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How The Most Successful People Manage Their Time

manage-their-time

“Where does the time go?” I say it. I’m sure you say it a lot.

We seek work-life balance but it seems there’s never enough time to get it all done.

And yet we all know there are people who accomplish a lot more than we do in a day — and they don’t have magic powers.

How do the most successful people manage their time?

Laura Vanderkam talked to a number of those people (including productivity expert David Allen and the former CEO of Pepsi) and found out their secrets.

She’s written about what she learned in a series of books:

  1. What the Most Successful People Do at Work
  2. What the Most Successful People Do Before Breakfast
  3. What the Most Successful People Do on the Weekend
  4. 168 Hours: You Have More Time Than You Think

I gave Laura a call and we discussed what she learned from successful people about managing time and getting things done.

Here’s how you can get tons of stuff accomplished during the week, feel less stressed and even have more fun on the weekend.

 

1) Do A Time Log

Interviewing so many successful people, what did she hear some version of over and over? They all seem obsessed with one question:

What else could I do with that hour? 

They plan their time, track their time and are always thinking about the opportunity cost of their time.

The first question you need to ask is “Where is my time actually going?” Not where you think it’s going, where is it actually going.

This does not involve leaning back in your chair and kinda sorta guessing about what you vaguely remember doing.

Write down what you do for every hour of the day.

Let’s just say seeing clearly in black and white how you spend your time can be sobering. Or, in some cases, downright depressing. But it works.

You can’t trust your head when it comes to time. You need to be accountable. Dieters who wrote down everything they ate lost an extra six pounds.

Via What the Most Successful People Do at Work:

One study of a year-long weight loss program, published in the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics in 2012, found that women who kept a food journal lost about 6 pounds more than those who did not. Writing down what you eat keeps you accountable for what you put in your mouth. Likewise, writing down how you spend your time keeps you accountable for the hours that pass, whether or not you’re conscious of them.

There are other benefits to doing a time log. It helps you figure out how long things really take versus your optimistic underestimates.

Here’s what Laura told me:

It’s just a matter of observation and saying “What is it that I repeatedly do in my life, and how long did it really take each of those times?” If that regular Monday 10 a.m. meeting is scheduled for an hour but it has never taken less than 90 minutes, then you need to be realistic and stop scheduling stuff for 11:00.

The other benefit that comes from doing a time log is you can see the optimal windows for you to accomplish certain tasks.

Are you sharper in the morning? (Most people are.) Then you can schedule “deep work” for that time.

(For more on the six things the most productive people do every day click here.)

So you’ve started a time log (and you’ve probably spent some time crying after reading it) and now you’re ready to spend your hours better.

What’s the next step? You need a plan. And not some little one either.

 

2) Plan The Whole Week

In a study of CEO’s what correlated with an increase in sales? Not how much time they had, but how much time had been planned out.

Via What the Most Successful People Do at Work: A Short Guide to Making Over Your Career:

Preliminary analysis from CEOs in India found that a firm’s sales increased as the CEO worked more hours. But more intriguingly, the correlation between CEO time use and output was driven entirely by hours spent in planned activities.

Georgetown professor and super-organizer Cal Newport agrees: To-do lists aren’t enough. Things need to be assigned hours to really get done.

How do you create your plan? Think about two things: what are you good at and what makes you happy?

Successful people spend as much time as possible on their “core competency” and ignore, minimize or outsource everything else.

They spend time on that thing they’re best at which produces meaningful results.

Writers need to be writing. Accountants need to be working with numbers. And everything else (like email and meetings) just gets in the way.

Laura also suggests creating a long list of things that bring you joy. Yes, you need to write them down.

Might sound silly but by having an actual list it’s easier to remember them and slot them into your schedule vs waiting for serendipity.

(For an example of the type of schedule very successful people follow every day, click here.)

So you’re putting your plan together. What’s another secret of successful people that delivers results over the long haul?

 

3) Morning Rituals Are For Things That Don’t Have To Happen

Morning rituals are for those things that are important but not urgent. Long term planning. Exercise.

The stuff we know we should do… but perpetually put off. These things don’t have a hard deadline and nobody will shout at us if they don’t happen.

Via What the Most Successful People Do Before Breakfast:

The best morning rituals are activities that don’t have to happen and certainly don’t have to happen at a specific hour. These are activities that require internal motivation… The best morning rituals are activities that, when practiced regularly, result in long-term benefits.

Research shows we have more willpower in the morning.

One of the successful people Laura spoke to said: “Every day I have a job but in the morning, I think I have a career.”

Mornings are the time to make progress on those vital long term goals.

(For more on how the most organized people structure their time, click here.)

Time log: check. Weekly plan: check. Morning ritual: check. What else requires some forethought? Fun.

 

4) Yes, You Even Need To Plan The Weekend

Here’s where people freak out. They don’t want to plan their free time. But if you’re serious about your leisure time, then take it seriously.

I’m not talking about planning work or chores. I’m talking about planning fun — as in making sure you have some.

How many weekends have blown by where you didn’t get off the couch and, frankly, it wasn’t all that memorable? Exactly.

Research shows we’re happier when we plan our free time and that “doing nothing” doesn’t make us happy.

More importantly, studies have shown that you often don’t do what makes you happiest — you do what is easy. So you need to plan if you want to have fun.

What’s a weekend plan look like? Nothing draconian. Laura says you just want 3-5 “anchor events” to make sure you’re having a good time.

Here’s Laura:

Just three to five anchor events can really make the difference between feeling that a weekend was spent well, and that a weekend merely happened. And these don’t have to be huge things. It could just be, “I’m going to go for a run on Saturday morning. I’m going to try get together with this friend on Saturday evening. I’m going to go to church on Sunday morning.”

Looking to be happier? By planning fun stuff ahead of time you get to anticipate it. And research shows anticipation makes us very happy.

Best part is even if you don’t follow through and do the anchor event, you already got the anticipatory happiness. Happiness and laziness!

Via What the Most Successful People Do on the Weekend:

One study by several Dutch researchers, published in the journal Applied Research in Quality of Life in 2010, found that vacationers were happier than people who didn’t take holiday trips. That finding is hardly surprising. What is surprising is the timing of the happiness boost… The happiness boost came before the trips, stretching out for as much as two months beforehand as the holiday goers imagined their excursions.

(For more research based tips on how to make your weekends more awesome, click here.)

Weekend fun is locked in. What’s the most vital part of insuring you’re ready for the workweek to start again?

 

5) How To Conquer The Sunday Night Blues

You know the weekend is over and tomorrow it’s back to work. Instead of being filled with dread, plan something awesome for Sunday night.

Here’s Laura:

Even people who like their jobs can succumb to this: “Oh god the weekend’s over!” One way around that is planning something low-key but enjoyable for Sunday night — anything you can look forward to Sunday afternoon instead of thinking about Monday morning.

Research shows Sunday is the saddest day of the week. Plan something fun ahead of time and that doesn’t have to be the case.

(For more on how to achieve work-life balance, click here.)

Okay, we’ve got some great tips. Let’s pull this together.

 

Sum Up

Here’s what you can learn about time management from very successful people:

  1. Do a time log. See how long things take and when your best windows are.
  2. Plan the whole week. Focus on your core competency and what makes you happy.
  3. Have a morning ritual that gets you closer to your long term goals.
  4. Set 3-5 anchor events for the weekend.
  5. Plan something fun for Sunday night.

168 — that’s how many hours we all have every week. We need to get out of the mindset of “I don’t have time.”

We all have the same number of hours. Period. It’s what you choose to do with those hours that will shape your entire life.

To quote a video game franchise I worked on a while back:

We all make choices. But in the end, our choices make us.

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