- What’s the difference between you and Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson? (Besides the muscles.) I mean that dude is clearly not the best actor in “the biz,” but he is the highest paid and he seems to have a new blockbuster out every other month.
- How is Casey Neistat writing, directing, editing, and posting an amazing 7–10 minute movie on YouTube everyday?
- How has best-selling author Ryan Holiday has written and published 7 books in the last 6 years?
- How does Amelia Boone balance her two lives as an Apple attorney and the most decorated female obstacle racer of all time?
The answer is obvious. It’s how they’re spending their time (and energy).
“The Rock” is choosing only the big projects he knows will move the needle; he’s using his influence to line them up one after the other. Casey and Ryan have both talked about defending their time for creative work. Amelia probably doesn’t watch much television — she trains instead.
But if we “know” this… why aren’t we getting that much done?
How can we take this intellectual idea and apply it? How can we increase effectiveness and open up more calendar freedom?
Step1: Audit first.
You likely are (drastically) underestimating how much time you’re wasting on things that don’t matter in a given day, week, or month. There are a number of ways you can start measuring this — use apps like Moment to track screen time or Toggl to track task time.
Personally, I prefer to do this manually (which I realize is HIGHLY ironic in talking about wasting time, but whatever it works…) I create my entire schedule on Sunday— blocking out time for my workouts, play, writing, projects, girlfriend, etc. Then, after each day, I adjust it to look exactly like what I did that day. That way, at the end of a week I know just how much time I’ve spent on dumb stuff and productive stuff.
Because as all the gurus say:
“What gets measured, gets managed.”
When you audit your time like this, you are empowered to change and to cut out what really doesn't matter.
Sometimes, I’ll do this after a day and realize:
“HOLY SHIT. I spent so much time on my phone, procrastinating, eating, and a bunch of other useless crap.”
For example, this morning it took me an hour and forty-five minutes to get from the gym to the coffee shop to start working. That’s absurd. What was I doing? Showering and eating don’t take that long at all.
Tomorrow will be different because I audited today.
Step 2: Subtract the inessentials.
Once you’ve audited your schedule, it’s easy to figure out where you can “find” or “make” time. Things that are creating minimal impact or joy in your life need to be deleted from the calendar immediately.
In other words: what would you eliminate if you had to?
What are you doing that feels (and is) a waste of time? What are you doing that doesn’t fall under a core priority? What could you delete from your calendar and feel a heck of a lot happier about?
As much as we’d all like to believe it, we aren’t superheroes. Our focus is finite. Our attention is limited. Our energy can only be expended on so many things.
If it isn’t getting you closer to a goal — financial, physical, impactful, or mental — or making you happy: stop. Stop passively scrolling through Instagram. Stop turning on the TV when you’re bored. Do something that gets you closer to where you want to be with the people you want to be with.
Step 3: Schedule what matters.
It’s easy just to do for the sake of doing.
But in today’s hyper-caffeinated, always-on digital world, it’s not that valuable to be a full time fact-regurgitator or a robotic doer.
What’s valuable is being able to see a vision and make it happen. To create something from nothing. To make people laugh. To inspire people. To be present and aware. To tap into the creative reserves. To think critically. To love deeply.
To get there: you have to create space in the calendar for the important things. You have to exercise. You have to make time to learn. You have to schedule in creative long-term thinking. You have to make time for romance. You have to put play dates on the calendar.
Like dollars in a Roth-IRA, these crucial tasks and activities pay out interest. They make us happier, more focused, more productive, and more energetic. You think they’re stealing time from “the hustle,” but they’re actually just feeding it.
So, if sleeping 8–9 hours, meditating in the mornings, eating homemade “clean” meals, working out for 2 hours, makes you a better friend, parent, or employee, put it on the calendar first. Make it so you don’t even question whether you’re going to do it.
If you don’t make the time for these proactive measures, your calendar will fill up quickly with the reactive inessentials.
You’ll wake up in a few years wondering how you got here. The answer will be: you never stepped back, you never edited out what didn’t matter, you never created space for what did.
Step 4: Focus on the qualitative.
This is going to be unpopular. There’s a lot of buzz right now on pure all out hustle to get what you want. I don’t buy it.
There are a lot of people out there that work three jobs to pay the bills. I respect this kind of hustle. It’s honorable and exhausting.
But if you have something you really want to accomplish, you can’t blindly hustle. You have to be intentional about where you are exerting your energy. You have to know why you’re working three jobs. In other words, you must know what are you working towards.
The hours put in — be it 10,000 like Malcolm Gladwell calls it or 20,000 as Robert Greene does — are not the only element that contributes to your success.
In this journal article my cousin recently sent me (hey, Serena!), the author writes about his three-year study of swimmers at all levels. He wanted to understand the stratification: what makes an Olympian that much better than a recreational swimmer?
Was it time spent in the pool? No. Talent? No.
It was the qualitative adjustments they were able to make at a new level with new expectations, better coaches, higher bars to meet, and more comprehensive approaches to performance including nutrition programming. That’s what made them better.
Ignorance not bliss; it’s expensive.
How do you build stronger relationships? Spend more quality time. How do you become better at your job? Figure out the skills you need and then build them. How do you level up? Hire a coach or get a mentor.
How you are spending your time may just be MORE important than what you are spending it on. The distinction there is slight, but it is critical. Spend it in the right ways and you’ll expedite growth and impact; spend it in the wrong ways and you’ll be stuck on the hamster wheel.
Step 5: Balance consumption and creation.
Consuming too much of others’ content will leave you with no original insights or ideas to contribute to the marketplace. I have often fallen into this trap — listening to 2+ hours of podcasts daily, crushing books, and taking online courses. At first, it feels great — it feels like you’re making progress. But there are diminishing returns on this.
As Benjamin P. Hardy writes:
For most people, learning has become an escape from doing. Filling your head with useless information is the opposite of hard-won wisdom and understanding, which can only happen via the application of knowledge and re-application based on experience in the real world.
You have to utilize the new ideas, knowledge, and skills almost immediately in order for them to stick or impact your life in any substantial way.
Same goes for the opposite. Creating or sharing too much can create a loop of uninspired, mundane, even repetitive ideas. You have to open yourself up to books, podcasts, music, people, and projects that challenge you to create interesting insights.
The average CEO reads more than one book per week. Why? They know what you and I often forget: the only way to get ahead of the curve is to prepare, to learn, and to expose yourself to new ideas.
Step 6: Don’t negotiate (with yourself).
If you leave it up to yourself, you’ll always choose the easy option. If the Cheetos, Oreos, and Reese’s are in the closet — you’ll find them and nomnom suddenly they’re all gone. You can’t blame yourself in that moment of weakness — you set yourself up to fail just by having those things in the house.
Negotiating with yourself — wasting time listening to the voice in your head telling you not to go for a run and to eat the junk food instead — is useless.
Create a pact with yourself: when you say you will, you do. You don’t think about it. You don’t wake up and do it if you feel like it. If you said you would, others can consider it done. If it’s in the calendar, it’s happening.
You build respect for yourself every time you say you will do something and then follow up with action. Every time you don’t follow it up with action, you’ll feel like crap.
Bonus: Shut off (sometimes).
Don’t always be so highly scheduled and analytical about all this stuff all the time (like me). Sometimes, you have to have an hour or a day where you just say “f*ck it” and do whatever you want.
You can’t schedule spontaneity (I’ve tried).
But it’s in the spontaneity that we experience fun, creative breakthroughs, and love.
Forget everything you just read for a minute. Sit on the couch and watch TV. Shut off your phone and go for a hike. Eliminate all the noise for a few hours. Just forget about “doing” and be here, right now.
I’m still working on all of this. I’m far from perfect in this area — but I’m getting better. Take this advice with a grain of salt. I’m not “The Rock” or Casey Neistat (yet).
I’m just Kate — some girl collecting a bunch of self-help advice, trying to figure out how to make time work for me instead of against me…