“It is not enough to be busy. So are the ants. The question is: What are we busy about?” ~ Henry David Thoreau ~

One thing we can all agree upon, is that we all have the same amount of time. There is however, a wide variation on how we use that time. People who are highly successful attribute at least part of their success to finding better, more effective ways to manage their time. Managing time, however, is a misnomer. As W. Clement Stone said when asked how he manages time. “You don’t manage time, nobody can manage time, I manage my activities.” In essence we don’t ever manage time, we manage the activities that we chose to do within that time.

By studying successful people, we can narrow down a group of practices that are common amongst them.

Don’t major in the minor

Almost all highly productive people have a sense of what is important and the ability to focus on those tasks that will bring them the greatest return for the time spent. They are highly aware what brings real value and what someone else could do, freeing them up to do the high value work. Aleis Ohanian, of Reedit, relies upon Fancy Hands, virtual assistants that are able to do much of the busy work.

Being productive means opting for work that may be uncomfortable and difficult versus that which is easy and familiar. A study by the University of California, Irvine Campus found that when it came to workplace distraction, most employees were actually the happiest when performing rote tasks. The super productive make it a habit to do work that others don’t want to do.

Get up early

A common theme amongst the highly productive is that they are early risers. Many find mornings to be the most productive time of the day and get up early to squeeze the most out of this time. Indre Noyil, CEO of PepsiCo and Jeff Imelda, CEO of GE are two productive people who believe that getting up early gives them a great head start on the day, allowing them to get important things done before being faced with the inevitable tasks and distractions from having a busy schedule. Apple Inc. CEO Tim Cook is known to start his day by 4:30 a.m. in order to send out emails before the rush of the day.

Have a razor sharp focus

Forget the myth of multi-tasking. Productive people have always been aware that in order to do an important job well, they must be able to stay focused Their ability to pick out what is important and then focus on that until it is done, sets them apart from those whose time and energy gets diverted and wasted in attempting to work on multiple tasks at the same time. Jason Goldberg, CEO of Fab.com believes that it is important to pick one thing that we are better at than anyone else and focus upon that specifically.

Ability to priory’s tasks

Productive people have the ability to prioritize tasks in order of importance allowing them to spend the majority of time on those that are of the highest value. Many of them set up their day before and are meticulous at writing down lists that need to be done the next day. This keeps them from spending needless time and energy trying to think of what needs to be done. They simply stick to their list and focus their time and energy on the top items that need to be completed. CEO OF The Energy Project, Tony Schwartz, is a devotee of prior zing, setting out one crucial task each day and focusing on that task till completion.

Limiting meeting times

Meetings are notorious for chewing up valuable time. Knowing this, highly productive people carefully manage meetings in terms of not only having clear needs and outcomes for every meeting, but limiting the speaking time. In meetings people tend to take up the time allotted to them therefore limiting their time forces them to become more clear, concise and to the point with their communication. Gary E. McCullough of Career Education limits the time that people have to speak by only allowing them half of what they ask for. This not only saves time but helps them become more focused, clear and productive.

Capture important information

Successful and productive people seem to be obsessed with being able to capture important information and ideas. The late Jim Rohn was known to have a complete library of notes that he had taken throughout his life. He was determined to capture everything that was important, not only through his notes but by taking photos. Bill Gates puts high value on the importance of capturing great ideas. Because of online products like Evernote, Get Pocket and Instapaper, capturing and saving great ideas have become easier.

Meditate

This may seem like an anomaly, but many productive people realize that decluttering the mind is essential to leading a productive mind. Oprah Winfrey, a devotee of meditation, credits the practice not only with increased productivity, but improved relationships with all of the people important in her life. Deepak Chopra, a prolific author, writer and speaker who also has his own meditation centre, has been known to start his day with a two hour meditation. Experts tell us that we don’t need that much time, even 10 minutes per day, will clear our minds.