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The Rule of 70/20/10

Do important work or none at all Feb 8

Nik’s Note: This edition of You is free for everyone. To receive all editions, biweekly audios, and more, join here. For 3 more days, you can get 25% off for life. Photo by Thao Le Hoang on Unsplash


Ip Man is a Kung Fu movie about the legendary martial arts teacher of the same name. It is rated a staggering 8 out of 10 on IMDb and considered a cult classic among fans. The movie is almost two hours long, but if you skim through it, you’ll notice: There’s not a lot of fighting. Isn’t that what Kung Fu movies are about? Apparently not. You’ll see the master having tea, helping his friends, and struggling with everyday life. You’ll see him muse about politics, about war, and about philosophy. You’ll even see Ip Man spending time with his family and training with “the wooden man,” a tool he invented. Why do people love this movie so much if, as it turns out, there are only three major fight scenes? They love it because each fight means something. That’s what Kung Fu is really about: Learning to use martial arts when it matters. Ip Man perfectly represents this ideal, and that’s why he’s an admirable character. He doesn’t fight just to fight. He wants to maintain peace among his community. Only if the fighting serves a higher goal does he break out his fists. In the first fight, Ip Man must defend his home against an intruder. In the second, he avenges a friend to send a message. In the third, he makes an example of the leader of the Japanese, occupying forces. Family, loyalty, and culture. Those are the themes behind Ip Man’s fights, and they’re much bigger than just himself. That’s why it’s an honor to watch him fight and easy to root for him when he does. There are a lot of lessons in the movie about values, about civility, and about the true philosophy of Kung Fu, but the main one may be: “Don’t fight when it doesn’t matter.” Focus your energy on the biggest obstacles so you may overcome them when they appear. Hidden in the movie’s timeline lies a rule on how, inspired by a true Kung Fu master, you can do so in your everyday life. I guess we could call it the rule of 70/20/10. Imagine, every week, your schedule would look like this:

  • 70% of the time, you rest. You get 8 hours of sleep and, for another 9 hours each day, you rest actively. You create. You think. You go outside. You spend time with friends and family and just try to enjoy life.

  • 20% of the time, you train. That’s another 5 hours a day. I know, right? A week is long if you know how to use it. You work out. You educate yourself. You level up your game and mentally prepare for what’s ahead.

  • 10% of the time, you fight. You attend the tournament. You run the marathon. You sit at your desk for 8 hours to finish the project. Whatever it takes, you raise all hell and use every skill you have to succeed - and you do that for two 8-hour days each week.

That’s an accurate representation of how Ip Man spends his time. It’s also the opposite of what most of us do each day: We sacrifice rest for more training and fighting. Often, that’s a mistake. The opposite of important work isn’t busywork - it’s rest. When you trade all your rest for busywork, you have no energy left to do what matters. This applies in the micro - an overworked consultant will make a fatal mistake when presenting to the client - as well as the macro: if your todos don’t add up, you’ll quickly waste a year or two. “It’s very easy to spend a decade being incredibly busy and stressed every day, feeling like you’re working incredibly hard, and creating a ton of movement - but not moving forward,” Sam Altman says in an interview. You don’t want to be the hot-headed challenger, traveling to a new town just to provoke every Kung Fu master into a fight. You’d be fighting without a reason, for fighting has no inherent purpose. When we’re productive only to create motion, we too are fighting windmills. We see every task as a challenge, and we decide to spend 100% of our time in fighting or training mode. We do as much as we can, but, inevitably, we’ll hit a wall and realize: We’ve lost our sense of direction and our peace of mind right with it. We so furiously dug away at opportunity, we developed tunnel vision and missed the bigger picture. It takes a lot of time and tranquility to maintain a good sense of said big picture, and that’s what the rule of 70/20/10 provides: Space to cultivate the “Why of Life.” Your life, to be exact. On rare days, I finish my todo list early. When it happens, I feel the pull of busy. “Come on. Write another article. Send another email.” It takes a lot of willpower to decline. “No! You’re just busywork. I will not sacrifice my precious rest.” Rest is the most important part of a Kung Fu master’s day. Practice matters too. After all, you never know when a fight shows up on your doorstep. Therefore, you must always be prepared. Whenever the challenge appears, however, the master remembers it is a necessary but unwanted one. He’ll deal with it swiftly to protect what’s on the line, but he won’t needlessly prolong it for his own, twisted enjoyment of battle. Don’t fight just to fight. Don’t be a soulless action movie. Be a cult classic. Be a true Kung Fu master. Practice the rule of 70/20/10 when you can. Remember the opposite of important work is rest, and follow your true idol’s example. When you do, chances are, you’ll always know which one to choose. Your email friend, -Nik PS: You can learn more about You here. If you want to go premium and get 25% off for life, you can do so until Feb 11 here.

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