Be Ruthless With Your Time

Imagine saying no to a client. Turning away a business deal with profit? How can you say no to that?

Be Ruthless With Your Time
Photo by Lukas Blazek / Unsplash

I’ve written about Big Rocks and Questioning Productivity before but all my ideas come down to one simple thing, being ruthless with your time.

You have only so much time to devote to yourself, your family, and your work. Maximize your life’s return and drop the low-value tasks and busyness. It’ll make you a lot happier, more productive, and even wealthier.

Don’t believe me? Read on.

Think high profit, low time commitment

We’ve been deluded into thinking that busyness is valuable. Rushing around with papers in our hands, going to meeting after meeting, and working through lunch. The reality is that not all busyness is valuable or productive. Not every task is worth doing.

In my Questioning Productivity post, I shared a task urgency vs. profit matrix. I shared this matrix before about focusing on task urgency and level of importance.

I suggested that readers should focus on important and urgent tasks first, then on important but not urgent tasks next.

I can’t claim credit for this idea at all, the first time I learned about it was from Stephen Covey and his 7 Habits of Highly Effective People book. This matrix is reminiscent of a standard SWOT matrix where you list your Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats.

What I like about this matrix is that it’s flexible enough to change to about any x vs y criteria and to illustrate the point of this post, I changed the axis to time vs. profit.

tasks next

Here we see the level of time commitment to a task on the y-axis vs the profit payoff along the x-axis.

It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to be able to classify your projects, tasks, and strategies into these four categories.

If you’re interested in growing your startup, building your career, or becoming wealthy, you should always focus on the highest profit endeavors, preferably the ones with the lowest time commitments.

Of course, not every high-profit endeavor will be a low-time investment, but those do exist.

Too often I see people operating in the low (to no) profit corners of the matrix and spending way too much time on them.

So how do you shift your focus? How do you free up your time from low-profit and high-time projects?

You say no and delegate tasks.

The power of no and delegation

No. It’s one of the hardest things to say to a potential client, prospect, or manager.

Saying “no” feels like you’re not doing your job or that you’re not a team player. A lot of emotional feelings come with just saying “no” because we like to be agreeable and please people.

Imagine saying no to a client. Turning away a business deal with profit? How can you say no to that?


If you spend all your time on low-profit and high-time projects then you won’t have time for high-profit projects.

Time is a finite resource, once it’s spent it can never be recovered. It’s better to not do projects and tasks that have a low-profit/high-time commitment or delegate them.

Just say no. If you can’t say no then consider delegating them to someone else. Hire a part-time executive assistant and delegate your low-profit/high-time projects and tasks to them.

If you’re the CEO of a startup you don’t have to go to every sales meeting or every first interview. Only go to those meetings if they will generate high profit for you and your startup.

Focus your time, say no, and delegate.

Be ruthless with your time

None of what I wrote above is brand new. These ideas have been around for decades and form a lot of modern managerial thought. The problem is that we think our startup is different.

We think that it won’t happen to us or that we’re special startup snowflakes. We’re not. Time is a finite resource. You get 24 hours daily to bring your vision to the world, so why waste your time with low-profit activities?

Be ruthless with your time.Free up your time up to focus on high-profit projects and tasks and you’ll see your top and bottom lines increase. You’ll see your startup grow and you won’t pull out your hair wondering why you’re busy all the time and not getting anywhere.