How To Get More Time and Spend Your Life on What Matters.
The one thing everyone seems to say is, “I wish I had more time.”
I have some good news. You can. I’ve figured out a weird little rule that - if you follow it - will transform how you spend your life, and in the process, give you more time.
Skeptical? Fair. But I’m also living proof.
See, I’m a person co-workers and friends have always labeled as ridiculously productive. I often seem to be doing several things at once, accomplishing a seemingly impossible number of things in a given week.
In the past six months, I’ve served as the full-time CTO for a startup, written 800 pages of blog posts, spun up four new software projects, managed three open-source repositories, learned intermediate Thai and Spanish, and lived in eight cities and three countries.
On the surface, it’s certainly seems true - quantitatively I do “accomplish” more than most of my peers - but it’s not because I’m smarter, faster, or better.
It’s because I figured out and follow one simple rule for my time: 40-20-10.
The premise is simple: every week, I’ll spend:
- 40 hours on a primary task,
- 20 hours on a secondary one, and
- 10 hours on a smaller one.
The concept seems really simple, like it’s a neat ordering of life into boxes, a willful creation of a structured life. But in reality, it came from the exact opposite - I found that no matter how hard I tried, 40-20-10 is what actually got done in a week.
When I booked in more than that, 40-20-10 is still what I accomplished, it was just wrapped in hours of stressing, wishing I wasn’t burnt out, and staring at a screen with nothing to show for it.
40-20-10 is what I’m actually capable of. Everything outside that is garbage time.
I started asking co-workers, friends in different industries, and complete strangers. It turns out, if we’re honest, it’s actually true for pretty much all of us. When I told one highly productive friend about it, he commented, “Yeah, that’s pretty much what I do, except for me, I can do four things - so maybe 40-20-10-10.” I nodded, and asked him, “Tell me about the fourth thing.” After a long pause, he replied, “the fourth thing is the one that I want to get done but never actually get to. Hm.”
Try it for yourself. Think back over the past 7 days, jot down the big things you accomplished, then break out how many hours you spent actually accomplishing them. I’ll bet you’re not far off the formula.
Ok, so 40-20-10 is realistic. What makes it magic?
The magic is that once we know we have three well-defined blocks of time we’ll actually accomplish every week, we can choose what they are, and make the most of them.
The results are transformational - and they’re how I get that ridiculous number of things done.
How To Use 40-20-10 in Your Life
Putting it into practice is simple: at the start of every week, fill in your slots. What you’re going to spend 40 hours on, 20, and 10.
Then, block them out on your calendar over the next 7 days. You don’t have to worry about specific goals or deadlines - just block out the time. You’ll figure out what you’ll actually do when when you get there.
Simple, right? There is, of course, a catch.
The Fine Print
The catch is that everything counts. I mean everything. Time with your kids? That has to fit in a slot. Work? Has to fit in a slot. Relationship? Fits in a slot. Side project? Yep. Hobby? Yep. Time with friends? Yep. Everything that’s not brain-dead zombie time has to fit in a slot.
I know. The fine print always hurts.
You also can’t cheat and combine two things, by squeezing them into one slot. Or, rather, you can, but at the end of the week, you’ll probably notice that you actually half-assed both of them. This goes back to the magic. 40-20-10 isn’t about what you can or should or would like to do, it’s about what you’re actually capable of accomplishing.
But, if you can swallow hard and narrow your week down to three things, the rewards can be life-changing.
The 40-20-10 payoff is simple and profound - it lets you pick what you’re actually going to spend your finite life on. If you’re like most people, time is something you never have enough of. The list for the week is an aspirational thing, and you know deep down that there’s no way all of it is getting done.
With 40-20-10, your list for the week becomes finite, doable, and most importantly, aligned with the things that matter to you. Not the things that are “on fire.” The things that you decided matter.
As a bonus, you know what you’re going to get to, and just as importantly, what you’re not. You’re finally able to give other people realistic timelines they can bank on, instead of “hopefully soon.”
You’re also able to give yourself realistic timelines, which means you get to trade in those feelings of guilt and falling behind for ones of accomplishment, empowerment, and control.
It’s simple, it’s easy, and after years of doing it, I can promise it works.
40-20-10 has changed my life. Give it a shot. I’m certain it can do the same for yours.