Take back control: ten top time management tips for the busy CEO

We all wish we had more time in the day. But there are some simple steps I’ve come across that can help enrich the time poor. Not all of these will be appropriate for everyone but if at least one or two can make a difference, then the five minutes taken to read this post might be the most valuable thing you do all day.

1) Say “No”… “Less is more”

Ultimately doing less is the answer. This can be achieved by slowing down, being aware of what needs to be done, being aware of what others need from you. Be fully present… make every action, decision, interaction count.

2) Plan ahead

Spend 15 mins at the beginning of the day planning the critical things that need to be achieved. Create keystone habits – work out a routine that is most efficient; exercise, time with your EA, planning time. And create habits that will prevent you from wasting time and keep you energised and focussed.

3) Request response times on emails

Katia Beauchamp, co-founder of Birchbox, gets all her employees to put a response time on the end of every email they send, no matter how short the query or message. This allows her to prioritise effectively and understand what needs attention at a glance. It also gives a sense of urgency in the organisation as it helps others focus their time.

4) The Two Minute rule

This is an easy time management tactic that can be applied in both your personal and professional life. If it can be done in two minutes then just do it now.

5) Practise the 80/20 Rule

Otherwise known as the Pareto Principle, this rule states that to achieve peak efficiency your tasks and management should be done at a ratio of 80:20. There are two ways to do this:
I. Dedicate 80% of your time to the things that truly matter – e.g. operational excellence, or board preparation
II. Focus your attention on the most important 20% of tasks that you know are important and delegate the 80% that are less critical

6) Take time to think

Jeff Weiner, CEO of LinkedIn, strongly believes that having time to think is crucial. He says that “part of the key to time management is carving out time to think as opposed to constantly reacting”. Avoiding reacting too quickly also allows for better management decisions to be taken and gives you vital time to consider other possibilities and solutions.

Many CEOs carve out hours in the diary so they can’t be filled with other meetings – to think, prepare and organise their time. This means establishing clear boundaries with your EA.

7) Brain dump

Keep a piece of paper, notes in your phone – at all times of day and night – so you can dump your ideas and allow you to concentrate on your main task. This helps you then go back and organise your ideas later.

8) Create a time budget

Steve Ballmer ex-CEO of Microsoft creates a “budget” to manage his time. He has a spreadsheet that his assistants have access to – where time is assigned to those who need to meet or speak with him. This helps him manage his time and makes sure he isn’t spending too much time on unnecessary things. Even just doing this exercise and mapping how you spend your time will increase awareness.

9) Use the Eisenhower Matrix

Ex-US President Dwight Eisenhower was an expert at time management, developing a matrix based on his belief that “most things which are urgent are not important and most things that are important are not urgent”.

Organise your tasks or “to do list” into four categories. Then prioritise the tasks which have been characterised as having high urgency and importance. You postpone or delegate tasks that have low urgency and low importance.

10) Be strict about meetings

Adora Cheung, CEO of Homejoy, creates strict meeting agendas. She asks participants to write down topics that they want to be discussed, then she prioritises the topics. Be thoughtful about which meetings you attend and why. And what your role is in the meeting: What do they need from me in this meeting? How can I “train” them to do this without me in the room?