How Self-Made Billionaires Prioritize for Better Focus and Productivity
Set themes for your days, eliminate meetings, and do important things first
There are around 2,000 billionaires in the world.
And by definition, they’re some of the best at time management. They’re bombarded with thousands of emails. They have a thousand things they could do: meet with an employee, schedule a meeting, find a new marketing strategy, work on a product design, etc.
How do they choose what’s most important and still effectively build their wealth to $10,000 per day or more?
It’s not a “myth” that people succeed because they’re more productive.
- The female billionaire Sheryl Sandberg has stated in her books that she made sure to leave work at 5:30 every day because her children were a priority.
- Richard Branson has over 400 companies to run but he still has time to kite-surf because he puts his fitness as a priority.
- President Bush had a million things to do: foreign leaders to call, CIA briefings to read, voters to please, and so on. Yet he was able to still read 95 books in a year: more than most people ever read.
- Doug Conant, CEO of Campbell Soup, sent 20 handwritten thank you notes a day while running a Fortune 500 company.
I stumbled across a book called 15 Secrets Successful People Know About Time Management: The Productivity Habits of 7 Billionaires, 13 Olympic Athletes, 29 Straight-A Students, and 239 Entrepreneurs.
It has the longest title I’ve seen in a while. And I think it’ll help you uncover some secrets of time management.
Here are the top tips on billionaire productivity tips I know (which I learned from this book and all the other videos and podcasts I consumed).
1. Do the #1 Most Important Task At The Start of the Day
Nathan Blecharczyk, billionaire and co-founder of Airbnb, says he fills his calendar from reverse.
He schedules things from the end of the day to the start so that he can focus on the real work in the morning. He makes sure to leave meetings for late in the day because they’re not as important.
You want to start your day with your #1 most important task and finish it first because otherwise, you get distracted with less important requests, tasks, and email.
2. Don’t Multitask
Billionaire Mike Cannon-Brookes gave some short advice for the book:
Do one thing at once. Stop multitasking!
When I was young, I grew up with multitasking and could do it better than most people. I used to pride myself on the process.
Later on, I did some research on multitasking. Studies show that it decreases productivity, especially for the young people who have done it for longer. The American Psychological Association found that task switching can lead to a 40% decrease in productivity.
3. Have Themed Days
The youngest billionaire in history and founder of Facebook and Asana, Dustin Moskovitz, said:
Have a themed day of the week where you don’t have meetings.
He says it allows for no interruptions and focus on individual work.
At Asana, they have No Meeting Wednesday’s.
Billionaire Jack Dorsey of Twitter and Square also has themed days. Jack, like Elon Musk, works 80 hour weeks, 40 at each company.
In a 2011 interview at Techonomy, Dorsey said he accomplishes this by having themed days and being very disciplined.
Every day has a theme and he does the same things around that theme at each company on a specific day.
These themes let him deal with interruptions and distractions. If a task or request is not in theme with the day, he does not do it. It sets a cadence for the rest of the company to deliver and check their progress:
His Mondays are for management.
His Tuesdays are for product.
Wednesdays are marketing and growth.
Thursdays are for developers and partnerships.
Fridays are on culture and recruiting.
Saturdays he takes off.
Sundays are for reflection, strategy, feedback, and getting ready for Monday.
4. Discipline Matters More Than Intelligence
The billionaire Andrew Mason, co-founder of Groupon and Detour, said that he’s met a lot of people who are smarter but less successful than him because they lack the discipline to do what they say they will:
“I often meet people who seem smarter than me yet are less capable because they don’t have the self-discipline and/or self-confidence to introspect on their ability to do what they think they’re going to do and find ways to iteratively improve. Amazingly, it’s as simple as that. It’s kind of a sore spot for me because I can’t understand why people don’t take it more seriously.” —Andrew Mason
He says it’s that simple. It’s not rocket science. Being disciplined about forming great habits is a true key to success.
I highly recommend you read The Power of Habit. It goes into great scientific detail, while staying easy to read, on how to effectively form great habits and break bad habits.
Andrew said that if he was playing a video game that replicates real-life business and had ten points to distribute into skills, he’d put seven into discipline and three into intelligence.
Nothing into Ability Power, Attack Damage, or Mana, Andrew? I jest. Nerd joke.
The point is to improve your willpower because it matters more than pure IQ.
5. Recharge and Refresh Mid-Day To Keep Up Your Mental Fitness
The youngest billionaire in Africa, Mohammed Dewji, says that mental fitness and a fresh mind are keys to success.
By one pm, he has already worked seven hours and it’s natural for him to feel drained and tired. He has a daily workout during his lunch hour to recharge and refresh.
This lets him attack the second half of his day as hard as he did the first half. He recommends finding what works best for you to stay invigorated and recharge. He acknowledges that people have different ways of doing it that work best.
There are hundreds of studies, articles, and books that prove how exercise is so beneficial to you in so many ways. Studies show that exercise increases your focus, energy, happiness, productivity, attractiveness, health, and longevity. Look at it as an investment rather than a time cost.
Dustin Moskovitz, billionaire co-founder of Facebook, wrote a whole Medium post saying how he regretted not exercising and eating better because he would have achieved his success even faster, and without the arguments and health problems he had.
6. Devote at Least 50% of Your Time to Building Great Products. Avoid Ego-Gratifying Activities.
Mark Pincus is the billionaire founder of Zynga, a video game app platform built on the back of the social network Facebook.
Mark says that if you want to build great products, you should spend at least 50% of your work time building great products.
He says don’t accept speaking opportunities if they don’t benefit your users or company.
The same goes for any ego-boosting activities that don’t contribute to the bottom line success of your company, such as going on talk shows. Good To Great is a book that outlines the downfalls of doing this. Lee Iacocca was a bad-ass entrepreneur who took Chrysler from near-bankruptcy to a full revival. But during the second half of his tenure, he started spending most of his time on talk shows, TV shows, and other ego-boosting events. Chrysler’s stock took a huge plunge.
7. Write Notes Down on Paper
In the book, Greek billionaire Aristotle Onassis is quoted giving advice on writing things down.
He calls it his “million dollar lesson they don’t teach in business school.”
He recommends you write everything down in a notebook. Everything. This includes ideas, information about a new person you met, or interesting facts.
He says that if you write things down, you’re more likely to act on things. If you don’t, you forget.
Many successful people still write things down on paper; this includes Brian Tracy, Napoleon Hill, Bill Gates, and Richard Branson.
Richard Branson has spent a great deal of time emphasizing the importance of writing everything down immediately so you do not forget, especially in his articles online and his books The Virgin Way and Business Stripped Bare.
Richard tells the story of a man he knew who had the most incredible memory but forgot something at the absolutely worse time: during an important business deal. I have heard almost the exact same story from people in real life back when I tried to rely on my memory for everything.
Write it down on paper because it burns it into your brain and subconscious more than typing it out does. Ever since I started writing everything down, I realized how much I forget on a daily basis by looking at my notes later.
Even the genius rapper Eminem said in a 60 Minutes Interview that he always wrote things down whenever he had an idea for a lyric.
Taylor Swift has admitted in many interviews that she immediately records a voice memo if she has a song idea on her iPhone.
8. Be Willing to Say No and Give Yourself Time
CEO of LinkedIn Jeff Weiner schedules “do nothing” time on his calendar. He schedules 90 minutes to two hours in total a day, broken into 30 to 90-minute blocks.
No one can disturb him during this time.
He developed this system after having no time to process anything. His schedule was always packed with back-to-back meetings.
He realized these breaks were absolutely necessary to do his job well.
Many millionaires I have come across have voiced similar realizations.
They’ve burned out after years overwork to the point of physical illness and had to finally give themselves free time.
Cara suffered from skin and health issues from overwork. Her modeling agency shipped her to a hospital for a quick, unhealthy drug fix rather than tell her to rest.
9. Reduce (or Eliminate) the Meetings You Have
Mark Cuban said to never have a meeting unless you stand to make a lot of money: like a sales negotiation or when you are selling your company.
His exact words were:
“Never do meetings unless someone is writing a check.”
Warren Buffett, consistently the world’s richest man this last decade, said in numerous interviews with him and Bill Gates that he never has meetings.
This is because many meetings are a waste of time. If you pay people $30 an hour and ten people show up for a useless meeting, they have taken $300 from you.
If you are an employee, Tim Ferriss, author of The 4 Hour Work Week, has some great strategies for phasing out of meetings as an employee in his book.
Jason Fried, a multi-millionaire, has said in his book Rework to only invite necessary people to a meeting. He also recommends setting an objective at the start and a timer for how long the meeting goes for. It’s all about not wasting people’s time. As the boss, you’re paying for that time.
Try stand-up meetings with a time limit and purpose
If you do have meetings, try having stand-up meetings. Billionaire Richard Branson has ten-minute stand-up meetings. He says this is because:
- It emphasizes real communication.
- It makes it quicker to get to business and seal a deal.
- It wastes less time.
- No one nods off.
- Decisions are made quicker.
“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.”
A 1999 study from the Journal of Applied Psychology found that sit-down meetings were 34% longer than stand-up meetings but produced no better decisions.
Researchers at Washington University in St. Louis found that stand-up meetings produced far better outcomes than sit-down meetings. In Social Psychological & Personality Science, they found that stand-up meetings led to better collaboration, more engagement, less possessiveness, and more problem-solving creativity.
Try a walking meeting
Richard Branson said he prefers walking meetings for the reasons listed above. Also, seeing running waters from rivers or oceans makes him more creative.
10. Don’t Under-Emphasize the Basics: Exercise, Eat Right, and Read
This one is more from finding obvious common themes from millionaires, like Arnold Schwarzenegger, Gary Vaynerchuk, and Tony Robbins. These are basic, common themes that are simple to do, but that few do.
Basic fundamental habits are most easily overlooked because they’re too easy. Yet everyone is too lazy to actually do them consistently.
Most multi-millionaires do most, if not all, of these:
- Stay fully hydrated
- Eat nutritious food
- Exercise daily, especially cardio (aerobic exercise)
- Wake up before six am
- Read the right things
- Daily goal-setting
The most important are probably exercise, nutrition, and goal setting. I’d throw in meditation as a close fourth.
Don’t let it overwhelm you. Just improving on one of these puts you ahead. The average person doesn’t bother to improve any of these.
11. Realize You Control Your Time and Simplify Your Calendar
Here’s a bonus tip. Warren Buffett has said in many interviews that he keeps his calendar very simple. In the Charlie Rose interview below, he shows his actual calendar, which has only three to-do activities for the month.
Bill Gates was stunned when he learned about this from Buffet. Before he met him, he was at the whim of whoever wanted his time. Warren taught him that you are in charge of your time, not someone else.
Bill still maps out every minute of his day to control his productivity, but is more thoughtful with what he chooses to put on there. As you can tell, there are different styles based on your preferences. But there are universal mindsets that you should still have.
Warren has an infinite amount of things he could do. But by focusing on an amount he can count with his fingers for the month, it clears out all the low-impact, distracting activities he should de-prioritize.
I Challenge You to Take Action Now
I want to challenge you to start doing one of these more right now. For me, I will start with fewer meetings and work on the others.