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6 Time Management Techniques From The World's Most Successful Business Leaders

Barnaby

Barnaby Lashbrooke

Founder and CEO of Time etc, author of The Hard Work Myth

10 minute read

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As business owners, most of us will agree that time is very rarely on our side.

It can be incredibly frustrating and disheartening when we give our all yet still feel the weight of having so much left undone.

Although we all have the same amount of time each day, why is it that some people seem to accomplish so much more than others?

There are many ways to get ahead in life, but time management skills are among the most powerful. As recent studies show that a whopping 82% of us navigate our daily schedules without an effective time management system, could this be the missing piece of the puzzle that takes us to where we need to be?

Let's take a look at how some of the biggest names in business have managed their time to make their success possible.

1. Time-blocking - Elon Musk

If there was ever a person who exemplified the 'busy entrepreneur', it's Elon Musk.

As the leader of groundbreaking companies such as Tesla, SpaceX, the Boring Company, X Corp., and Neuralink, and as the father of 11 children, it begs the question, how does he do it all?

The secret lies in a technique known as time-blocking, or time-boxing. Simply put, it involves breaking up your day into specific 'blocks' of time, where each block is dedicated to working on a particular task, or group of specific tasks.

Rather than keeping an open-ended to-do list of things you’ll complete as and when, time-blocking pushes you to be more intentional about how you spend your limited time each day. No more multi-tasking or half-measures, you give your undivided attention to the designated task in each block until the time comes to move on to the next.

Musk takes this technique one step further with what he calls his '5-minute rule', breaking his day down into 5-minute blocks, but it's still as effective when you keep it simple.

For example, your morning schedule could look something like this:

  • 09:00-10:00: Your most important task
  • 10:00-11:00: Write report
  • 11:00-11:15: Break
  • 11:15-11:45: Plan agenda for tomorrow's meeting
  • 11:45-12:45: Research

Giving yourself a set start and finish time for completing tasks means you'll be more likely to get it done within that period, as you’ll naturally find yourself becoming more disciplined, focused, and efficient to make sure everything is wrapped up in time.

Not only that, scheduling time to dedicate to a single project or task allows you to put all of your mental resources towards one thing, rather than scattering your attention across multiple tasks. The more you “mono-task”, the stronger the mental muscles required for deep work become, and the easier it becomes to stay focused.

When working through your schedule, it's essential to stay disciplined. When a block ends, move on, even if the task isn't fully complete. With time, you'll become better at estimating how much time each activity takes. Lastly, keep some buffer blocks for unforeseen tasks or breaks, so you can avoid being derailed by distractions.

Instead of purely reacting to what each day throws at you, this time management strategy can help transform a chaotic day into a structured flow of focus.

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2. Day-theming - Jack Dorsey

If you're at the helm of not one but two industry-shaping companies, every second becomes crucial. Such was Jack Dorsey's life as the co-founder and former CEO of Twitter (recently rebranded to X by Elon Musk) and the CEO of Block.

So, how has he been able to juggle such colossal responsibilities and still maintain a semblance of work-life balance? He embraced day-theming as his time management technique.

Day-theming is the practice of dedicating an entire day to a specific domain, project, or set of tasks.

In a 2012 interview with Fast Company, Dorsey explained how he applies this technique to manage his schedule. “All my days are themed. Monday is management. At Square, we have a directional meeting, at Twitter we have our opcomm [operating committee] meeting. Tuesday is product, engineering, and design. Wednesday is marketing, growth, and communications. Thursday is partnership and developers. Friday is company and culture. It works in 24-hour blocks.”

But how does this help you work more efficiently?

The main benefit of day-theming is that it allows you to enter a day-long flow state. It's much easier to get things done—and done well—when you're fully immersed and engaged in what you're doing.

Each time you start a new task that requires a different 'headspace', it eats into your mental energy reserves. It becomes increasingly harder to focus, and even the most simple and straightforward tasks can drag on when your energy levels start running low.

And when you're constantly swamped, it's easy for certain things to fall by the wayside. Or, they end up hastily rushed at the end of the day. While you don't have to theme every single day, dedicating even just one day per week to a particular area will make sure it gets the focus and attention it deserves.

See: 3 Ways Your Calendar App Can Make You More Productive Every Day

3. 10-minute meetings - Richard Branson

In the corporate world, meetings can easily become time-consuming black holes, eating up hours with endless discussions.

One study found that managers can spend a staggering 45% of their work week in meetings with four or more people.

But Sir Richard Branson, the billionaire founder of the Virgin Group, firmly rejects this.

"While some circumstances call for workshops and more elaborate presentations, it’s very rare that a meeting on a single topic should need to last more than 5-10 minutes," he shared in one of his blog posts. Not only that, he's also an advocate for standing meetings. He adds, "If you stand up, you’ll find that decisions get made pretty quickly, and no one nods off!"

At first glance, Branson’s technique might sound implausible. How can significant business decisions or brainstorming be condensed into a mere ten minutes?

Think about it, how much time have you spent in meetings that seemed endless, only to realize that half the time was spent on digressions or waiting for everyone to settle in? By setting a short, strict timeframe, attendees are prompted to come prepared, get straight to the point, and prioritize key topics.

The core idea here is not about rushing through discussions but about streamlining them. Keeping meetings concise ensures that every minute is purpose-driven, every participant is engaged, and every decision is prompt.

See: How To Master Meetings To Get The Most Out Of Your Day

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4. Relentless prioritization - Arianna Huffington

It’s easy to fall into the trap of thinking you have to work as much as physically possible in order to succeed, especially for business owners. And as your business grows, so too does the work needed to keep the wheels turning. The temptation to 'do it all' can be pretty potent.

But the truth is, not all roads lead to Rome.

A workload stacked with more tasks than you can realistically handle is a recipe for disaster—both personally and professionally.

This is something that Arianna Huffington, co-founder of The Huffington Post and the founder and CEO of Thrive Global, knows all too well. In a world flooded with tasks and distractions, she swears by her habit of "relentless prioritization."

So, what exactly does relentless prioritization entail? In the words of Huffington herself, “Relentless prioritization is about relentlessly asking ourselves what’s essential to be completed today. And then focusing on what does have to be completed, which requires eliminating distractions—including random notifications, social media scrolling, and clearing low-priority emails.”

This is why it's important to remember that one person can only do so much. Trying to be everything to everyone makes it easy to lose focus on the most important work and become overwhelmed by all the demands on your time. Determining what tasks genuinely demand your attention allows you to channel your energy efficiently, making the most of your day.

See: How To Prioritize As An Entrepreneur: What To Do When All Tasks Feel Important

5. Four buckets - Bill Gates

Have you ever found yourself caught in a hectic frenzy with what feels like a million new tasks to tick off each day? If so, you're not alone. It might just sound like all part of the job description for a business owner, but in fact, you may be experiencing what researchers refer to as 'priority dilution'—a more subtle form of procrastination.

According to a report by Southwestern Consulting, priority dilution is common among high-achieving busy professionals, affecting around 58% of managers.

"While priority dilution has nothing to do with laziness, apathy, or being disengaged (like traditional procrastination) it nets the same result: a delay of the day’s most important activities because your attention shifts to less important, but perhaps seemingly more urgent, tasks," explains co-founder Rory Vaden. "You are trading your to-do list for emergencies."

Bill Gates, the legendary co-founder of Microsoft, was so worried about falling victim to priority dilution that he crafted an ingenious time management technique to keep it at bay: four buckets.

Cris Capossela, Microsoft's chief marketing officer and Gates’ former speechwriter, shared with CNBC how Gates used this technique to stay on top of his priorities. He divided his available work hours into four quadrants, or 'buckets', each dedicated to a goal or major project. This way, he could see a clear visual representation of where his time was being spent. If an important bucket was looking a little low on time, he would adjust accordingly.

Capossela has since adopted this time management technique himself, noticing a significant positive impact. His advice is to start by dedicating 25% of your workday to each bucket category. He also recommends a three-month trial period and see if you feel more productive and in control of your work by the end of it.

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6. Delegation - Tony Robbins

With only so many hours in a day, no matter how hard you try there will be times when it's simply impossible to accomplish everything within the time frame you have available. Sometimes no amount of time management tips or hacks can change the fact that you are only one person, and you can't be everything to everyone.

This is something that personal development powerhouse Tony Robbins realized early in his career.

"I think in the very beginning the hard thing is you think you can only do it yourself and then there’s only so many hours and you’ve got kids and family and friends and how do I do it all?" he shared in an interview.

"I could be doing something that’s so productive and I’m standing in line at the dry cleaning place... I said, 'I’m gonna hire somebody.' Two hours a day, that’s what I need to start with. And then it was 4 hours," he explained. "And so my view is I don't do anything that someone else can do better, and I don't do anything that isn’t the highest and best use of my time."

Think about it this way: if you could get even just one extra hour back in your day, how much of a difference would it make?

Having an extra set of hands to manage your email, handle admin work, chase invoices, and more, you can focus on the important tasks that will take you further.

Back then, Robbins' only option was hiring someone, either full- or part-time. Today's digital world has opened the door to a whole host of support options, and you can easily outsource work to a virtual assistant (VA) for a fraction of the cost.

Remember, delegation is not a sign of weakness, but of an effective leader. It's a strategic move that helps you work smarter, unlocking greater efficiency, productivity, and growth.

What’s the bottom line?

Navigating entrepreneurship requires more than just passion, it demands strategy.

From Musk's meticulous time-blocking to Robbins' elimination of time-wasters, the right time management techniques can be among the most powerful tools in your arsenal.

At Time etc, we understand the value of time. We've witnessed firsthand the transformative effects of maximizing productivity and achieving a fulfilling work-life balance.

Since 2007, we've been a trusted partner to over 22,000 business owners, helping them unlock their full potential by matching them with top virtual assistants to tackle their mundane, repetitive tasks.

Ready to take back control of your time? Speak to our expert team to get started, and we'll set you up with a dedicated virtual assistant to help you achieve more, do more, and earn more in your business.

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About the author

Barnaby
Barnaby Lashbrooke is the founder and CEO of Virtual Assistant service Time etc as well as the author of The Hard Work Myth, recently recommended by Sir Richard Branson. Barnaby is a Forbes Columnist on productivity and is also an accomplished entrepreneur, selling more than $35 million worth of services.

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