A 70/20/10 approach to time management

If you have a lot autonomy in your job to choose what to work on, it’s worth spending some time thinking about how to effectively choose tasks and distribute your time among everything you have to do.

Lets say you have three tasks:

  1. Task A (High Priority)
  2. Task B (Medium Priority)
  3. Task C (Low Priority)

In this example, it’s clear that you should work on A, then B, then C.

But in the real world, each task takes a certain amount of time and that can complicate things. If you’re lucky, it looks like this:

  1. Task A (High Priority, 1 Day)
  2. Task B (Medium Priority, 1 Day)
  3. Task C (Low Priority, 1 Day)

In which case you should still do A, then B, then C.

This also works when the shortest tasks are also the highest priority tasks:

  1. Task A (High Priority, 1 Day)
  2. Task B (Medium Priority, 3 Days)
  3. Task C (Low Priority, 1 Week)

But what happens when the highest priority tasks also take the most time?

  1. Task A (High Priority, 1 Week)
  2. Task B (Medium Priority, 3 Days)
  3. Task C (Low Priority, 1 Day)

Is it still true that you should work on A, then B, then C?

We can test our principles by looking at how well they hold up under extreme circumstances:

  1. Task A (High Priority, 1 Month)
  2. Task B (Medium Priority, 1 Week)
  3. Task C (Low Priority, 1 Hour)

Should you still work on A then B then C when A will take a month and C will take an hour?

Probably not… but you also shouldn’t just work on your shortest tasks first either. You could wind up spending a lot of time working on low priority tasks without spending time on things that matter.

I’ve found that a 70/20/10 approach works pretty well:

Spend 70% of your time on your high priority tasks, 20% of your time on medium priority tasks, and 10% of your time on low priority tasks. In a standard 5-day work week, that works out to be 3½ days on high priority tasks, 1 day on medium priority tasks, and ½ a day on low priority tasks. And if you have multiple tasks with the same priority, work on the shortest ones first.

That will ensure that you’re spending most of your time on the things that matter, but still are making progress on the medium and low priority tasks that need to get done as well.







If you followed me back in the day while I was working on my failed Lean Designs startup, it probably would have been hard to tell that things were headed in the wrong direction. Even for me, it took a long time to realize how many problems there were with the idea and execution.

I’ve thought about that a lot since then. It’s really hard to observe something and evaluate how things are going based on activity alone. Activity is necessary and important, but only if it’s applied effectively.

How can you tell whether activity is effective? Looking ahead, it’s difficult unless you have a deep understanding of the problem and the possible solutions. For example, it might have seemed like setting up an LLC and having a logo designed for Lean Designs were important tasks, but really they weren’t. If you’ve built an online business before you might realize that, but if not it would be tempting to look at the completion of those tasks and think I was making meaningful progress.

Looking backwards is a bit easier. Compare your current results for some goal with where you were a month ago, six months ago, a year ago. Have you made progress in whatever metric that matters? If your goal is to build and grow a SaaS startup, have you launched? What do your growth and retention rates look like? If you’re trying to lose weight, are you? If you’re trying to write more often, have you been?

It’s tempting to want to explain why when the results aren’t there. In the short run, there can be a lot of valid reasons why things aren’t going well. Bad luck, illness, etc etc. But the further back in time you go, the harder it becomes to attribute the lack of results to these types of factors.

If you look at where you are today with a goal and your results haven’t changed from six months ago despite lots of activity, it’s worth taking a step back and trying to identify the root cause. Ask why a bunch of times. Maybe there is a valid reason, but in my experience it’s often something more fundamental. Maybe I’m not as motivated by the goal as I thought which is causing me not to put the effort into it that is really required. Like with Lean Designs, maybe my entire approach is wrong. Maybe I shouldn’t have been working on Lean Designs in the first place.

And to be clear I’m not saying the ends justify the means. Just that results are important when goal-setting and the longer you go without meaningful results, the greater the odds are that something is fundamentally wrong with the goals or the execution.

Put another way, if I’ve been working on something for a while and the results aren’t there, I’m probably doing something wrong and need to re-evaluate my approach.

This might be obvious, but it took me a long time to really internalize it so I wanted to share in case it helps anyone.

Would love to hear your thoughts.

JavaScript Dates with Moment.js

One of the biggest frustrations developers deal with is working with dates. For an excellent overview of why dates are so complicated, check out JavaScript dates, trains, Passover, and Henry VIII by Curtis Autery.

When it comes to working with dates, JavaScript will make you want to hit your head against your desk. Even for simple tasks, working with JavaScript’s Date object can be a major hassle. It lacks a lot of basic functionality that you’d expect like being able to format a date/time a certain way, adding or subtracting from dates, working with locales, and a lot more.

There are hacky ways to accomplish these things as the thousands of StackOverflow posts about JavaScript dates can attest, but save yourself the trouble and check out moment.js.

Moment.js is an awesome library that makes working with dates in JavaScript a lot less painful. Dare I say it, maybe even enjoyable. Rather than give an incomplete introduction to its features here, scroll through the Moment.js docs page to see everything that you can do with it.

And next time you find yourself writing new Date in your code, take 30 seconds to download moment.js and save yourself hours of frustration.

Busyness implies unclear priorities

In Tim Ferriss’s recent interview with Derek Sivers (transcript here) there’s a really interesting discussion on the idea that being busy implies a lack of control and unclear priorities:


Every time people contact you, every time people contact me they say “I know you must be incredibly busy”, and I always think “No, I’m not.” Because I’m in control of my time. I’m on top of it. Busy, to me, seems to imply out of control, you know? Like “Oh my God, I’m so busy! I don’t have any time for this shit!” To me that sounds like a person who’s got no control of their life.


No control and unclear priorities.


Yes! Exactly. So you asked how it’s applying in my life: on the little tiny day-to-day level, even personal things, even people you meet, even as I’m dating, you have to do the hell yeah or no approach. People ask you to go to events or even people asking to do a phone call or anything. I think “Am I really excited about that?” Almost every time the answer is no. So I say no to almost everything.

As someone who feels busy a lot, this really resonated with me. I’ve accumulated too many things, too many projects, and too many time commitments because I don’t say “no” often enough.

Here are a few work related changes I’m making to try to help:

  • This morning, I left about 25 Slack channels at work. I normally have two groups, one of favorited channels whose disucssions I try to read completely and another larger group of channels that I’m in but don’t try to read completely. I left almost all of the channels in the second group and several from the first. While this won’t free up a ton of time because I wasn’t reading the channels in the un-favorited group anyway, it did declutter Slack a lot which will help me focus more on the discussions that are important to me.
  • I attend several regular virtual hangouts at work that aren’t directly related to what I do on a day to day basis but I usually attend anyway just for awareness of what’s going on at other areas of the company. Some of these aren’t “hell yeah” meetings for me (to use Derek’s terminology) so I probably won’t attend in the future I’m needed.
  • I was following 51 P2s (internal blogs) at Automattic, but many of those were left overs from when I was part of a different team (I was on the Store Team but am now on the Data Team). I unfollowed a bunch, bringing my total to 36 30. Automatticians: there’s an easy way to figure out how many P2s you follow – ping me for details.
  • I uncommitted myself from some projects to allow me to focus more on the projects that are really important to me and to the company. I was a bit uneasy going into the “I no longer want to work on this so that I can focus on these other things” conversations, but folks were understanding and I’m really glad now I did it.

I imagine this exodus will looked pretty suspicious to any coworkers that happen to notice, but rest assured I will be returning after Christmas vacation :).

To wrap up: if you find yourself overwhelmed or busy all the time, try cutting a few things. It might not be easy, but you’ll likely find yourself much more relaxed as you decrease the number of things your plate.