Be Ruthless With Your Time. Ruthless.

Be ruthless

We all would like to block out distractions, be more focused, and get more work done. But I never heard it said as well as when I heard it from Alex Mathers:

Be ruthless with how you protect the clarity and completion of anything you produce.

My interpretation of that? Be ruthless with your time. Once Alex used that word, “ruthless,” I felt relief. He gets it. He knows what it takes. I’m not the only one who feels that way.

But that word – “ruthless” – it sounds kinda harsh. It sounds like the title for a Sylvester Stallone cop movie from the 80s that our parents never let us watch. But that’s the point.

And this begs the question – can you be ruthless? If so, how? How do you protect your time as if a mad scientist wants to erase it from existence? And he has an army of ninja henchmen (with hidden mustaches) at his disposal? How do you stop all kinds of commitments and interruptions from getting the best of what you produce?

How a king gets work done

I didn’t quite know how, until I saw how it was done in real life. I recently read an article about the work-life of eccentric designer Philipe Starck. (I call him eccentric because he’s referred to as a “Frenchman” and he refers to himself as a “king of intuition” – two thumbs up.)

Here’s the breakdown of how he works:

I am sort of a modern monk. My wife and I have a collection of cabins in the middle of nowhere, and we stay out of everything. We don’t go to dinners. We don’t go to cocktails. We don’t go to movies. We don’t watch TV. I don’t use my energy on other people. I just work and read. I live with myself in front of my white page…

…from the 15th of June to the 15th of September, I live completely secluded, locked in one of my houses, working from 8 in the morning to 8 at night, or making my own biorhythm: work three hours, sleep 45 minutes, work three hours, sleep 45 minutes, for 24 hours, without eating.

Now, I think we can agree this is an unusual way to get your work done. But the point is this – Philipe Starck defined and adhered to his desired work rhythm. And yes, maybe Phillipe’s rhythm is an extreme example (he also appears to be extremely successful). But maybe we can take that as a cue to tone it down and find a rhythm for ourselves.

Ignore this at your own peril.

Of course, your work rhythm has to take into consideration things that tend to lie outside of work, like:

  • Your health – time for exercise, sleep, and an environment with good food choices.
  • Your spiritual state – time for meditation and submission to the Higher Power you submit yourself to. (Hint, there’s only one that really works.)
  • Your family relationships – your spouse and children are an extension of you – and vice versa – it’s like you’re one organism. If you don’t facilitate those relationships, your are not caring for yourself.
  • Your community – we tend to think that we’re independent, that we can make it on our own. But all it takes is for one small crisis to show up in our work day, and we’re going to need to reach out for help. Or here’s another way of saying it: ignore your community at your own peril. 

The four principles of budgeting time.

So how do I do this? I use four principles to be the best steward I can be for my time. I adapted them from the four wonderful principles introduced by the budgeting software company YNAB (You Need a Budget):

  1. YNAB: Give every dollar a job. ME: Give every hour a job.
  2. YNAB: Embrace your true expenses. ME: Embrace your true schedule.
  3. YNAB: Roll with the punches. ME: Roll with the punches.
  4. YNAB: Age your money. ME: Have a week planned as far as to-dos, have a month planned as far as projects, have a year planned as far as significant dates.

Here are a few more pointers I came up with for myself:

But what about ninjas?

But what about interruptions, distractions, and ninjas from the 80s?

  1. Keep a notebook handy. I write interruptions down on a mind map.
  2. If they fall into the context of work, I set a to-do accordingly earliest for the next day – this day is already booked.
  3. If they require more involvement, I set a to-do to review the item during our weekly leadership meeting.
  4. If I can’t effectively respond in the moment (focused work, taking care of kids, resting), I ignore the interruption. If it’s really important, it’ll come back again.

So yeah, I have a structure for my time, and Philipe Starck has his own bonkers structure for his time (and it seems to really work). His structure is not my structure, but his inspired mine. Now you set your own structure – you don’t have to be Philipe Starck, you don’t have to be me, but be ruthless.

How are you being ruthless with your time? Let me know in the comments below.

* This is an affiliate link to Michael Hyatt’s “5 Days to Your Best Year Ever” online course. My wife and I have been going through the course for the past two years. It’s awesome!

…and if you want to take this a step further, I highly recommend this podcast episode from Michael Hyatt: If You Want to be Successful, be Less Accessible