The law of supply and demand doesn’t just relate to the economy. It’s equally as important when it comes to productivity. The more tasks you’re responsible for, the scarcer (and more valuable) your time becomes.
With the average tech CEO working 14 hours a day (according to VC firm First Round Capital), knowing how to properly manage that time is the difference between success and work-life balance or failure and burnout.
So how do you build a company without burning out? I spoke to 16 business leaders from startup CEOs and leaders to in-demand freelancers, to find out how they keep their days on track and their hours under control.
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Sujan Patel: “The key to time management is thinking about your tasks in terms of debts and assets.”
Before he founded Voila Norbert in 2014, Sujan Patel headed up the digital strategy for several Fortune 500 companies while also running a consultancy and several other SaaS ventures.
His number one CEO time management tip is to work out which tasks are debts and which are assets.
In other words, which tasks give you time and which ones take it away?
Time assets typically only take a small amount of time to set up but ultimately give you more time in the future. This could mean streamlining processes, using automation, delegating work, or any other type of time multiplier.
Time debts, on the other hand, are a little trickier. In most cases, these fall into two categories:
- Tasks that take up time without freeing up more down the line. These are pretty much unavoidable, but they can often be automated or delegated in some way. For example, answering emails.
- Tasks that creates more work for you later on. The classic example of this is not getting something right the first time and having to start over.
Sujan stresses that it’s important to recognize where potential assets can turn into debts. For example, when you delegate a task without sufficient instruction.
It’s easy to assume that everyone you work with has the same base knowledge. But such an oversight can result in vagueness and uncertainty.
To avoid this, Sujan recommends creating detailed and precise briefs. Suddenly, a potential time debt becomes an asset with only a small amount of work on your part.
Kristi Hines: “Mindfulness can be a valuable productivity asset, helping you get the most out of your work hours.”
Kristi Hines is one of the top content marketers around, having published content for sites like KISSmetrics, HubSpot and even Google.
As Kristi explains, time management isn’t just about squeezing out every free minute of your day but optimizing your time to be more productive.
For her, this comes down to mindfulness training.
Mindfulness and meditation have been proven to increase productivity and reduce stress by helping you stay aware of how you’re spending your time and more present when you make decisions. However, another great benefit is in getting rid of what Kristi calls productivity killers—especially multitasking.
Even something as small as leaving push notifications on or your inbox open while you try to work can kill your ability to focus. By practicing mindfulness as well as time blocking her schedule and using RescueTime to audit her working habits, Kristi is able to get more done without working more.
Nico Prins: “The best way to avoid getting overwhelmed by your to-do list is to focus your entire energy on the task at hand.”
I couldn’t write an article like this without putting in my own two cents.
When you’re developing several businesses at once, the biggest risk to your focus is becoming overwhelmed. Not only will this harm your focus and motivation, but you might stress yourself out to the point that you don’t get anything done at all.
As the founder of Launch Space as well as a consultant and content marketer, I’ve developed certain mental silos that help me focus intensely on the task at hand. While this may seem obvious, it’s a surprisingly difficult habit to build.
Luckily, there are a couple of practical things you can do to help.
First, using something as simple as a visual organization in your calendar is effective. In the case of running multiple projects and businesses, I like to code tasks. This gives a better mental picture of when you should be thinking about what.
On top of that, it’s important to block off different parts of your day or week to dedicate to different projects. This helps you build mental discipline and prevent your mind from wandering onto unrelated projects.
Olga Mykhoparkina: “One of my top ways to stay motivated is to break down complex goals into smaller, bite-sized tasks.”
As the CMO of Chanty—an AI-powered team chat tool—Olga is tasked with taking care of the company’s big-picture operations. And as expected, big-picture thinking can quickly become daunting and overwhelming.
Instead of letting these huge, complex long-term goals kill her motivation, Olga focuses on breaking them down into more manageable chunks. For example, instead of “roll out three new features by the end of the month” on her to-do list, she breaks that down into smaller tasks that can be completed in a day.
She then uses a two-level approach to project management by creating daily checklists to ensure tasks are progressing and then using a project management tool to track larger progress towards the final goal.
Will Blunt: “Being productive is simply having the willpower to say no.”
As someone who deals with building brands for both himself and his clients, Will Blunt, the founder of publishing company Sidekick Digital, is constantly faced with a stream of tasks and requests.
However, he quickly discovered that while some of these requests need your attention, a number of them don’t.
For example, when you’re trying to build a business or create a relationship with a client, you might end up with them asking for favors. These requests are unlikely to come from a bad place. However, they can still lead to unnecessary busywork that isn’t in line with your ultimate goal.
For Will, the secret to more productive days is the ability to say no.
Entrepreneurs are notoriously bad at turning people down. Every request is a potential opportunity or connection. To make it easier on himself, Will relies on ‘chunking’ his time throughout the day.
Also known as time blocking, this involves breaking your calendar up into blocks of time that are dedicated to specific tasks or groups of tasks. With a ‘chunked’ calendar like this, you have a clear picture of your priorities and can more easily say no when a random request comes in.
Additionally, it helps you stay focused throughout the day. When you have a ‘chunk’ of time set aside for an important task, Will recommends going as far as switching off your phone and closing messaging apps while you work through it.
Jack Paxton: “If you have a plan for the day you will be more efficient. If not, the smallest tasks can fill up your entire day.”
Jack Paxton is an in-demand growth marketer and founder of Vyper, Top Growth Marketing, and Hyrax. With so many different daily responsibilities, he relies on having a clear schedule to tell him what needs his attention and to make sure that tiny distractions don’t become massive time sinks.
Google Calendar is an integral part of Jack’s life. He blocks activities off in his calendar and schedules his meetings down to 5-minute chunks to avoid them taking over his day.
However, it’s not just work-related tasks that make it onto his daily schedule. He also uses his calendar for scheduling free time like lunch, recreation, and social events.
While this might not sound too appealing, managing your time this way has a number of benefits.
Planning specific recreational activities into your schedule helps you stick to them. Instead of blowing off a workout to finish a client proposal (and then feeling overworked and burnt out) your calendar becomes a work-life balance tool.
Ben Johnson: “By breaking my work into batches, I can focus more and produce better quality.”
Ben Johnson, the head of content at Proof, a social proof tool used by thousands of successful e-commerce stores and online businesses, uses what’s known as the Pomodoro technique to stay efficient with his time.
The Pomodoro technique involves breaking your day into small, timed sessions with a short break in between each. Typically this means 25 minutes of working followed by 5 minutes of rest (each of these is called a Pomodoro).
After four Pomodoro sessions (i.e. every two hours), he takes a longer break to ensure he’s not overworking.
To make sure he’s spending these sessions on the right work, Ben starts each week by breaking his work into actionable goals and objectives. These make up the basis of each workday, which he manages on a minute-by-minute basis using several productivity tools including Google Calendar.
On a weekly basis, he tries to schedule his most energy-intensive tasks in the first two or three days of the week and will even reduce the duration of his Pomodoros later in the week.
Think of this as high-intensity interval training sessions for your brain.
Mark Quadros: “Establishing a weekly outlook as opposed to daily helps you stay focused on the bigger picture.”
It’s not just CEOs of major companies that need to meticulously manage their time. For freelance writer Mark Quadros, he manages writing for multiple SaaS companies while also traveling fulltime.
Unlike some other successful entrepreneurs, Mark takes a big-picture approach to time management.
Instead of focusing on minute-by-minute schedules, he focuses on larger monthly and weekly goals. This helps keep him focused on the work that pushes his goals further so that he avoids getting swept away with day-to-day tasks.
Gail Gardner: “Always do what has the most impact on your life or business first.”
Gail Gardner, the founder of GrowthMap, has achieved success by always giving her attention to the tasks with the most impact on her business or her clients.
This kind of ruthless prioritization ensures you aren’t falling into the trap of getting small tasks out of the way quickly or only working on something when it becomes ‘urgent.’
Gail believes that effective time management is inseparable from project management and uses Trello to manage each new request as it comes in and prioritize it.
According to Gail, one of the worst distractions is managing your inbox.
While it can be tempting to respond to each request as soon as it comes through, this can be a major productivity sink. Instead, she recommends responding to emails only when every other productive task is completed.
Tom DuPuis: “Going to work excited about your first task is more important than any tip or hack.”
As a self-employed blogger and founder of Online Media Masters, Tom’s biggest motivational challenge is a little surprising. He realizes that spending a considerable amount of time on sedentary work can make staying focused difficult
Tom begins every day with a morning run—no exceptions. When he implemented this change in his daily regime, it revolutionized his lifestyle.
He says that the right morning routine is an essential basis for the rest of his day’s work. He takes inspiration from Hal Elrod’s Morning Miracle, which teaches this simple fact. Tom begins his workday with the things he’s most passionate about: writing and making videos.
The idea is that going to work excited about your tasks improves your productivity. He then leaves tedious tasks like checking email for later in the day.
Lesley Vos: “Don’t focus on time wasters; focus on the things that motivate you to work harder and stick to your schedule.”
Lesley Vos is a content strategist for Bid4Papers and works with college students (who are notoriously bad at managing their time!)
For Lesley, time management begins with accepting that you can’t actually manage time. The only thing you can manage is how you use it.
That’s why Lesley says she begins her day by asking a simple question: “If I could complete just one task, which one would it be?”
This small mental shift helps you prioritize your workload and accept that other tasks can be postponed or delayed.
She uses this same mental approach to staying motivated. Rather than get overwhelmed with all of the potential distractions, Lesley tries to maximize the activities that keep her going. This could be anything from reviewing upcoming deadlines to the simple smell of coffee.
John Doherty: “Test your calendar to find when you’re most productive and then build your day around that.”
As the founder and CEO of Credo—a marketplace for marketing professionals—John Doherty has spent years developing a time management system that works for him.
By tracking his time and productivity, John discovered that he’s most effective at certain tasks during certain times of the day. In practical terms, this means dedicating the first half of his day to meetings and phone calls (with a hard rule of no calls after 4 pm or on Fridays).
This schedule means that his afternoons are mostly free to help with his team or work on in-depth tasks.
Unlike some other successful entrepreneurs, John doesn’t use a time tracking tool for his day to day activities. Instead, he conducts a regular audit of his routine.
Every few months, John tracks his time in 30-minute increments with the goal of seeing if any low-value tasks have crept into his schedule and that need to be delegated. This ensures he’s always focused on the bigger picture of running his business and making the most of his time every day.
Andrada Vonhaz: “Always aim high and be prepared to get there.”
Andrada’s role at Omniconvert involves a little bit of everything, which means that organization and task management are key.
To avoid dropping the ball, Andrada follows three important rules:
- Create both a weekly and a daily schedule. Within these, she structures her tasks by order of importance and gives each a strict deadline.
- Define a clear structure within each individual project. In practical terms, this means creating a plan for how and when to go about each stage of a project.
- Remember the importance of saying no. The question is when to do this. For her, it’s a case of recognizing which requests are going to bring value, either to the company or to herself. Anything else can be declined.
Nick Dimitriou: “Know how to organize your tasks and the amount of time you need to complete them.”
For Nick Dimitriou, the Head of Growth at Moosend, time management starts with figuring out where your time goes.
To do this, he sets a firm time limit for each task throughout the day to make sure that he’s accurately estimating his time and not falling victim to the planning fallacy.
For example, he might set himself just 15 minutes to create a content outline.
While this may seem like an additional challenge, the real value of this approach is that it gives you a greater impetus to perform your tasks quickly. Essentially, the trick is to be hard on yourself and force yourself to work more effectively.
Nick is also a big believer in to-do lists. He finds that creating a list has two main benefits:
- It helps him to prioritize important tasks by placing them higher up his list
- Each time he crosses off a completed task, he gets a boost to his motivation levels
These two techniques create a good carrot and stick system when combined.
David Reimherr: “I have seen teammates in tears of joy for how this made their life better.”
As the founder and CEO of Magnificent, David Reimherr has decades of experience running sales, marketing, and growth teams. His time management advice boils down to two straightforward tips that can be enacted by just about everyone.
First, David creates a schedule for his entire workweek, either on a Sunday evening or first thing on Monday morning. He says that a small amount of effort in organizing your work week ahead of time can be a great help in achieving your goals. The best part of this is that it should only take an hour or two to set up.
Next, he dedicates only a specific portion of his day to respond to emails. This is useful because most people waste significant amounts of time hopping between their email and other work. He recommends setting aside time at the beginning and end of each workday to respond to all of your new emails.
Lilach Bullock: “Don’t ignore the tasks that stress you out; start your day with them.”
Lilach Bullock is an in-demand content marketing expert and consultant. With a number of clients and tasks on her plate each day, she knows that the most dangerous productivity trap is procrastination.
Procrastination is an emotional issue. And the easiest way to not let it take over your day and ruin your motivation is to tackle those tasks head-on each morning.
To pre-empt procrastination in the first place, don’t leave tasks half done. Instead, try to end each day with clear progress you can look back on and use to motivate you through the rest of the week.
There’s no one-size-fits-all solution to time management
Everyone on this list makes a conscious effort to make the best use of their time. The exact techniques they use vary, but at the core, these tips are about prioritizing tasks and eliminating bad habits that cost more time than they’re worth.
No matter what your job title is, the crucial thing is to experiment, figure out which approach works for you, and use it to make the most of your time every single day.
Nico Prins is a content marketing consultant and the founder of Launch Space. He works with clients that range from Fortune 500 companies to startups providing them with insights that help generate more traffic to their site and increase sales.