The Secrets to Getting Things Done

Messy Desk Cartoon

The life of a student is busy. There are always classes to attend, tests and assignments to prepare for, and dozens of other things that you need to do in between. Even as you get things done, new things will come up just as quickly. As a result, time management is a matter of survival. Without it, you will quickly fall behind and be unable to catch up.

Improving your skills is something that you should strive for every day. And the best way to develop your skills is to model yourself after successful individuals. This week, we will be asking some of the world’s top business leaders to share their secrets for working effectively.

Jeff Immelt

Jeff Immelt, chief executive, General Electric

“You really have to evolve into a headset where you’re only going to hold yourself accountable for the things you can control. If you bear every burden of the world, you’re going to die a young death as a CEO.

“If you’re going to say, ‘Oh my god, what am I going to do about the French economy? It’s so terrible right now’ – you can’t do a damn thing about that and you can’t worry about that. You just have to hold yourself accountable for those things you personally can have an impact on and leave the rest behind.”

Martin Gilbert

Martin Gilbert, chief executive, Aberdeen Asset Management

“I think you can either delegate or you can’t, and my whole modus operandi is to get it off my desk as quickly as possible onto someone else’s desk.

“It’s a really good policy. I recommend it to any chief executives. Just get rid of the email onto someone else if you can.”

Frits van Paasschen

Frits van Paasschen, chief executive, Starwood Hotels

“It’s managing your time and making sure you have energy left over. It’s very hard to travel halfway around the world and land and visit 10 hotels and sit across the table from owners and make sure that you’re sharp the whole time. Taking care of yourself and pacing yourself is actually important.

“I’m not terribly good at saying no. If someone feels like I can help them somewhere, my first bias is to try to get there to do that, and there are just points where you have to say if I try to do too much, I’m not going to be good at what I need to do.”

John Mackey

John Mackey, co-chief executive Whole Foods

“We can only can function at an optimum level for about 90 minutes. In other words we can do intense work for about 90 minutes and then we need to do something else.

“And if you try to keep focusing you’ll notice there’s some long meetings, people begin to wander, their attention can’t be focused and you get to this real point of diminishing returns.

“You’ll find you can do your best work in these sort of short bursts and you have creative ‘oh my gosh’ epiphanies and things are coming and you get it down. But then you’ve got to go renew yourself.”

Allan Zeman

Allan Zeman, founder of the Lan Kwai Fong Group

“The most important thing in life is to have a balance. Just being a CEO and just constantly being under pressure and working and driving yourself, at the end of the day you’ll be no good to anyone. You’ll burn out and you’ll burn out quickly.

“The Chinese have a saying. They say ‘yin yang’. It’s a balance. Everything in life is a balance. So you have to balance your life. It’ll make you stronger in the things you do, it’ll make you better at what you do.

“I’ve always believed that exercise helps to clear your body, helps to clear your mind. The more you abuse your body, the more stress you put on your body, it will hinder you from doing good business or being a good person. So I try to balance the things I do.”

Paul Walsh

Paul Walsh, chair of Compass and former chief executive of Diageo

“Everybody wants to change your agenda. Everybody wants a piece of your time and to try to persuade you why what they’re working on is more important than what you were working on.

“And what I think you have to be is incredibly focused. You’ve got to stay very true to a few core points that you will pursue relentlessly. Now you can’t be so strait-jacketed by that to ignore issues that warrant your attention, but nor can you afford to be blown about by trivial items.”

This article is based on interviews by leadership expert Steve Tappin for the BBC’s CEO Guru series, produced by Neil Koenig.

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