in leisure activities that improve their performance

Kjellberg’s high level of physical activity provides numerous physical and mental benefits that assist him in the workplace. By supporting a stronger heart and lungs, promoting emotional stability and lowering both blood pressure and stress levels, exercise helps executives better address stressful transitional periods within their organizations. Exercise also increases energy and alertness, heightens concentration and improves overall cognitive functions.

In fact, Kjellberg discovered this idea firsthand. He credits his exercise routine for helping him handle a major company reorganization and come up with several new successful offers for Hotwire.

Of course, working out isn’t the only activity that increases work performance. Creative endeavors like writing and playing music have a similar effect, enhancing an individual’s creative problem-solving abilities. In fact, research published in Psychology Today found scientists who pursued a creative hobby were more likely to achieve Nobel prizes. The implied effect—that these hobbies increase cognitive efforts—is highly advantageous in the business environment.

4. They’re firm in taking time for themselves

CEOs must make sure they have time for performance-boosting leisure activities, which means they must be firm when work issues demand their attention. As executives, they understand new tasks that they need to address will pop up every day, but they don’t allow these issues to take over their lives. They refuse to compromise their personal priorities which, in some instances, may earn them more respect among colleagues.

For example, Ernst & Young CEO Mark Weinberger’s dedication to his family earned him greater recognition from clients and co-workers than his speeches, he told Business Insider. After a meeting in China, Weinberger skipped sightseeing with co-workers to take his daughter to her driving test. According to him, no one remembered the speech he gave at the meeting, but they did remember the care and attention he gave his family. Weinberger’s dedication is so powerful he once opted to skip the World Economic Forum to help his daughter move into her college dorm room.

This type of commitment to self is essential. Although executives don’t have to make the same choices as Weinberger, they do need the strength to say no to certain demands on their time and attention.


Saying “no” to certain things is part of maintaining a work-life balance.

5. They learn from their work-life balance mistakes

Sometimes, however, executives say no to a personal or professional event and later regret their decision. Perhaps they finished a little more work by staying late at the office or, alternatively, left early to spend more time with their family. Instead of beating themselves up, good executives treat these moments as educational opportunities. If they regret missing an experience, they know it’s a priority they should maintain in the future.

“I have a theory that burnout is about resentment,” Yahoo’s CEO Marissa Mayer wrote for Bloomberg, explaining her view on the concept. “And you beat it by knowing what it is you’re giving up that makes you resentful. I tell people: Find your rhythm. Your rhythm is what matters to you so much that when you miss it you’re resentful of your work.”

This final tip is also useful for the first: defining one’s own work-life balance. In fact, each of these strategies is best used when influencing the others. This way, future leaders can develop useful habits that allow them to expertly navigate their professional and personal lives.

The Carson College provides opportunities for you to learn work-life balance tips from other executives as well. Our three-day leadership conference created exclusively for our EMBA students gives you the chance to network with other business leaders where you can discuss strategies for balancing work and life.

Recommended Readings:

Five workplace trends on the rise
Three things first-time entrepreneurs should know

Sources:

http://onlinemba.wsu.edu/mba/

http://onlinemba.wsu.edu/executive-mba/

https://www.entrepreneur.com/article/253635

http://www.ceo.com/wp-content/themes/ceov2/assets/How_CEOS_Spend_Time.pdf

https://www.fastcompany.com/3063610/this-ceos-secret-to-work-life-balance-ultra-marathons

https://www.adaa.org/understanding-anxiety/related-illnesses/other-related-conditions/stress/physical-activity-reduces-st

https://www.psychologytoday.com/files/attachments/1035/arts-foster-scientific-success.pdf

http://www.businessinsider.com/executives-talk-about-work-life-balance-2015-11/#former-google-cfo-patrick-pichette-says-life-is-a-series-of-trade-offs-especially-between-business-and-personal-endeavors-4

http://onlinemba.wsu.edu/executive-mba/leadership-conference/