When we think of what separates millionaires and people who have ‘made it’ from the rest of us, their ability to squeeze the most out of every day and every situation is often top of the list.
But success is more often a result of doing the right things. People who find huge success know that it’s more important to do the right thing, even just for a couple hours out of the day, rather than filling up their daily schedules to get every possible task done. They know that’s a fast path to burn-out and would actually stop them from achieving success.
In this article we’re going to break down the time management skills that some of the most successful people in the world use to get more done on those things that really matter to them each day. By the end of it, you’ll have actionable strategies that will help you produce better results at work, as well as improving your personal relationships and physical health.
It Starts With Finding Your ONE Thing
Whether they call it their ONE Thing, their biggest priority, their big, audacious goal — time management pros know what they are focused on. They have a North Star that is always front of mind and they schedule regular, specific times to move toward it.
This requires taking a step back, particularly in work environments. Most businesses have a culture of activity-at-all-costs. Many of us have experienced this — that unavoidable feeling that if we’re not visibly working at all times, things will go terribly wrong.
It’s not true, of course, but it feels like that. But the fact that it’s not true is the key. We can take a step back from working in a reactive, hyperactive way and take some time to think.
Here are some questions to ask yourself on a regular basis:
- What is the true goal of the business?
- What is your part to play in reaching that goal?
- What’s The ONE Thing you can do toward that goal, such that by doing it, everything else will be easier or unnecessary?
- Which of the tasks before you are actually important? Which are urgent? Which are neither and can be ignored?
- What do you need to communicate to your team or customers in order to make the most impact with your available time?
Once you’ve spent some time thinking and getting clear about what’s really important, there are three key time management strategies that will help you be more effective every day.
What’s Your Biggest Priority?
In the book The ONE Thing, Gary Keller and Jay Papasan talk about the Focusing Question, and we touched on this in the last section:
What’s the ONE Thing you can do, such that by doing it, everything else will be easier or unnecessary?
At work, this might mean looking for the tasks that will create major sources of revenue (either immediately or over time), that leverage other people’s skills to free up your time, or that create new opportunities for you and your team to exploit.
If you’re the CEO of the business, your highest priorities are likely to be around creating a culture of success and achievement and further developing your team, so that they can handle more and more implementation work while you focus on strategic planning and partnerships.
If you’re a manager, a high-priority activity for you might be creating an execution plan for a new project and allocating tasks to your team, so that there’s a clear timeline and path to completion, which allows for better budgeting and reporting.
If you’re a new employee, the highest priorities are going to be those tasks that help you get up to speed with your team’s goals and work rhythms, and bringing your fresh eyes and ideas to the execution.
Get Up Early
Mark Ford is an entrepreneur, publisher and real estate investor who has, over the course of his life, made millions. He has been involved in multiple ventures at once — for years at a stretch — and still finds the time to play sports, vacation with his family, learn languages and more.
His time management secret?
Ford calls it the single most important thing you can do to build a rich life — getting up early.
Whether you spend the time on work, exercise, prayer or meditation, an hour alone in the mornings will transform your days.
It’s not revolutionary, it’s not flashy, but it works. That one extra hour can provide you with so much additional momentum that by the time the rest of your world is getting started, you’ve already had a productive day.
Richard Branson agrees: “Over my 50 years in business I have learned that if I rise early I can achieve so much more in a day, and therefore in life.”
Now, whether you spend the hour at home, working quietly before the family wakes up, or head directly to the office doesn’t really matter.
What’s important is that this distraction-free time is focused on your most important work. It’s not the time to check your emails and social media notifications — it’s the time to make real progress on something that will move you toward your goal in a measurable way.
Often our most important task for the day can be completed in this hour. The pure focus that comes from working alone, in the quiet, means that we make progress much faster than normal. This frees us up to tackle the rest of the day as you please, and gives us a sense of freedom and satisfaction that is just impossible to come by otherwise.
Allocate Your Time Appropriately
In order to make the most of our early mornings, we need to learn to prioritize effectively. This is because not all tasks are created equal.
If you’re about to launch a new product, spending an hour creating a demo video to increase sales is time well spent — spending an hour finding the cheapest flight to attend a conference two months from now is not.
James Carville and Paul Begala have a great analogy in their book, Buck Up, Suck Up… and Come Back When You Foul Up: 12 Winning Secrets from the War Room: lions could spend their time catching field mice, but the caloric content of mice is so low that the lions would eventually starve to death.
Lions need to eat big animals, like antelope, to survive and thrive. It’s harder to catch an antelope than a mouse — the lion has to be focused, tune out the rest of the world, and stick with the process for as long as it takes — but it’s well worth the effort. An antelope will feed a whole family of lions and then some.
We’re like the lions. We need to learn to tune out the low-level tasks, even if we feel like they’re making us help progress.
Getting clear on our priorities is what allows us to win big and keep winning.
Once we know what our priorities are, we can move on to spending the right amount of time on them. Time management is not a churn and burn game, with the winner crushing as many tasks as possible. The winner is the person who spends the right amount of time on each task — no more, and no less either.
Sometimes a task we expected to take a whole day takes less than an hour. Effective time management in that situation is about recalibrating your plan for the rest of the day — not spending the remaining six or seven hours fiddling with the completed task.
Other times, we know from experience that a task is going to take a whole week to complete. Being effective here is about clearing our schedule and avoiding the temptation to talk ourselves into believing it will only take three days, ‘because we’ve done it before’.
Be realistic and adaptable with your time. Give each task the time it needs and deserves. Not more, not less.
Still Struggling to Control Your Time?
If you find it difficult to manage your time effectively, there are a few easy strategies you can use to start building some momentum.
- Time Blocking.
Block off time each day — as much as you need — to work on your ONE Thing. Look ahead at your week on a Sunday and plan your schedule according to your most important tasks. What days of the week do you need to work on them? Which hours will be dedicated to your most important work to ensure it gets done? Plan for it, put it on your calendar as an appointment with yourself, and then don’t deviate from this plan.
A Pomodoro is similar to a time block, but designed to move you through a long task. Set your timer for 25 minutes and work without interruption until the alarm rings. Then take a five minute break — get some water, walk around, stretch — then repeat. This keeps you on task and focused because you have a deadline (and a break) on the horizon. You can use this timer to do Pomodoros from your computer.
- Start Small.
If you find it hard to manage a big goal, break it down into smaller parts so that you can build up some momentum. Let’s say your ONE Thing for the week is to generate a long list of warm leads for your real estate business. Well, to end up with that list, you first have to find the people you’re going to reach out to. You can start small on this task by compiling a list of 100 people that you are going to call today. Once you succeed with this domino, you’re ready to do the next thing, which is to pick up the phone and start calling people.
Want to take your time management skills to the next level? Get free access to one of the key modules from our new course, Millionaire Productivity Habits. You’ll learn one of the most powerful tweaks you can make to your daily schedule to make sure that your most important work gets handled every single day. Click here to get access to this members-only video and start managing your time like a pro.