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How the World's Top CEOs Manage Their Time editorial staff editorial staff

The greatest constraint you face, whether you're in a corner office or a cubicle, is time. It's a precious commodity, and often it seems there's simply not enough time in the day to get all your stuff done, or even to make a sizable dent. According to a Gallup poll, American workers are among the most stressed out workers in the world. 

What to do about it? You could purchase a set of books on the topic. On second thought, if time management is your issue, the books will probably sit there gathering dust in your must-read pile. What if, instead, you could have your very own panel of insanely successful executives share their favorite time-management strategies? Read all the books you can -- it can only help. But in the meantime, following are six tactics that some of the most brilliant CEOs and thought leaders use to maintain some semblance of sanity amid the daily chaos swirling around their offices.

1. Simplify.

There's probably not a job description in the universe that doesn't call for multitasking. And yet, the trend that is taking hold in many quarters is single-tasking. Instead of trying to be all things to all people, successful executives are streamlining their work and seeking Zen-like focus. Take, for example, Carlos Ghosn, CEO of Renault and Nissan. He has streamlined the way meetings are administered, allocating a maximum of one hour and 30 minutes for single-topic meetings. Eric Schmidt, Google's executive chairman, is also a believer in keeping focused on a few overriding priorities. "I keep things focused. The speech I give every day is: 'This is what we do. Is what we are doing consistent with that, and can it change the world?'"

Related: How Toggl and Other Time Management Apps Keep Entrepreneurs Sane

Marketing guru Seth Godin, for example, has largely removed meetings and TV from his daily routine. "I'm America's worst watcher of television...and I'm America's worst attender of meetings...I know people who do five hours of each every day. So right there I save myself ten hours a day." Tweet This Time Management Tactic

2. Write it down.

Time management doesn't require a complicated spreadsheet. Marissa Mayer, CEO of Yahoo, opts for the old-fashioned things-to-do list. "I just make a to-do list every day in priority order from most important to least important," she says. How does she handle the anxiety that comes with the realization that she's never going to cross off everything on her ever-expanding list? She accepts and even embraces it. "That frame of mind really has helped me because there are times when I'm like, 'Wait, I'm kind of looking at something unimportant. Should there be something else higher on my to-do list?'" Tweet This Time Management Tactic

3. Dawn patrol anyone?

If there's not enough time in the day, wake up earlier. Research shows that early morning hours can be the most productive time of the day. Count two CEOs, Jeff Immelt of GE and Indra Nooyia of Pepsi, among the practitioners of this school of thought. Time-management experts suggest starting small, setting your alarm clock 20 minutes earlier until your body acclimates. Tweet This Time Management Tactic

Related: [Infographic] Time Management Hurdles in the Modern Workplace

4. Be strategic. 

Strategy is more than a buzzword. Not all the work we do is of equal value, and being strategic means making distinctions between high-priority work and less pressing work. Being a strategic worker means having specific, measurable goals, and allocating your time to activities that advance those goals. For starters, identify one key priority to accomplish every day, and begin your day with that important task, advises Tony Schwartz, CEO of The Energy Project.

Seth Godin uses the Zig Ziglar Goal Planner. It's his go-to secret weapon, which he describes as "something extraordinarily powerful." How powerful? Godin says it saved him from bankruptcy, and he meant it literally. "I have never met anyone who has seriously written down their goals," he says, "and done it properly, who is stuck or is considered a failure. Not one person." Tweet This Time Management Tactic

5. Utilize technology.

Get control of your email. Birchbox founders Katia Beauchamp and Hayley Barna saved time by drafting an email policy. In every email sent, team members must specify how hot or cold their message is, and when they need a response.

Other popular tools include:Dropbox for storing files online, Any Meeting for webinars, and Trello for tracking projects and deadlines.

What does the preeminent technologist and philanthropist use to stay above water? "I use e-mail and desktop folders and my online calendar, says Bill Gates. "So when I walk up to my desk, I can focus on the e-mails I've flagged and check the folders that are monitoring particular projects." Tweet This Time Management Tactic

6. Carve out time to think.

Should employees spend time thinking when they have actual--and actionable--work staring them in the face? Ask one of the smart guys, like Jeff Weiner, CEO of LinkedIn, and he'll tell you that carving out time to think, and think alone, is invaluable. It puts you in the driver's seat, where you can see the big picture and proactively set your course rather than react to every little crisis. It helps Weiner decide where to invest his energies, and to engage in sound, clearheaded decision-making.  "You're not only thinking strategically, thinking proactively, thinking longer-term, but you're literally thinking about what is urgent versus important, and trying to strike that right balance." Tweet This Time Management Tactic

Related: [Comic] Time-Wasting Behavioral Trends in the Office

Marissa Mayer is a big believer in things-to-do lists. Bill Gates avoids them like the plague. Takeaway: Not everything is going to work for everyone. At the end of the day, what matters is that your time-management tools work for you. Try different strategies and customize them according to your needs.

Image Credit: Prostock-Studio / Getty Images editorial staff editorial staff Member
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