How Michelle Obama, Richard Branson and other successful people use calendar hacks to be happier

Sell your talent, not your time
Sell your talent, not your time

Scheduling everything into your agenda might seem obsessive, but many of today's influential leaders say that using a calendar helps improve work-life balance.

In fact, those who are consistent with using a calendar and to-do list are about three times more likely to be millionaires than those who don't keep a set schedule, socio-economist Randall Bell says.

Here are five leaders and executives who have shared their best scheduling tips to stay productive and happy.

Michelle Obama

Former First Lady of the United States Michelle Obama speaks on stage during Pennsylvania Conference For Women 2017 at Pennsylvania Convention Center.
Maria Aufmuth | Getty Images

At Muse, an event hosted by Klick Health in New York City on Tuesday, former first lady Michelle Obama detailed how she managed to fit in personal time along with the family's other presidential duties while in the White House.

"Starting every year, before I booked anything, agreed to any meetings or conferences, we'd sit down with my assistant and we looked at our lives first," Obama said, as Money reported. "We put potlucks in there, we put date nights in there, I put my workouts, we put our vacations on the calendar first, we put sports things and summers. We planned that out first, and then what was left would be left for work."

Although Obama said her family's dynamic is not much different compared to other families, she pointed out how all people need to do better on finding work-life balance.

"Even when you schedule your family, there's still plenty of time for work, but we don't plan like that," Obama said. "We let work inundate everything. We have to start setting the priority of allowing people to put their lives before their work."

At the Obama Foundation Summit in November of 2017, Obama said people tend to use their work as a distraction from focusing on what they need as individuals.

This is why Tim Cook and other successful leaders wake up around 4:00 AM
This is why Tim Cook and other successful leaders wake up around 4:00 AM

"I'm very ruthlessly efficient, but I have to be organized about [myself]," Obama said. "I have to be as organized about my life as I am about my work."

As a mother, Obama said that she has learned that "you have to be fiercely organized to get anything done." When it comes to school events for Sasha and Malia, Michelle and Barack made a point to speak with teachers and principals at least a year ahead to make sure they marked each event they needed to attend.

"If I'm not protecting my time, if I'm not learning how to say 'no,' even to the best things, even to the most worthy things — because I need to sleep or I need to eat or I need to take time out to exercise — then I am no good to my children," Obama said.

One of the tricks Obama uses is to book time with her family and for herself before accepting invitations to conferences, speeches, rallies or political events. Instead, she asks herself, "When do I want to hang out with my girlfriends?" "When am I going to exercise?" "When am I going to take a vacation?" "When am I going to breathe?" and "How do I want my life to flow?"

"I have to plan my happiness. That's the thing, we think happiness just happens and it can, but you've got to work in some happiness too," she said.

Richard Branson

Sir Richard Branson.
Cameron Costa | CNBC

When it comes to scheduling, Richard Branson is a strong believer of writing long to-do lists that help him prioritize his time. Even as head of Virgin Group and a serial entrepreneur who manages a packed daily routine, Branson is a strong proponent of making time for yourself.

Just as easily as you are inclined to accept or schedule a meeting, Branson said that you should "open your calendar and schedule time just to dream."

In order to do so, Branson recommends penciling in this time to let your mind wander (just like you would schedule a meeting).

"Far too many people get weighed down in doing, and never take the time to think and feel," Branson wrote on his blog.

By scheduling time to think freely — whether it's an hour, a day or even a holiday — "you'll be able to see the bigger picture much easier," he added.

Mary Callahan Erdoes

Mary Callahan Erdoes speaking at the 2017 Delivering Alpha conference in New York on Sept 12, 2017.
David A. Grogan | CNBC

CEO of JPMorgan Asset Management Mary Callahan Erdoes recently told CNBC that "you have to be maniacally focused on owning your calendar, on having the lists of what you need from other people and what other people need from you."

To take this forward-looking approach, Erdoes recommends you look at the short-term and long-term issues that need to be dealt with and make sure that you are able to "stay on top of that religiously."

"Calendar management is the single most important thing, especially as you get busy and have more responsibilities," she said.

Jeff Weiner 

LinkedIn CEO Jeff Weiner
Bloomberg/Contributor | Getty Images

For years, LinkedIn CEO Jeff Weiner has found a habit that he says is crucial for him to be efficient at his job: Schedule time every day to do nothing.

Each day's schedule includes 30- to 90-minute blocks of time that allow him to "process what was going on" around him and "just think."

"At first, these buffers felt like indulgences. I could have been using the time to catch up on meetings I had pushed out or said 'no' to," Weiner said in a LinkedIn post. "But over time I realized not only were these breaks important, they were absolutely necessary in order for me to do my job."

This CEO only lets his employees work 32-hours a week
This CEO only lets his employees work 32-hours a week

But feeling inundated by seemingly endless meetings is exactly why Weiner took up this habit.

"Use that buffer time to think big, catch up on the latest industry news, get out from under that pile of unread emails, or just take a walk," Weiner said. "The buffer is the best investment you can make in yourself and the single most important productivity tool I use."

Robert Herjavec

Robert Herjavec
Ilya S. Savenok | Getty Images

"Shark Tank" star and Herjavec Group CEO Robert Herjavec speaks with his assistant at least 20 times a day, he told Entrepreneur in 2016, and noted that if an event does not exist on his calendar, then "it's not real."

Herjavec also makes sure to get a head start on his year by booking his calendar well in advance.

"Plan as much as you can a year in advance and stick to it," he said.

Similar to Michelle Obama, when Herjavec's children were younger, he would sit with his assistant and his kids' school counselor to mark down each school holiday and event.

"Because of that, I never missed a swim meet. I never missed a school play. I never missed anything," he said. "I'd fly from L.A. back to Toronto to be with my kids for one day. That's the great thing about having your own business — the freedom to control your schedule and to do with it what you want."

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This is an updated version of a previously published story.