Should an executive answer his own emails and spend 40% of their day in meetings?

There was a former CEO who would often note that his job was never to answer any email but to spend his time thinking and talking. He expected his assistant to answer all the emails or, if urgent, to discuss with him. His role was to focus on the business and its people. Research emerged in 2019 that noted that the average senior executive spent 40% of their day in meetings and 3 hours a day answering emails, leaving around 1 hour for people and clients. What could go wrong?

The above CEO would argue that he spent 4 hours a day with people, 3 hours thinking and one hour a day in meetings. He would never say he was more successful but he would note that both he and his people did not face the trust issues that had been plaguing many companies and that his business performed effectively.

He would ask if the greatest mistake that many made was less the so-called pressurised environments and fast pace which he questioned was, in truth, a reality but more whether the reduction in the number of P.As and secretaries had placed too much pressure on those who had not been trained to type and answer their own emails. Had we, he asked, created a generation of execs who were highly educated but not given the time to think?

His argument was that a senior executive should place away the laptop and mobile and spend time reflecting, thinking and talking with their teams.

It is an interesting perspective. Each generation is more educated than the previous one but over time, many costs have been cut from business, more processes implemented creating more administration for each person to do. Is the environment really more pressurised or is the job just busier and more intense?

One of the most common discussion pieces over the last year has been how many have enjoyed the time to reflect and think without the daily speed of pre-covid life. It is one of the leading arguments in ensuring that there are better work-life balances to be found as all companies do rebuild post-pandemic as this reflection had led, it is argued, to better internal communications, care and compassion.

The pre-pandemic world was too fast, too expectant and pressurised, so why were we so shocked that many felt disengaged, stressed, anxious, and unhappy? It was all a natural result of the fast lifestyles which had been created which took few prisoners. All talked of a higher standard of living but mentally were sad, unhappy and struggling.

Many have enjoyed getting fitter with daily runs and walks. Many talk about how time spent outside reflecting has helped them become far better problem solvers and kinder too.

However, is the answer even simpler – that executives do need assistants so they can do their job better? That 7 hours a day in meetings and on email often creates its own problems?