15 Secrets Successful People Know About Time Management

Time Management. It’s a thing we all want to be better at, because we want to – need to – get more done in less time. There’s just never enough time to do it all!

Work, social life (pandemic excused), Netflix and chill, learn a new skill, write that book, spend more time with the kids … the duties go on. And so does the to-do list.

My to-do list has about 40 items on it. Then I have my “other” to-do lists where I might break one of these projects into smaller chunks to make it more doable. I have 8 such projects in my to-do list. Then I have my journal with additional tasks that come along day-to-day. Not to mention other “duties” which aren’t even in there like exercise or that book I want to write.

Sound familiar?

There was a time I thought I had to do it all, had to find a better way to do time management because I should be able to get all these things done. I studied productivity courses, read books and blog posts, and came to a deep realisation:

Will it really matter when I am gone?

When you look at everything on your to-do list, you will probably see that a lot of these items are not actually “yours” but have been given to you by others.

The more books I read from and about those who have achieved the seemingly impossible with the same 24 hours we all have, a few key points about time management crystallise. One of the key things that the top achievers don’t do is work from a to-do list. They may have one, but their days are planned around their calendar.

Here are 15 Secrets Successful People Know About Time Management, based on the book of the same name by Kevin Kruse (as well as informed by my own studies). The book is also summarised and linked at the end. There are more things inside than just these 15 secrets.

Secrets of Time Management: The Pareto Principle

The 15 Secrets About Time Management

You don’t have to adopt all of these, but even a few will put you ahead of the everyman.

  1. The reality of time: Each one of us only has 1440 minutes in a day. Once they are spent, they are gone. Other resources (e.g. money) can be replenished, but time cannot. Spend each one with the care it deserves instead of squandering it. When you’re dead, it will be the minutes you made count that will be the sum of your life, not the ones that didn’t. Choose how to make them count, what to make them count for, and enjoy them. They are not burdens to carry, but gifts to spread.
  2. Identify the most important task you have to do each day, and do it first.
  3. Use a calendar to plan your day, not a to-do list. Did you know that 41% of tasks on people’s to-do lists never get done? I can attest to that one – my to-do list is a mammoth thing of must-dos, important things, wishlists and wouldn’t-it-be-nice-ifs.
  4. To overcome procrastination, beat your future self. I like to call this one sabotaging your own self-sabotage (your own SOS). A typical example is hitting snooze on the alarm. If you know you will do this, how can you sabotage your own self-sabotage? Put the alarm away so you have to get out of bed to stop it. Another is putting off exercising. SOS? Get your training gear ready and set it out in front of you when you wake up. Try this SOS exercise with any task you like to put off.
  5. There will always be more to do, so when you’re done for the day, stop. The rest can wait. Burning the candle at both ends to try to “get more done” in the time only diminishes your returns from future time spent.
  6. Always carry a notebook. Richard Branson swears by this and I have seen many senior execs do this also. There is something tactile about writing things down, and it has been proven to be a more effective tool than trying to remember or even typing. The mind is designed as a processor, not solely a library, and writing has a way to tell the brain that this piece of information is more important than the rest of the noise.
  7. Control your inbox. Don’t use the excuse of a full inbox, message list, to-do list as a means of procrastinating. Remember, most of the things in those lists are other people’s things – not yours. Switch off your notification and focus. Choose when you engage with your inbox and don’t get sucked into time spirals.
  8. Meetings are a last resort. Most meetings are often a waste of time, but if you must go try to group meetings so you keep your day open for your important work. You might have a rule that says no meetings on Wednesdays, or no morning meetings. It’s your time, so choose how you use it (see 1).
  9. Say no to everything that doesn’t support your goals. This is tough as we’re all brought up to be supportive and to not come across as rude. But if you want to get anywhere with your own goals, you will have to say no to taking on other people’s. A yes to their things is a no to one of yours.
  10. The Pareto Principle is a good guide. 80% of the results come from 20% of the activity. Contemplate which of your activities will generate 80% of your results and focus on those.
  11. Focus on your strengths and passions. These are where your magic lies, but if you constantly try to improve your weaknesses you will make yourself a great “average” at best. Learn to be bold and strengthen what you’re best at, and – where you can – delegate (or don’t do) the rest.
  12. Batch your work with recurring daily themes. The brain works best when it stays focused on one type of task instead of switching or multitasking. Many entrepreneurs divide their week into three types of day – focus days, buffer days and free days. Focus days are when you work on the activities that drive you or your business forward (e.g. needle movers – see my journaling playbook for more). Buffer days are for admin and routine activities. And free days are time off to reset and recharge.
  13. The 5-minute rule. If you can do it in less than 5 minutes, do it. Don’t half do it, then come back to it later. For example, if you’re processing email and you can clear it off, do it. It will take you longer to pick up your train of thoughts next time to revisit it than it would to complete it now. And that’s a waste of time!
  14. Use early mornings to strengthen your mind and body. Most high achievers don’t get up and dive into work. They use the first hour of the day to strengthen the mind (learning) and body (exercise) before doing anything else. Exercise has been scientifically proven to improve mental health, but more on that in another post.
  15. Productivity is about energy and focus. Techniques such as the Pomodoro technique emphasis the sprint-and-relax approach to working. These techniques advocate our brains are designed for short sprints – not marathons – so you should take regular breaks (for example every hour) even if you come back to the same task. A couple of minutes stretching or some fresh air can do wonders for your energy and focus.

Item 9 on this list pervades a lot of our lives. In my teenage years, I experienced the literal effects of carrying other people’s tasks. During my Bronze Duke of Edinburgh award, my ‘teammates’ claimed their packs were too heavy and, since mine looked lighter, could I carry their few tins, stoves, etc. Each one didn’t seem like much and I was happy to please.

The end result was that my pack was 20Kg heavier than everybody else’s and far over what it should have been. Our mentors noticed this when I staggered back into camp after the hike and disciplined the others in the team. I learned in a very physical way that taking on other people’s tasks is a sure way to weigh your own progress down.

Next week I will outline my time management framework which embodies a number of these principles into a flexible yet inclusive system to help you get the right things done.

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