How to build a $15M company working 40 hours or less as a CEO

How to work 40 hours or less as a CEO; take all the vacation you want and still be productive.

It seems impossible right? How can a CEO only work 40 hours or less and still be effective? How can a CEO take all the vacation they want (within reason) and still get shit done?

Well, I can tell you that I did it. For near 10 years, I worked my ass off, but worked no more than 40 hours per week (typically), and helped grow my company to over $15M in Revenue each year, with 50+ employees, and thousands of independent contractors.

Here is how to work 40 hours or less as a CEO, and still kick ass:

Prioritization is paramount

As a CEO, you must optimize to be as effective and efficient as possible. Gary Keller, the founder of Keller Williams and author of The One Thing, preaches focusing on the ONE thing that YOU can do each day that is of utmost importance. In his words,

What’s the ONE Thing I can do / such that by doing it / everything else will be easier or unnecessary?

Gary Keller, The One Thing

Putting this into practice is always hard. But it is much easier when you are starting your company or starting out at your job and have a clear view of what needs to get done right now.

So now matter what strategy you use, it is of utmost importance to truly spend time on the ONE thing that you can do every day. Day after day.

Track your time

The most effective among us have the same number of hours as everyone else, yet they deploy them better, often much better than people with far greater raw talent.

Peter F. Drucker, The Effective Executive

I can’t tell you how much time is wasted on nonsense, meetings you don’t need to attend or aren’t contributing value to, etc.

There are so many things that simply do not go towards your ONE thing.

The only way to combat this is to track your time. There are plenty of time tracking tools out there, but I went with an old fashioned excel spreadsheet.

For this, I tracked the Date, Start Time, End Time, Total Time Spent (auto-calculated), Task Description, Category in my Time Log Spreadsheet. Then I created queries to sum up the time spent each day, week, month on each category. Then the results were spit out into a nice to look at visual chart that really helped me to get a feel for how I was spending my time:

My CEO Time Log – To be effective, you have to measure.

Over time you can really see patterns emerge.

Not only that, but tracking every minute of every day allows you to make changes on the fly. Ensuring that I split my time on the ONE thing each day, week, month, year, etc.

Be relentless with your time

My former employees can tell you how fast I sometimes walked in and out of the office and how efficient I tried to be. The bottom line, is that once you start tracking and seeing where you may be wasting time, you need to eliminate that time completely. Period.

Schedule in-depth quiet time blocks

The bigger and more successful you get, the more important this is.

When you are an individual contributor, you have these blocks of time built into your day for you. But as you hire more employees or move up within an organization, your schedule at some point is no longer yours.

The best way to take this back is to schedule thinking and working time blocks into your daily schedule. Only YOU can determine what that looks like, but for me, it was not scheduling any meetings on Fridays. Or it was keeping my afternoons after 3pm clear. This allowed me to have some time every day to catch up on anything missed, but also to really dig in when needed.

Delegate or die

1. Gather everybody around.

2. Answer the question and explain the philosophy.

3. Make sure everyone understands the thought process.

4. Ask one person to write it in the manual.

5. Let everybody know they can decide this without me next time

Derek Sivers, Anything You Want

As your company grows, or as you start to take on more responsibilities in a traditional role, you simply must delegate. Delegate or die is how Derek Sivers puts it in his book, Anything You Want.

I couldn’t agree more. You must delegate, you must trust your employees.

Create excellent Job Descriptions for your employees. Make sure they know EXACTLY what their job is supposed to be. Make sure they agree and understand how their performance and compensation will be analyzed, graded, and determined. If that is as clear as can be, it is very easy to hire great people and delegate.

Schedule your vacations in advance

How is it possible to take 4 weeks of vacation a year as CEO? Once you have delegated it is quite simple.

Schedule them at least a month in advance. Put them on a shared calendar. Tell everyone very clearly that you will be out of town from x date to y date. Then remind your staff as much as possible, two weeks before, one week before, etc.

Then head off on your vacation, put your phone on airplane mode and enjoy.

Have a clear job description for yourself

As CEO, you may think that you don’t need a job description. WRONG.

This is so important. Especially if your job has changed over the years, like mine did. In the beginning, I was a individual contributor, I was in charge of near everything. It was all on my shoulders.

But later on down the road, your job has changed, and you need to actually have a job description.

Create goals. Map out your ideal time split. Figure out what it is the ONE thing that really helps you to move the needle at the current moment, and in the current quarter, year and 5 years ahead.

The more comprehensive the better here. I recommend WHO, The A Method for Hiring by Geoff Smart for not only creating job descriptions, but all hiring.

End your day at the same time every day

This part is easy and hard. But when you set really good boundaries with your employees, then it makes it easy.

You have delegated, and so you are not the end all be all when there are fires. Your employees can handle them.

Then you simply leave at the same time every day. For me, this ended up being 4:30 PM, so that I could go and take my kids to the park before it got dark. In fact, I would leave before most of our employees on most days.

But once you start leaving consistently around the same time every day, your employees know not to bother you too close to the time you are leaving. Plus since, I typically haven’t had meetings on most days since around 3pm, it is easier to get shit done and then wrap up your day.

Then, you walk out the door and don’t look back.

Rome wasn’t built in a day. Your company is not built in a day. Profits are accrued one day at a time. Slowly, but surely.

Avoid the peer pressure

This gets harder as you grow, but avoid the peer pressure to work late or not take vacation.

Some of my VP level employees would be so proud that they hadn’t taken vacation all year. Or some complained that they couldn’t take a vacation, because they had so much to do.

We would then go over many of the strategies in this post. Everyone needs a vacation. Everyone needs a break.

Avoid the peer pressure that your own employees may put on you. Set the tone from the top. You can be effective working 40 hours a week. You can grow your company during this time frame.

You can put family first.

Avoid the peer pressure.

Bonus: Have great business partners.

Not everyone can luck into having great business partners like I did. I was lucky enough to find them on the internet, and get to know two great guys and business partners over the years.

Sharing a vision and passion for the company is obviously needed, but also ensuring that your partners are going to cut you slack when you need, and pick you up when you need, is critical.

You may not have any way of knowing this when you start out, and I think I probably got very lucky, but my business partners also allowed me to be able to work 40 hours or less, and still be productive.

We agreed that vacations were important. We agreed that work wasn’t everything. Family comes first. Not only did we agree, but we actually practiced what we preached.

Lastly, be present at home

Lastly, make sure that you are present at home. If you want real work/life balance, you have to make sure to not be constantly checking email at home or on vacation.

To do this, you have to come up with a system. Either checking email at set times or simply turning off notifications. No matter what you decide to do, it’s not worth it if you are constantly eating, breathing, thinking CEO.

Be present at home and strike that real balance you are looking for.

Enjoy your life. Enjoy your vacations. You got this.

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  1. Scheduling vacations in advance is something that I’ve had a lot of difficulty doing. Something seems to always come out. But I guess scheduling in advance forces you to put other things aside.

    It’s just weird, because there’s always a lot of fun things for me to do in San Francisco. It mostly Involves playing softball or Tennis are going to meet up that his start up or Internet related.

    1. I think to a certain extent that is great that you live somewhere that you don’t feel the need to take a vacation. I love that. I feel that way sometimes, but I also enjoy new experiences local, national, or international.

      Every trip, no matter the place, usually expands my mind or dazzles the senses in some way.

  2. I am also efficient, but the company I work for, well, that doesn’t match the culture. So, I sit around in worthless meetings and have longer than needed conversations to fit in.

    I know I can leave, but the job is within 10 minutes from home and has a nice pension. Any other job would require a longer commute.

    1. At least you know the tradeoffs and the game you are playing. I think a 10 minute commute is great, and probably makes the longer hours much easier to bear.

      Hang in there, keep grinding and seeing if you can keep making more space for yourself to be efficient and take the time off you deserve.

  3. Great article AR, thanks for sharing!

    These tips are actionable. End your day at the same time every day is definitely a challenge, that’s a great goal.


  4. Pretty motivational stuff, AR!

    I’m trying to be more time-conscious these days…trimming the waste, boiling down to only the best, most-essential activities.

    Out of curiosity…have you written any in-depth pieces about the nature of your work/your company?? (and I completely understand if you haven’t due to anonymity concerns)

    Anyway, good stuff. I’ll be coming back more often!


    1. Thanks!

      I have not yet written anything about the nature of my work/company. This is largely due to anonymity concerns. At some point that may change, but so far what I have written about are things that are relevant to any type of business or anyone in a leadership role.

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