Be Reckless With Your Money, But Be Ruthless With Your Time

Last year about this time I decided to set a few goals for the year. For the first time, I decided to keep it really simple by choosing three:

  • Finish a book project.
  • Write these emails regularly.
  • Get organized.

The book project is about done, and "Tradecraft" will be released in all three formats in January. I think I'll end up writing 47 emails, skipping 5 weeks, which I can live with. And the organization was amazing and really helped my head.

But what made those goals reachable, unlike all the stupidly over-optimistic ones I made in previous years? The power of that list is what I DID NOT put on it and not what I DID put on it. And unless you've been living under a rock, of course, you're very familiar with this concept, so all I'm going to do is to add three twists to this.

First, you have to say "yes" a lot to build your firm out of the gate, but if you don't switch to saying "no" a lot, you'll never thrive. What got you here won't get you there, and if saying "no" was easy, we'd do a lot more of it. We're all in different circumstances in a different part of life, but my own polite "no" statements mean precious few:

  • Networking calls to see how "we can compliment each others' businesses."
  • Drive an hour from the farm to Nashville so someone can buy me a coffee. (Try a margarita instead of coffee if you want my attention.)
  • Podcast appearances or speaking opportunities that aren't central to the work I do.
  • New initiatives that would be a blast but could also distract me.
  • Out of scope check-ins without a very specific agenda.
  • Standing meetings. I have two weekly ones: our recording of 2Bobs and a team meeting.

You're going to have to be more ruthless with your time if you want to accomplish more next year, and nobody is going to care about your schedule as much as you will, so hold the hordes at bay.

Second, make time for big things, first, and let the little things slide in around them. There's a great parable about this that makes the point beautifully. If you put big rocks (the most important things on your list) in a glass jar first, you can add smaller rocks, and then sand, and then water to fill it up the rest of the way. But put all that other nonsense in there, first, and you'll never get the big rocks in. Those of you who practice great time management skills understand this.

One of the most articulate purveyors of this philosophy is Derek Sivers, especially in his "Hell Yeah or Hell No" book. I'd forgotten about that before I asked him to write the forward to my Business of Expertise book. He wrote back with his version of "hell no", noting that he didn't have the time, though he wished me well. I took that as the first "not written by" foreword in the world. You can see his response here, and how I handled it. It was awesome.

Third, there are inescapable priorities that every principal must nail. And those are these: watch financial performance, lead new business, establish and nurture a great culture, and manage the middle layer. That's it. If you have more time after executing those well, then maybe add strategy for clients. More about that here.

There we go. But what makes this so hard for us, specifically? We have a mad crush on opportunity. We think we'll starve. We think it'll all go away. Not only do we love making something out of nothing, we have this bizarre sense that we'll lose it all for some strange reason. I wrote about that earlier, so I'll spare you additional lectures.

One last thought, and this is really important. This is the time of year when you scrutinize your P/L to see if you've met your financial goals, either in total sales or bottom line profit. But wouldn't it be awesome if there was a P/L for your time? What would that show? For the record, this is the first year—yes, the very first year—I have accomplished my goals. That could be because I didn't aim all that high, of course. Lesson learned.

Money is nice. Time is better. As we noted on a recent episode, "Be reckless with your money, but be ruthless with your time." I don't know about the first part, but the second part is spot on.

Here's to a simpler next year, where you put the rocks in first before everyone else adds the sand.

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