13 Time Management Techniques For Busy Business Owners

More than money, finances or even knowledge, time is the one asset that every entrepreneur and executive in the world must rigorously protect. That’s why effective time management is so critical to your future success.

As a business leader, chances are that you have a million-and-one things to deal with every single day.

There’s no doubt in my mind that you lead an extremely busy life, and chances are that you’re feeling like there’s never enough hours in the day to get everything done.

“Until we can manage time, we can manage nothing else.” – Peter F. Drucker

Good time management means being more productive, working smarter and not harder, and being able to achieve the goals you set yourself.

Time management is a skill that allows you to have a healthier work-life balance, reduce your stress levels, and lead a more fulfilling lifestyle.

How to Master Time Management

In this exhaustive guide, I’ll be going over everything you need to know on how to become a master at managing your time.

I’ll show you what the essential time management skills are, what mistakes to avoid, and 13 different time management techniques and strategies you can use to take back control of your time:

What Is Time Management?

Time management is the ability to effectively manage the amount of hours you have in a day through active planning, prioritization, and goal setting.

Effective time management is vital to increased productivity and better efficiency as well as sustained success in all aspects of life, both personally and professionally.

Essential Time Management Skills

While there is no shortage of time management tips out there, the truth is that time management is a very personal process.

What might work for one person might not work for you, and it is up to you to uncover the best time management system for you and your life.

However, there are a handful of key areas and skills that can be found in every successful time management system.

Which is why learning to master these skills is essential to better managing your time.


These are the six time management skills you need in order to become more effective than ever.

Building Reliable Systems

Excellent time management begins with having a system that you can reliably depend upon and use every single day.

The system that you use will be the foundation on which all your planning, prioritization, and goal setting will be built.

The first thing you need to do when setting up your own time management system is figuring out where you’re going to store all your tasks and thoughts.

This is going to be your central repository for tasks, ideas, and anything else that might need your attention.

By far, the most common and popular way to achieve this is through the humble to-do list. Despite its simplicity, legions of successful entrepreneurs such as Sir Richard Branson and Barbara Corcoran all swear by the power of the to-do list.


Barbara Corcoran’s To-Do List. Image via Fast Company

While there are a variety of different ways you can manage your to-do list (more on this later), the key here is to keep it as simple as possible.

Don’t spread it out over various apps or tools, as that’s going to severely limit the chances of you actually referring back to it on a regular basis.

Some people like to keep their lists using apps such as Notion or Evernote, others prefer pen and paper, and some use more specialized apps like Trello or Basecamp.


Image via Medium

Whatever it is you use, make sure it’s something that you can see yourself using — and I can’t stress this enough — every single day.

Aggressive Prioritization

Prioritization and time management go hand in hand.

Having one without the other is like having Sherlock Holmes without Dr. Watson, Frodo without Sam, or Bert without Ernie. Unthinkable.

A cornerstone of successful time management is knowing how to prioritize the tasks that actively move you toward your big picture goals.

It’s less about simply doing more and more about getting more quality out of the time you have.


Image via Gartner

This is why you need to be as aggressive as possible when it comes to choosing what it is you want to focus on.

In a study of just over two dozen CEOs and how they managed their time, Harvard Business Review found that the most efficient and productive CEOs were all masters at prioritization.

Each one had a big-picture agenda that allowed them to optimize their limited time and focus on the most important and urgent tasks.

Essentially, tasks that actively contributed to their long-term goals and vision would be considered a higher priority compared to tasks that didn’t, with the CEOs reporting that the more time they spent on these types of tasks, the better they felt about how they were using their time.

This aggressive prioritization also applies to other aspects of life, not just work.


Image via World Services Group

Effective time management also means learning to prioritize personal time, as in time spent with on family and friends, hobbies, and personal activities.

In the same Harvard study, it’s notable that each CEO would set hard limits to the amount of time they would devote to work, with all of them actively setting aside personal time as a way to keep themselves grounded and decompress from their often stressful schedules.

Good Routines and Habits

The next time-management skill to leverage is the power of good routines and habits.

A large part of getting better at time management is working toward reducing your day-to-day cognitive load and the potential for decision fatigue.

Your brain only has so much space and energy to process things, which is why you need to find a set of everyday routines and habits that will preserve your precious mental focus and energy for more important things.

We already have these types of subconscious habits already. In his book, The Power of Habit, Charles Duhigg uses examples of activities like brushing your teeth in the morning as an subconscious habit.

You don’t think about what time you need to do it or if you should be going clockwise or counter-clockwise with your toothbrush. You just do it.

Once something becomes routine, your brain naturally doesn’t devote any conscious effort into it because you don’t need to anymore.

To make the most out of your precious time, you need to be able to get into the kind of headspace that allows for you to be as productive as possible.

That means finding ways to automate routine tasks that don’t require your complete attention and carving out specific times in the day for low-priority tasks.

This is why many entrepreneurs tend to have a set morning routine that they’ll follow as a way to get themselves into the right mindset for the day.

Another positive habit is setting aside a few minutes, either at the start or end of the day, to organize and evaluate your to-do list for the day.


Image via 21 Day Hero

PRO TIP: Take advantage of the power of “habit fields.” It’s a concept based in environmental psychology and concerns how our physical surroundings subconsciously affect our mental states.

For example, it’s difficult to do any productive work in bed because your mind naturally associates your bed with relaxation and sleep.

Practical Delegation

If you’ve ever wondered how entrepreneurs like Jeff Bezos, Elon Musk, and Mark Zuckerberg manage to do it all, the short answer is: They don’t.

Behind every powerful entrepreneur, there is an exasperated and sleep-deprived assistant.


Image via PXFuel

As an entrepreneur, chances are that there’s no shortage of responsibilities and tasks you’re juggling. While you don’t necessarily need to have an executive assistant, you do need to have people around you who you can delegate to.

Another study by Harvard Business Review found that up to 41% of your time could easily be passed off to others. If it often feels like you’re doing too much, chances are, you’re right.

Delegation and outsourcing are extremely important because they greatly reduce your workload and free up more of your time for growing the business, instead of wasting it on day-to-day tasks that someone else can take care of.

This is when knowing how to hire the right person becomes extremely important.

It can be difficult for many entrepreneurs, especially those starting out, to be comfortable with letting go of certain responsibilities.

But the reality is that practical delegation is essential for anyone looking to lead a successful business.


Image via Neil Patel

Bringing someone onto your team is always the best move, but if you don’t have the time or resources to train someone, consider hiring an expert.

Another potential resource is hiring a virtual assistant to help you manage your day-to-day administrative tasks.

Tim Ferris famously advocates using virtual assistants in his book, and John Lee Dumas famously grew his business to seven figures by building a team of virtual assistants.

Plan for Spontaneity

A classic mistake that many people make when it comes to time management is forgetting that it’s impossible to plan for everything.

Regardless of whether you want them to happen or not, mistakes will happen, errors will occur, and accidents have a bad habit of arising when it’s the most inconvenient.

As someone once so eloquently said: “Shit happens.”


Image via Flickr

For you, this means taking extra care to account for these moments of spontaneity whenever you’re making a plan.

As humans, we are naturally bad at planning, often vastly underestimating the amount of time it would take to complete a task as well as overestimating how easy it would be to execute it.

This wouldn’t be so bad if not for the fact that we often have a bad habit of packing our schedule so tightly that a single unforeseen event can drastically derail our plans.

“If you’re overscheduled or end up with a gap in your day, you don’t have the distance you need to correct it, and you go into pure reactive mode.” – Julie Morgenstern.

To properly account for surprise delays and sudden distractions, the most successful executives always set aside time to specifically deal with these kind tasks.

Some will simply add in extra time to each task, no matter how simple, in case something comes up. Another executive might set aside a few hours each day to handle specific types of issues.

According to Harvard Business Review, CEOs will on average spend about 36% of their time in reactive mode, handling unforeseen distractions and unfolding issues.


Image via Harvard Business Review

The key here is to ensure that your own time management system is flexible enough to allow for these kinds of spontaneous moments by being realistic about what you can achieve in a set amount of time.

Constant Experimentation

Perhaps the biggest time management myth out there is the belief that there is “one perfect system” for managing your time.

Much like how there is no one perfect marketing strategy or one perfect business model that’s guaranteed to work for everybody, there is no one-size-fits-all strategy for time management.

Some people thrive when they use digital tools while others prefer going old-school with a physical notebook, some people work best in the morning and others are natural night owls.

The key is to continually experiment with a variety of techniques until you find a system that’s tailored specifically to you.


Image via Planview

Just because one particular system doesn’t work for you doesn’t mean that you’re a failure at time management.

Too many of us adopt an “all-or-nothing” mindset to our detriment, falsely believing that because we can’t make a certain system work that we’re doomed to procrastination and stress for the rest of our lives.

When in reality, it’s all about being willing to continuously adapt and improve until you do find the system that suits you.

I’ve personally tried a whole slew of different time management methods and techniques over the years.

Taking bits and pieces from different systems until I’ve created one that’s uniquely my own and works perfectly for me and my lifestyle.

Today, my own time management system is a mixture of Day Themes, The Ivy Lee method and GTD.


While you’re reading through this guide, remember that you’ll rarely get everything right on the first try.

Try everything on the list, or just a handful that appeal to you, but really give it a red-hot go and see what sticks.

Keep on experimenting and iterating until you discover a system that you feel comfortable with using every day.

PRO TIP: It can be difficult judging your own productivity, so enlist some help – could be a friend, a colleague or even your boss – to help you evaluate your progress and provide feedback.

1. Time Blocking

As I mentioned above, humans are naturally bad at planning. Research has shown that our brains find it difficult to properly conceive the amount of time it takes to complete a given task.

On top of that, the further away the results are, the less likely your brain is able to comprehend the amount of time you’ll need.

This is when time blocking comes in handy.

Time blocking is a time management technique in which you plan out your day or week in advance and block out chunks of time for specific tasks and responsibilities.


Image via Doist

The idea is that, instead of having an unstructured day during which you frequently switch between different tasks and lose focus as a result, time blocking allows you to dedicate your attention to single tasks.

By actively taking the step to plan out your week down to the minute, you’re forcing your brain to realistically estimate how much time you actually need to complete a task.

Elon Musk is an adherent to the time blocking method, as it allows him to prioritize his most important tasks and proactively remove as much distraction as possible from his day.

While it’s unlikely that you’ll be able to stick to your schedule exactly, time blocking still gives your day the structure it needs to keep you focused, and it helps you recognize what your biggest time-wasters are.

You can easily get started with time blocking by using calendar apps such as Google Calendar and color-coding tasks based on what type of task it is.


Image via Medium

PRO TIP: Time blocking works best when you have an understanding of your natural energy levels and at what points in the day you’re at your most effective.

For example, if you work best in the morning, set aside your highest priority tasks during the morning, and leave your less meaningful work for later in the day.

2. Day Themes

On the opposite side of the spectrum, we have the concept of day themes: Instead of scheduling everything down to the minute like you do with time blocking, you don’t keep a schedule at all!

This time management method is especially useful for people who have a wide variety of responsibilities that require their full attention.

Day theming works by dedicating a full day of each week to a certain category of responsibilities or area of focus.

For example, Monday might be dedicated solely to writing, Tuesdays for meetings, Wednesdays for coding, and so on.


Image via Entrepreneur on Fire

By using day themes, you’re able to limit the amount of task switching you do and increase the likelihood of practicing “deep work.”

Conceptualized by Georgetown University professor Cal Newport, deep work is whenever you’re doing meaningful work that requires intense concentration and focus.

By setting aside days to complete deep work, you’re more likely to produce the kind of work that moves you closer to your goals.

Jack Dorsey, co-founder and CEO of Twitter and Square, and Paul Graham, co-founder of Y-Combinator, are big fans of day themes.

“The way I found what works for me is I theme my days. On Monday, at both companies, I focus on management and running the company. Tuesday is focused on product. Wednesday is focused on marketing and communications and growth. Thursday is focused on developers and partnerships. Friday is focused on the company and the culture and recruiting. Saturday, I take off; I hike. Sunday is reflection, feedback, strategy, and getting ready for the week.” – Jack Dorsey, co-founder and CEO of Twitter and Square.

Graham takes it a step further, using a combination of time-blocking and day themes by separating his day into two sections and assigning a theme to each section.

For example, he might dedicate his morning sections of time to just meet with founders and his afternoon sections for deep work.


Image via BrightGauge

Dr. Alice Boyes, author of The Healthy Mind Toolkit, regularly schedules a day devoted to “clearing the desk,” which means working on tasks she’s been putting off for a long time.

She uses those days to take care of all the tasks that might not be completely necessary but that will save her a lot of time in the long run.

3. Getting Things Done (GTD)

One of the most popular and battle-tested methods out there for managing your time is David Allen’s Getting Things Done (GTD) system of productivity.

The main philosophy of GTD is to free up as much mental space and energy as possible by getting everything out of your head, then pre-determining what needs to be done and how to do them.

By doing this, you’ll be able to focus on what matters instead of feeling overwhelmed by a multitude of tasks.

To achieve this, Allen has developed a five-step process to help you figure out what actions you need to take for each task in your life and what should be prioritized.

In practice, the GTD process looks like this:

  1. Capture. You begin by first filling up your to-do list with everything requiring your time and attention. Allen prefers using pen and paper, but feel free to use whatever works best with your lifestyle and the way you work.
  2. Clarify. Once you’ve written everything down, it’s time to break down each item into its most logical next step. Items that aren’t actionable should be eliminated, and any tasks that can be done in under 2 minutes should be done immediately.
  3. Organize. Next, classify each remaining item into its proper category. This can involve setting hard deadlines for each item, breaking down larger projects into their smaller individual tasks, and deciding if that item should be bookmarked for later or delegated to someone else.
  4. Reflect. Make sure to review your to-do list regularly (once a week is good) so you know what else is in front of you, what can be cleared off the list, and what needs updated where necessary.
  5. Engage. After completing the previous steps, all that’s left now is to regularly engage with this system and get to work!


Image via Lifehack

The great thing about the GTD system is that it’s incredibly flexible and customizable, making it very easy for anyone to implement.

PRO TIP: If you find yourself stumped with tasks and you’re not sure what the next step is, try applying the “Find Out, Decide, or Do” formula. Do you need more information? Can you make a choice about what needs to happen next? Is it possible to take action right now?

4. Zen to Done (ZTD)

Developed by Zen Habits founder Leo Babauta, the Zen to Done time management system is a modern update to the GTD system and designed to address GTD’s deficiencies.

The main difference is that Zen to Done takes a more holistic approach by focusing more on building positive habits that allow you to become more productive in all areas of life.


Image via Biggerplate

Zen to Done works by helping you form and practice 10 habits that Babauta has identified as vital for increased productivity.

Babauta recommends that for best results, you should only focus on developing one habit at a time before moving on to the next habit on the list.

  1. Collect. Same as GTD, you want to create a central repository for all your thoughts, projects, ideas, and tasks.
  2. Process. Get into the practice of making immediate decisions for each item; decide to either take immediate action, eliminate it, delegate it, file it for later use, or set a time to do it later on your calendar.
  3. Plan. Start your week off right by listing out no more than three of your Most Important Tasks (MITs) of the week that you need to achieve. You can also practice this daily every morning by listing out what your MITs are for the day.
  4. Focus. Make sure you’re only completing one task at a time and not attempting to multitask. The key to this is cutting out as much distraction as possible from your environment, so that can mean turning your phone off, setting a timer for work, and closing any unnecessary windows or tabs.
  5. Keep lists. Create a simple system of category lists to help you organize your tasks; some suggestions include lists for work, social, home, family, and errands.
  6. Organize. Always have a place for everything. When something doesn’t have a place, it can too easily be forgotten or lead to procrastination.
  7. Review. Review and reflect upon your time management system regularly. Baubata emphasizes paying extra attention to how your weekly and daily goals line up with your long-term goals for the month or year.
  8. Simplify. Accept the fact that you can’t do everything on your list, and get rid of anything that isn’t essential.
  9. Routine. Create a routine you can comfortably follow that maximizes your productivity and time.
  10. Find your passion. Work on what you’re passionate about and interested in doing. When you’re passionate about that task, you’ll have no problem overcoming procrastination.

5. Just Say “No”

As an entrepreneur, you need to be ruthless when it comes to your time and what is worth your attention, which is why it’s critical you learn how to say “No.”

And yet, many of us (myself included) have difficulty when it comes to turning people down. It might be because we fear coming off as arrogant or being disliked, or because we genuinely want to help others.

Whatever the reason, the cost of not saying no can be tremendous.

Even if the requests are simple and only take 10 minutes of your time, accepting too many of these requests can eat into your schedule, and you’ll soon find yourself spread too thin.

Remember that your own time is precious and that you only have so much to spend.

Learning to say no all begins with ruthless prioritization.

Oftentimes, it’s difficult to turn down requests for your time and attention because they all seem equally important at the time. That’s why it’s so important to know exactly what your priorities are.

Warren Buffett does this being eliminating anything he considers non-essential from his life by following a very simple exercise:

  1. Write down your top 25 career goals
  2. Review the list and circle your top 5 goals
  3. Anything that hasn’t been circled is now your “avoid-at-all-costs” list.

That’s literally it.

For Buffett, anything that isn’t a primary goal is considered a major distraction and therefore a roadblock to your success.

It might not be easy, but Buffett argues that any time spent on these non-essential goals is time that could be better spent on what’s truly important.

Using Buffett’s 2-list strategy, ruthlessly cut out the non-essential goals in your life. Any tasks that don’t further your top five goals, you can immediately say no to.


Image via Andreas von der Heydt

6. The 18-Minute Planner

As an expert and coach on time management, for the past 30 years, Peter Bregman has worked with hundreds of CEOs and business executives to help them better manage their time and increase their productivity.

The major thing he discovered in the past three decades in teaching time management is that it all comes down to having the right rituals.

For Bregman, it’s not enough to simply set a plan for the day and hope for the best. In order to truly master time management, it needs to be an ongoing process you regularly check in on multiple times throughout the day; this helps keep yourself accountable and consistently make progress on your goals.

“We need a ritual that’s clear enough to keep us focused on our priorities. Efficient enough not to get in the way.” – Peter Bregman, CEO of Bregman Partners.

According to Bregman, all you need is 18 minutes a day to become a better time manager. That’s 5 minutes in the morning, 5 minutes in the evening, and a minute to refocus every hour.

In a typical 8-hour workday, that all adds up to only 18 minutes of your time.

Here’s how it works:

Morning Minutes (5 Minutes)

At the start of every day, spend 5 minutes planning out your to-do list and what your biggest priorities are for the day.

Bregman recommends doing this before you turn on your computer, or any other electronic device, so that for a full 5 minutes, all you’re doing is thinking about what needs to get done.


Example of Bregman’s own morning minutes. Image via Farnam Street

Refocus (1 Minute Every Hour)

To keep yourself accountable and help course correct, set a timer to go off every hour.

Every time that timer goes off, take a step back from whatever you’re doing, and for one full minute, take stock of where you’re at with your task list.

Evening Minutes (5 Minutes)

At the end of the day, spend 5 minutes reviewing how your day went by asking yourself the following three sets of questions:

  1. How did the day go? What success did I experience? What challenges did I endure?
  2. What did I learn today? About myself? About others? What do I plan to do — differently or the same — tomorrow?
  3. Whom did I interact with? Anyone I need to update? Thank? Ask a question of? Share feedback with?

According to Bergman, make this a ritual you do every day, and you’ll quickly become an expert at managing your own time.

7. The Eisenhower Matrix

A to-do list is a great start, but knowing what to do next doesn’t necessarily translate into knowing what you have to do next.

A common mistake people make that greatly sabotages their productivity is prioritizing tasks based on their urgency and not on their importance. While they might seem similar, there is a very subtle but significant distinction between the two.

For the 34th president of the United States, Dwight D. Eisenhower defined important tasks as activities whose outcomes lead to us achieving our goals, but urgent tasks demand our attention because the outcomes of their consequences are more immediate.

As a former general in the U.S army, a head of state, and the Allied Forces Supreme Commander during World War 2, it’s safe to say that Eisenhower had no shortage of responsibilities that demanded his attention on a daily basis.

To deal with this, he developed a simple tool to help him distinguish between what was truly important and what he should be prioritizing.


Image via Develop Good Habits

The Eisenhower Matrix, or urgent-important matrix, allows you to categorize tasks into one of four quadrants depending on their importance and urgency:

  • Do. Tasks that are both urgent and important are the tasks that need to be done immediately. These are your biggest priorities of the day and take precedence over everything else.
  • Plan. For important tasks that don’t require immediate action, create a plan or schedule in time for handling these tasks. Oftentimes these tasks have the biggest long-term impact on our lives, so it’s vital to set aside time for them.
  • Delegate. Just because something is urgent doesn’t necessarily mean it’s important, and these types of tasks are the most likely to become our biggest time-wasters. If you can’t get to it now but it still needs to be done, find a way to delegate or outsource it.
  • Eliminate. As it says on the tin, anything that falls into this quadrant should be avoided as much as possible. It’s impossible to cut this out of your life entirely, but it’s best to find a way to limit the amount of time you spend on them.

8. Pomodoro Technique

Pomodoro is the Italian word for “tomato” and was named after the tomato-shaped kitchen timer that its creator used to study more effectively as a university student.

One of the most popular “productivity hacks” out there, the pomodoro technique is a time management philosophy that has been used by everyone from motivational speakers to prolific journalists.

The basic idea behind the pomodoro technique is that it’s difficult for the brain to continuously maintain intense focus and attention for a long period of time.

The pomodoro technique works by scheduling in regular breaks to help break up the workload and give your mind some rest before jumping into another work sprint.

To implement the pomodoro technique, all you need to do is set yourself a timer and work on a specific task for exactly 25 minutes.

After that 25 minutes is up, take a 5-minute break to recharge before doing another 25-minute work sprint.

After completing four work sprints, or “pomodoros,” take a longer 15- or 20-minute break before getting back into it again.

The idea is that, by working against a timer, not only are you keeping yourself accountable by attempting to finish that task within 25 minutes, but you’re also giving yourself regular breaks so you don’t risk mental fatigue and burning out.


Image via Growing Leader

The key to making the pomodoro technique work for you, though, doesn’t lie in its unique time structure but in making sure you’re working with great intent each time you do a work sprint.

PRO TIP: If the Pomodoro technique doesn’t work for you, try working for 52 minutes and taking a break for 17 minutes instead. According to one study by the Muse, the most productive workers were able to get more done by doing intense work sprints and taking a longer break in between.

9. Personal Kanban

Tracing its roots back to early 1940s Japan, Kanban was originally developed by Toyota to help optimize its production and manufacturing processes.

Today, thanks to the popularity of the Lean Startup Methodology, the Kanban process is now widely embraced by a variety of brands that use this methodology to manage everything from their editorial calendars to product development.

And, as I’m sure you’ve already figured out, Kanban can also be used as an incredibly powerful tool for personal productivity and time management.

What’s great about Kanban is that it allows you to neatly visualize your workflow and keep track of individual tasks, and its flexible nature means it can be easily personalized to how you work.


Image via Leading Agile

To get started, you first need a platform to manage and track your personal Kanban. Many people like to use a combination of whiteboards and post-it notes, but I personally recommend using a digital tool such as Trello.

The basic Kanban board begins with three columns of “To-Do,” “Doing,” and “Done.” By limiting the amount of tasks in your “Doing” column, you can ensure that you’re not being spread too thin or putting too much on your plate.

(Of course, you don’t need to limit yourself to just these three columns, but more on that a little later.)


Image via Digite

You place all your tasks in the “To-Do” column, and when you start working on a task, you move it over into the “Doing” column; when it’s completed, it now lives in the “Done” column. Pretty simple, right?

Well, this is where the real magic happens with Kanban.

Everyone’s workflow is different, and with Kanban, you can easily add extra columns depending on how you work and combine it with other time management systems, such as GTD for example.

As you can see in the image below, in my old personal Kanban board, I set up extra columns such as “Monthly Backlog” to keep track of what I need to get done by the end of month and “Waiting on..” for tasks I need people to get back to me about.


Again, the nature of Kanban means you can customize it any way you like, as you can see from the following examples of other personal Kanban boards:


Image via Hacker Noon


Image via Mike McGarr


Image via DZone

10. The Ivy Lee Method

Back in the early 1900s, Charles M. Schwab was one of the richest men in the world as the president of the Bethlehem Steel Corporation. However, he was unsatisfied with the efficiency of his leadership team and began looking for solutions.

Turning to friend and fellow magnate John D. Rockefeller, Rockefeller recommended Schwab get in touch with one Ivy Lee, a noted expert on productivity and public relations.

Lee offered Schwab a deal: He would meet with each of his executives for 15 minutes for free and, if Schwab was happy with the results, then he could pay Lee whatever money he thought was fair.

Fast forward three months, and Schwab sent Lee a check for $25,000 (over $400,000 today).


The man himself, Ivy Lee. Image via David Stiernholm

The time management system, today known as the Ivy Lee method, was incredibly simple. He tasked each executive to follow his simple five-step process every single day:

  1. At the end of every day, write down the six most important tasks they’d like to accomplish the next day. Do not list more than six items.
  2. Rank and prioritize each item in order of importance.
  3. Each morning, begin with the first task on the list, and only move on to the next task when the first task is finished. Work through the list in order until completed or the day ends.
  4. At the end of the workday, move any unfinished tasks onto your new list for tomorrow. Again, you are limited to having only six tasks a day.
  5. Repeat every day.

And there you have it.

The time management and productivity method that took less than 15 minutes to explain and was worth $400,000 to a grateful Schwab in today’s money.

Lee understood that the Bethlehem executives were being trying to do too much and losing precious time as a result.

To counter this, Lee gave them a simple system that stripped back any complexity and forced them to make tough decisions on what they considered important.

By making it so they did it every day, Lee ensured that the executives were building a daily routine and habit around time management that they could easily maintain.

11. 1-3-5 Method

Another incredibly simple way to manage your task list and get a better handle of your time is to apply the 1-3-5 method for all your daily tasks.

Developed by Alex Cavoulacos, co-founder and president of The Muse, the 1-3-5 method assumes that on any given work day, you’ll only be able to achieve one big task, three medium tasks, and five small tasks.


Image via The Muse

Echoing Warren Buffet and Ivy Lee, Cavoulacos’s method emphasizes the power of only prioritizing what’s important by recognizing how finite your time is and removing as many unnecessary items from your day as possible.

The goal is to limit your focus to only a handful of tasks so you’re devoting the majority of your time and attention to the things that really matter.

Either in the morning before work or in the previous evening, spend at least a few minutes defining what your 1-3-5 set of tasks are for the workday.

If your job happens to be one in which you regularly encounter a lot of unexpected tasks, Cavoulacos recommends that you keep one medium and two small tasks blank for these.


Image via Pixabay

As the famous author and playwright Mark Twain once said: “A man must swallow a toad every morning if he wishes to be quite sure of finding nothing more disgusting still for the rest of the day.”

While you could theoretically eat a live frog every morning if you wanted to, for the more metaphorically minded of us, what this means is make sure you do your most important task in the morning while you’re fresh.

Cavoulacos recommends tackling your one big task, or at least one medium task, first thing in the morning before doing anything else.

Doing this frees up your mind and lower your stress levels because you’re safe in knowing that you’ve already taken care of your most important work for the day.

12. To-do, to Watch, Later

Another simple time management system to help you prioritize and manage your to-do list is to keep three separate lists based on their level of importance.

Marc Andreessen calls this his three list system, and Barbara Corcoran calls it the ABC method, but they’re essentially the same thing.

Basically, go through your task list and be absolutely ruthless in determining their level of importance and urgency.

For tasks that absolutely need to be done and commitments that can’t be avoided, place them in your “primary to-do list.”

This list should only contain a handful of items, and all of them should be actively moving your business forward in some way.

For items that are product and helpful but don’t require immediate attention, they get placed into your “watch list.”

These are tasks that you need to follow up on, require someone else to get back to you, or things that you keep tabs on in general.

Everything else, and I do mean everything else, gets placed into your “later list.” Don’t get too stressed about having a large number of items on this list, as Corcoran herself admits to keeping certain items on her later list for years at time.

You also don’t need to use pen and paper to create these lists yourself. Check out how one writer uses Trello as a way to keep track of his three lists:


Image via Medium

To help prepare and keep track of his day, Andreessen also implements something he calls the notecard system.

In the evening, he’ll write down on a 3-inch by 5-inch note card his most important tasks for the following day, and he’ll keep that card around him to help keep him on track.

He’ll also write an “anti-to-do list” on the back of the card, listing out all the other tasks he managed to get done throughout the day that weren’t related to his main priorities.

“Each time you do something, you get to write it down and you get that little rush of endorphins that the mouse gets every time he presses the button in his cage and gets a food pellet.

And then at the end of the day, before you prepare tomorrow’s 3×5 card, take a look at today’s card and its Anti-Todo list and marvel at all the things you actually got done that day.” – Marc Andreessen, co-founder and General Partner of Andreessen Horowitz.

13. The ALPEN Method

For our final task management strategy, we turn to the good people of Germany and the ALPEN method.

Developed by Dr. Lothar J. Seiwert, the ALPEN method is simple time management system that you do every single day in order to help you better understand and manage your daily schedule.


Image via Ionos

ALPEN is an German acronym, but thankfully, you don’t need to speak German in order to put it into practice! Here’s what each letter stands for:

  1. A (Aufgaben) Activities. Starting off similar to GTD or the Ivy Lee method, it all begins with putting together your daily task list. Make sure you refer back to your monthly and yearly goals to ensure you’re consistently moving toward accomplishing them.
  2. L (Lange schatzen) Length of time. Next to each item, make a note of how much time you think it’ll take to complete that task. Be realistic about how long you think it’ll take you to complete.
  3. P (Pufferzeiten einplanen) Plan buffer time. Unfortunately, shit happens. Knowing this, Seiwert recommends that you reserve at least 40% of your time as buffer time. That means that if you’re working 8 hours, you should only schedule 5 hours of work. While this might seem extreme, this accounts for any unexpected surprises that happen during work and forces you to rethink how much you can realistically get done in a shorter time frame.
  4. E (Entscheidungen treffen) Establish priorities. Fairly straightforward, this is when you prioritize your tasks based on their level of importance.
  5. N (Nachkontrolle) Notation. Time management only works if you’re regularly referring to it, which is why the ALPEN method recommends you take notes of your progress throughout the day. Note whether or not your time estimates were correct, how successful you were at certain tasks, and any distractions that occurred. This is all valuable data to help you plan and organize your future schedules and become more conscious of where you’re spending your time.

Wrapping Up Effective Time Management

For most people, learning how to manage their time is critical to achieving professional and personal success. Time is an irrecoverable asset and it’s vital that you’re making the most out of it before it eventually runs out.

Time management doesn’t have to be difficult, in fact it can be quite easy when you know what you’re doing.

Don’t waste any more of your time on procrastination and distractions.

Take any of the techniques and methods that we’ve listed in our guide to help you take back control of your time and start spending it on the things that are truly important in your life.

How do you manage your time? Have any time management tips for us? Let us know in the comments below!

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