Music For Concentration When Working

One of the unexpected benefits of this 30 day challenge has been getting to read other people’s work.

Whether that has been to to proof-read, give ideas on direction or simply to provide moral support, there have been numerous daily posts to go through.

One of the recurring subjects has been workflows. The things we do during our day to be better, faster, healthier or more productive people.

I can’t get enough of workflow posts.

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My Evening Routine

I have a morning routine that I’ve worked on these past 18 months.

It can look a bit extreme, but it’s just an hour and a half that I use to prepare myself for the day ahead.

I now rely on that time and feel disorganised if it doesn’t happen (though I can’t recall the last time this was).

By contrast my evening routine is more flexible. I’m tired, I’ve been on the go all day and I’m not a robot.

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My Morning Routine


A day last month

There are lots of articles telling you why you might want to consider having a good morning routine. They usually include words like ‘success’ or ‘leader’ and they can feel like they’ve been churned out by a content marketing machine, leaving a bit of a bad taste in the mouth.

I won’t include any of those words in this post.

Indeed, I won’t write much on the benefits of a good morning routine either. Instead I’ll point you to Leo Babuta’s perspective on why a strong morning routine is A Good thing and let you make your own mind up.

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Take Control of Your Time by Putting a Value on It

How much do you value your time?

Let’s guess: you value it a lot, right?

OK, but can you put a number on it? A monetary value?

We’re not talking about your daily rate if you’re doing some consulting. Instead, when you’re planning your day or week, are you able to associate a value to every discretionary task that you do?

If not then you might want to consider using this simple formula which will enable you to get to that number:

Earning Potential / (Time Available * Discretionary Productive Time Multiple) = Discretionary Hourly Rate

Don’t worry if this doesn’t make a lot of sense right now. Below we’ll define these terms before trying out the exercise on a hypothetical you, with some real numbers.

Earning Potential

We need to consider a goal. Whilst we could work with your current salary where is the fun in that? Even with the most altruistic of motivations for being in business, you need to earn some money and it doesn’t hurt to have a target to aim for. So, choose a number here for your annual salary that’s realistically achievable within the next couple of years, erring on the side of high.

Time Available

For your long-term, successful future you need to be healthy, alert & happy. This means taking the time to rest, be with your friends & family, eat well, reflect, dream, exercise and do those things that make you, well…, you. This means we’re going to ignore early mornings, evenings and weekends for the scheduling of work related activities.

Also, you may get sick, you will take holidays & go to conferences. Depending upon where you live there will also be a number of state holidays. Taking all of this into account figure out the number of days you’re likely to be working in a year.

Discretionary Productive Time

You need to understand that we’re only interested in the time that you have available to do discretionary tasks during each day, once we’ve removed those standing jobs that you’re going to have to do anyway.

Let’s run through some example categories:

Team management. Staff, external contractors, peers and even arguably your clients all need managing. You need to cultivate these relationships and help your team grow. This takes time and can’t be skimped on.

Planning. Your day, week, month & year planning are vital business activities and should be factored in as such, If they are not there’s a tendency for them to get sidelined and then you’ll start drifting.

Comms. You need to communicate with people. Even if you’re the master of keeping physical meetings, Skype/Hangout, email and of course the dreaded “Have you got a sec?” to an absolute minimum, there will still be a chunk of your business life that is dedicated to communicating with others.

Sustenance. Basic stuff: you need to eat, look out of the window, grab a water, pop to the loo. During the day and week it adds up.

Reading. Learning new things to apply to your business. Proposals from suppliers or contracts from clients. Essential stuff that’ll take time out of most weeks.

Miscellaneous. Popping out to buy a new shirt for that meeting tomorrow, calling the bank because they overcharged you or fixing the *beep* printer because it’s decided to suddenly stop working and if you’re a parent let’s not forget the multitude of school assemblies, parent’s evenings and sports days.  Even if you have a PA or subordinate to outsource tasks to, you’re invariably going to lose some time each week to these sorts of tasks, so you should probably account for it.

One really effective way of mapping this all out is to use time blocking in your calendar. Whilst you may not choose to plan each week out this way, for the sake of this exercise try and map out all that stuff you need to get done on a weekly basis so you can come up with a number of the hours available for discretionary activities.

Your Discretionary Productive Time Multiple is related to the ratio of time taken up by non-discretionary tasks when compared to the maximum hours available in your day/week.

Meet Jane

To work with some real numbers let’s calculate Jane’s Discretionary Hourly Rate.

Jane runs a small consulting business. She works on average 9 to 5 / 10 to 6 for 5 days per week with the morning herding of cats school runs being shared (mostly!) equally with her partner and the first few hours after school being covered by their child-minder.

That’s a nice and simple 8 hour day and 40 hour week.

She has a team of 8, with 3 direct reports as well as her PA. She’s ruthless with her time management, blocking 30ish mins per day for calls & email. She permits herself to 30 mins a day for consuming information and allows herself a luxurious 30 mins a day for review as well as a further 4 hours per week for planning.

Because she likes round numbers she’s aiming to have her consultancy support a salary of at least £100,000 for her within the next 2 years. This feels achievable though it is not going to happen unless she starts to really focus in on her businesses future and starts to prioritise her most important business tasks on a given day or week.

Jane lives in the UK and reckons she has 217 work days available to her each year, this takes into account bank holidays, 5 weeks holiday and allows her 2 weeks off sick.

Plugging all these numbers into a spreadsheet, she gets:

Non-discretionary tasks
Sustenance 5
Comms 4
Planning & reviewing 6
Team management 4
Reading 4
Odd-jobs 4
Max hours per week 40
DPT ratio (27/40)  0.675
DPT multiple (1 – DPT ratio) 0.325
Earning Potential  £  100,000.00
Hours available (217 * 8) 1736
Discretionary Hourly Rate  £          177.24

Remember that the Discretionary Hourly Rate is calculated as follows:

Discretionary Hourly Rate = Earning Potential / (Time Available * Discretionary Productive Time Multiple)


DHR = 100,000 / (1736 * 0.325)

For every hour that Jane has ‘spare’ during her working day – about 1/3 of the hours available to her, averaged out over a hypothetical week – then she could be thinking that to get her to her earning target for the year, that hour needs to provide around £177 of value.

Or to put it another way, the next time she’s asked “Do you have a minute?” she could be thinking to herself “No. Not really, it’ll cost me £2.95, and you’ll end up taking 10, which will cost me nearly thirty quid!”.

Wrapping up

This has of course only been a thought exercise, but I hope you’ll agree a valuable one nonetheless.

By taking the time out to consider what you’re doing day to day and week to week, you’ll get a much clearer picture where your time is going and, more importantly, how little you have left to be spent applying your own unique blend of secret sauce to your business.

Of course you might be thinking that those numbers would be different for you. Jane’s 4 hours for reading adds up to a lot and maybe you could squeeze an extra couple of hours in each day?

Regardless, the point is that you come up with a metric for valuing the discretionary time available to you during your working week.

What number did you come up with? Did I miss out any non-discretionary activities? How does this system work for single parents? What about if you’re not running your own business? I’d love to hear from you. Please leave a comment below or feel free to email me directly:

Manage Your Week with Timeboxing

A vanilla week

My vanilla template. [Download XLSX]

As we all know there is only so much time in one day.

We can use various productivity methodologies to define & track what we need to get done in any given day but the fact remains there is a finite time available to get all that stuff done.

One ‘trick’ we can use to cram more in is to extend the time available, by working into the evenings or weekends though this, like most things in life, is about balance. Occasionally stretching our day is a viable option but if done regularly it is a definite route to burnout and, well, we don’t want that do we?

I’ve always been good at defining the stuff to get done – read: slightly OCD list writer – and then arguably effective at the actual doing but there has been a feeling that I needed to marry the tasks to a calendar so I would know when to do said things. I did try for a while to add individual tasks to my calendar but it all got really messy really quickly. It was all far too granular and I felt like I was spending half my time moving micro tasks about the calendar due to interruptions or last minute changes so I quickly gave up.

Enter stage left timeboxing.

I first heard of this technique last year when talking with other attendees at The Business Of Web Design conference where the concept of a ‘perfect’ or ‘ideal’ week was floated. It seemed like a very interesting concept but as I was deep in my own rabbit hole at the time I didn’t feel I had the time to investigate it (yes, yes, something about irony).

Much later in the year when I started turning things around I read around the subject and figured I’d give it a try. I’m only 7 months in and I’m still tweaking things but it has proved so effective that I thought it worth sharing my initial findings.

My starting point was Michael Hyatt’s Ideal Week where he provided a handy template to download. Michael’s week is pretty far away from my ideal, but that’s of course unsurprising, yours will be completely different to mine too. If it helps you I’ve blatantly copied & modified Michael’s version and you can download it here as an Excel sheet.

I have broken mine out into: me time, family time & work time. As I’ve scaled my team I no longer do production work but I still do some consulting either on or offsite so I have to cater for this too, in this case I try to limit this to Wednesday & Thursday leaving me the important beginning & end of weeks ‘free’ for strategic or internal business tasks.

It’s also important to acknowledge that we’ll be more focused at different times of the day. So, I try to get the important jobs, my ‘rocks’ done earlier in the day and I do less important or low energy tasks later in the day.

Finally, I also leave a slot per day for those inevitable interruptions or for things over-running.


A week in March

As you’ll see in this real-life example from March, my template has evolved. Initially I would allow time at the end of the day to plan tomorrow. This never happened. I’d usually still be deep into something and this task got ignored. So I now do it as my first job of the day and it has proved to be much more effective.

I also leave gaps between each tasks because I’m not an automaton and the important thing is not so much the exact time available, but that these are the approximate slots.

This is important so I’ll repeat it: the thing we’re trying to do here is to provide an approximate framework for a week. It’s not a hard & set regime. Things will change day to day & week to week but it’s having a basic structure I find really helpful.

As far as each individual time slot goes these might differ. If it’s a big chunky task then a diary entry might directly map to a task in my own pseudo GTD system but other diary entries are likely to be groups, such as hammering through a bunch of quick win tasks.

Another thing that has changed is the week plan. This is so essential but I also wasn’t finding the time during the week. As it is so important – not doing it means I have a much less focused week – that I have moved it to Sunday evening which is a great time to start thinking about the week ahead. Here I’ll sort my OneNote template for the week and map out my calendar. It is such a nice feeling to go to bed on Sunday knowing that I have a basic plan for the week and when I sit at my desk on Monday I can hit the ground running.

Working on a Sunday? Yeah, I know, but it’s the only part of my personal time that I schedule – screw having evenings & weekends all regimented – but that hour or two on a Sunday has such a tangible benefit to my life that I allow it.

One final parting thought is about mapping this to your own life. Whilst I think timeboxing can work for many people I think the micro nature of it is more suited to management rather than those of us who are making things. Rob & Mike touch on this in episode 204 of Startups For The Rest Of Us where they talk about ‘maker time’ and ‘manager time’ the basic difference being that a manager can do lots more small tasks & cope with the interruptions whereas a maker needs to be ‘in the zone’ more. I totally get this and agree that if you’re – say – a developer or designer and needing to ship something you need a much larger chunk of time without lots of context switching. That all said I still think this technique could work, maybe adjust things so that there’s two big chunks a day and some smaller chunks at the beginning & end backfill with small tasks?

Productivity systems are so personal and we’re all so different so I concede that the above may not work for you at all. That said I’m having pretty positive results from it & maybe you can too?

If you do get on with this or you’ve got any insights to share on your own systems I’d love to hear. Please drop a note in comments below.

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