Jim Collins’ Quirky Rules To Optimize Life

Jim Collins has been experimenting on himself before it was cool.

Jim is a world-renowned author – author of Good to Great and Built to Last.

But perhaps Jim is less known as a life-optimizer. Not only is he an avid rock climber and hiker, but he has also conducted decades worth of investigations on… himself.

Today, there’s no shortage of people experimenting on themselves. Trying to be the best version of themselves. Trying to find out the ways they can optimize their performance.

Jim Collins has been doing it forever.

Jim Collins - Video/Audio

Jim has a few quirky habits.

Before he introduces these principles, he lets people know… “well, you know, I’m is not quite normal.” For anyone in pursuit of becoming the highest version, this makes sense.

Those of us who are obsessed with improvement? We’re not exactly normal. We’re making the decision to make the most out of our one life.

So here are some of Jim Collins’ quirky habits.

The 50/30/20 Rule

He carries three stop watches with him at all times.

The first stopwatch is to track the time he spends on creative work.

The second stopwatch is to track the time he spends on teaching.

The third stopwatch is to track the time he spends on “other stuff that he just has to get done.”

The 50/30/20 Rule states that 50% of his time should be spent on creative work, 30% of his time should be spent on teaching, and 20% of his time should be spent on everything else. Oddly enough, this is similar to the Pareto Principle (80/20).

For many years, Jim actually kept track of the time he spent on these activities.

Today, Jim carries three stopwatches with him, but he doesn’t actually use them. He merely uses them as reminders.

The reason why?

He figured out the 1,000 Hour Rule.

The 1,000 Hour Rule

At some point, Jim stopped tracking these stopwatches and instead realized the creative work portion was the most important. And he figured that for every 365-day cycle, his creatives hours must exceed 1,000 (averages out to around 2 hours, 45 minutes per day)… “no matter what.” That means February 26 to February 26. Or August 2 to August 2.

So what counts when he’s calculating these creative hours, exactly?

Any activity that has a reasonably direct link to the creation of something that is new or potentially durable. If he was an artist, he would count getting the paintbrushes ready. Sometimes, he counts activities that he doesn’t expect, like conversations.

But in general, he errs on the side of caution. It’s better to be a hard counter in your long march.

This rule also bears an interesting similarity to Malcolm Gladwell’s 10,000 Hour Rule (highlighted in Outliers). It’s likely Jim has spent more than 10 years applying this 1,000 Hour Rule. Which would mean he has spent way more than 10,000 hours doing creative work… and would help explain why he’s become such a prolific author.

Day Ratings

Humans have awful memories.

Ask someone what they had for dinner two weeks ago and they will have no idea.

So, at the end of each day, Jim rates the day on a scale from -2 to +2.

  • +2 = great day
  • +1 = good day
  • 0 = average
  • -1 = bad day
  • -2 = really bad day

Here’s the common theme of +2 days: Jim spends them alone working on a difficult problem and/or with people he loves.

Of course, just because these are the conditions that optimize Jim’s life doesn’t mean you will be the same. You need to figure out when you are having +2 days.

Everyone has good days and bad days. Because Jim tracks them, he is aware how to make more good ones and have less bad ones.

Tracking takes less than 5 seconds and probably gives Jim great data on how to optimize his own life.

Think of this as an easier form of journaling.

Sleep Monitoring

Jim went to a sleep specialist in order to optimize his sleep.

Similar to the 1,000 Hour Rule, he has found that for his body, he needs to average 70 hours of sleep every 10 days (average seven hours per night).

Jim believes you can function on no sleep. People pull all-nighters and are able to operate.

But can you function on no sleep for two or three days in a row? Probably not. Jim believes this is because he is dipping too far below the 70-hour average mark.

With that said, he knows people are different. He cautions that this is just what’s worked for him.

The 20 Minute Rule

If Jim wakes up in the middle of the night and can’t fall back to sleep within 20 minutes, he gets up and starts his day. Then, he ideally takes a nap from 7am until 10am, where he can begin work again.

Jim finds mornings are the best time to work for him. His mind is free of distractions, people don’t need him to do anything, and he can simply focus on work.

He loves days where he wakes up in the middle of the night because it means he gets two mornings.

This is a great way to take advantage of the time you would be up anyway and put it to good use.

Because Jim loves his work, this is easy for him.

Bug Book

Jim kept a Bug Book in college. It was basically a journal.

Except slightly different.

The premise was that he would observe himself in third person.

For example, in college he wrote:

“The bug Jim really loves to make sense of something difficult, breaking it down into understandable pieces, and teaching it to others.”

This is a pretty astonishing realization to be made as a college student, especially when taken in the context of his career. This is exactly what Jim ended up doing!

The Bug Book was doing experiments on himself to figure out what he liked to do and how he reacted to specific situations. By keeping a Bug Book, Jim was able to view his tendencies as a neutral observer.

Then, he would review his entries and come up with conclusions.

You can do the same by keeping a journal or Bug Book. Make sure to review your entries every week or month to really get the most out of it.

In Summary

  1. Spend at least 1,000 hours yearly doing creative work.
  2. Rate your days.
  3. Make sure you are averaging more than seven hours per night.
  4. If you wake up in the middle of the night and can’t go back to sleep, get to work.
  5. Keep a journal where you look at yourself in the third person.

These rules were all taken from Jim Collins’ interview with Tim Ferriss. To access all notes on the podcast, click here.

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