All posts by Solamar Support

Time Blocking – Give Each Hour of Your Day a Job to Do

I remember it like it was yesterday. I was sitting at the Denny’s in Ottawa, getting ready to enjoy my Grand-Slam breakfast and coffee. I had been in town visiting my mom (she was in the later part of her life, and so I often found myself travelling from Toronto to Ottawa to see her.) And being the voracious reader that I am, I always had a book with me.

On that particular morning, I was carrying around a book called “The E-Myth” by Michael Gerber. I had
brought it with me on the trip, thinking at some point I’d crack it open. As I waited for my breakfast,
thinking ahead to the four-and-a-half hour drive back to Toronto that lay before me, I decided there was
no time like the present.

By the time the server came by with my food, I was already completely absorbed in this book. I couldn’t put it down. I actually ended up saying to the server: “Do you mind if I stay here and have coffee and finish my book?” She said sure, and 90 minutes later I finished it. (And yes I left her a generous tip)

My experience with “The E-Myth” is not a unique one. It has been lauded by entrepreneurs the world over. Its main principle can be summarized like this: there’s a big difference between working in the business and working on the business.

Working in the business is all about taking care of the day-to-day. And, obviously, this is essential. Working on the business, on the other hand, is just as (if not more) important. Working on the business is all about making time to work on your future vision for the company. It’s about creating your vision and working toward its realization.

Too often, when I start to work with business owners, they are working in the business and not on the business. I always say the same thing: creating daily space for future focus is critical to your business today and you’re growing your business for tomorrow.

Many people are familiar with the concept of working in vs. working on the business. But there’s a huge gap between knowing something and actually doing it. We need to treat our brilliant brains like they are plants; we need to feed them and tend to them in order for them to grow. If we don’t do this, if we don’t invest that crucial time into expanding our mindsets, we will forever stay working in the business and not on the business.

Making Room to Create

Before we get into working on our future visions, we need to create the time and space. For me, the very first thing I needed to do was create a ‘Stop Doing at All Costs’ list. Some of the things on that list included:

1) Jumping into emails first thing in the morning.
2) Working without a plan.
3) Letting everybody and everything else grab myattention at all times – that includes texts, emails, social media, etc.
4) Saying yes to the people and projects that don’t feed my future vision.
5) Indulging in the old habits that don’t serve me.

Slowly but surely, adhering to my ‘Stop Doing At All Costs’ list gave me the space I so desperately
needed.

I created space to focus on what really mattered.

This is where a lot of people seem to get stuck. They like the idea of prioritizing focus time, but they can’t wrap their hands around where to find it in their already-crammed calendars. And they’re right. Their current calendar is crammed. But that’s where a ‘Stop Doing At All Costs’ list comes in handy. If we want to get closer to our future vision, we need to stop saying yes to things that don’t serve that vision in any way, shape or form.

I know this may sound impossible, but the truth is that we make commitments all the time. We put meetings in our calendars and, because they’re there, we show up for them. I think back to pre-pandemic times, when I used to do kickboxing classes 4-5 times a week. The class I went to was at 5:30 p.m., and the funny thing is, it was always the same 15-20 people there. Over time, as I got to know my classmates, I discovered they were a pretty high-performing bunch outside the gym. I was struck by the fact that these incredibly busy people made time for this activity, and one thing they all had in common was that they put ‘kickboxing’ in their calendars. That little bit of structure and commitment feed them.

The simple fact of the matter is that when you make a commitment, even to somebody you only know as your kickboxing buddy, you show up.

It’s all about owning your calendar.

So, what does this ‘radical’ idea actually look like in practice? To answer that question, I like to lean on the advice of one of my favourite authors, Cal Newport. In his amazing book, ‘Deep Work’, he talks about a concept called ‘time blocking.’ Time blocking is the practice of assigning a job to each hour of your day. This can be challenging at first, but the results might just blow your mind. Here’s an example of how I use time blocking in my day:

‘no phone zone.’

85 percent of them will make me say, ‘what was I thinking?’ but 15 percent won’t. Plus, the sheer act of writing them down every day is like working a muscle at the gym.

At some point during the day, I will block out some time to answer emails. This may seem like a small thing, but it’s a crucial part of the time management puzzle. Before I started doing this, I would be distracted all day long. When I started restricting myself to one hour a day for checking and responding to emails, I was amazed by how focused I was able to be for the rest of the day.

Follow-through is really important here. I can’t stress that enough. If you’re reading this and thinking, ‘I’ll see if I have the time’, chances are you won’t find it. If you’re not conscious and deliberate about the way you manage your time, I can almost guarantee that your old habits will keep calling the shots.

Now, I’m by no means an expert at time blocking. It’s something I’ve been working on for a few years, and it’s still a work in progress. That being said, even in its imperfection, it’s been a total game changer for me. As I said in last month’s playbook, 80 to 90 percent of my current work and opportunities were created from time blocked periods. If I had waited until I felt fully confident starting this practice, I would probably still be struggling with the same things I was struggling with before.

Ok Shawn, I’ve Locked My Phone Up, Now What Do I Do?

So, you scheduled time into your day to work distraction free.

You turned your phone off and locked it away, or put it in another room. Now what?

I get asked that question a lot.

There is no “right” or “wrong” ways to invest your focus time, and I totally understand that it can be challenging to start.

And there is incredible power in asking great questions.

Questions are essential for lifetime growth. As children, when
we’re all growing at a rapid rate, we ask lots of questions. As we
get older, we gradually begin to think we have a lot of the
answers. For some people, their entire sense of security and self-
image depends on having all the answers – on never being wrong.
As a result, these people try to understand everything in terms of
what they know. But all growth lies in the territory of the unknown.
What we already know is in the past. What we have yet to discover
is in the future. Always make your questions bigger than your
answers, and you’ll keep drawing yourself into a bigger future with new possibilities.

Dan Sullivan, Catherine Nomura
“The Laws of Lifetime Growth”

Start Your Day Strong

Back before the pandemic, I was doing a live session at a corporate retreat with about 180 people. I
started my session by asking the following question: “When you wake up, how many of you reach for your
phone first thing?” There was a ripple of laughter, but about 90 percent of the audience put their hands
up.

Too many of us reach for our phones before we get out of bed, before we even look over at our spouses. And when you reach for your phone before you’ve even had a chance to properly wake up, you’re effectively saying ‘I don’t want to drive the bus today.’ You start looking at all those emails and texts and meeting requests that came in overnight, and you’re letting everyone else dictate your day.

So, let’s flip that switch. How do you want to start your day every day? What is the routine you want to commit to doing that will set you up for success for the day? I had to experiment with a lot of different things, but now my mornings tend to involve some reading, some meditation, maybe a little exercise. Mostly importantly, I don’t look at my phone for the first 90 mins of the day.

Your routine might look different, and that’s okay. So long as you’re being mindful of starting your day off strong, and committing to your daily focus time, you’re going to see results – and those results will be life changing. Not just business changing. Life changing.

Own Your Schedule, Or Someone Else Will

I work with business owners and leaders who have had a tremendous amount of success, long before meeting me. Typically, when they reach out to me, it’s not because they’ve stopped seeing success. It’s because it’s challenging to take that success to the next level. In other words, the tactics that got them to where they are today won’t get them to the next level.

One of the very first things I ask clients to do is track how they spend every single minute of the day. I ask them to do this for a full week. And when I say every minute, I mean every minute. If they go on LinkedIn for eight minutes, I want to know about it. If they’re in a meeting for 63 minutes, I want to know about that too. You get the idea.

I’m sure you can also surmise that it’s not a very popular exercise. But it works. Here’s how.

Once those seven days are up, I ask my clients the following question: “Where was your thinking time?” If they stare back at me with a blank expression (which is more common than you might think) I try again: “you know, the time in your calendar specifically devoted to thinking about your future, to creating, to exploring new opportunities and ways to think?

Usually, this is followed by an awkward silence.

What I’m trying to communicate to my clients is this: if we don’t own our schedules and actually pencil in time to think, those opportunities don’t happen.

There was a time in my life when I didn’t do this. Back when I was a traveling keynote speaker, living out of suitcases and airport waiting rooms, my then-coach was always on me about my time management. I distinctly remember her asking me to look at my calendar and figure out when my next free day was.

Oh, that’s easy,” I said. “It’s in 15 days. I’ll be flying that day…

Promptly, she cut me off. “No, I want to know when is the next day you have zero plans.

I shuffled through my calendar and, horrified, realized my next totally free day was 39 days away. “Huh,

I thought. “No wonder I’m a bit burnt out.

I’ve since learned how crucial it is to give yourself time – and I mean really give yourself time – to think. I don’t know about you, but my best ideas don’t come to me in boardrooms or Zoom meetings or conference calls. They come to me in the shower, or on a walk in the park, or on vacation, or while I’m sleeping. In other words, I do my best thinking when I have nothing else to distract me.

Airplanes are a perfect example of this theory in practice (or, at least, they used to be – before they started offering in-flight Wi-Fi.) Back in the day, without the entirety of the world wide web beckoning me from my pocket, I would dream up all kinds of ideas on airplanes. Nowadays, I get the same effect on subway cars (here’s hoping the Toronto Transit Commission doesn’t introduce in-service Wi-Fi anytime soon.)

Bottom line: we need to create the conditions for our brains to get, well, creative. We live in an incredibly distracted world. Making time to think and create is an extraordinary gift we give to ourselves. But we need to actually schedule it –daily.

About five years ago, I started my journey with Strategic Coach. One of the core principles of this program is the importance of identifying each day of your week as a Focus Day, a Rest Day, or a Buffer Day. On Focus Days, you shut down all distractions and work solely on your future self or company. On Rest Days, you commit to well, resting and relaxing. Buffer Days make up probably 99 percent of the population’s every day. These are the days where you do a little bit of everything – work, social media, other distractions, etc.

Learning how to actually schedule my Focus Days, Rest Days, and Buffer Days was really challenging. It took me a long time to get into the habit, but once I did, I can honestly say it was life changing. I started by committing myself to something I called ‘Championship Monday.’ Every Monday, I would go to the local public library with only two rules in mind: 1) Turn off your phone, and 2) Work solely on ‘Future Me’ or ‘Future Company’ activities. It sounds simple, but it was extremely difficult – at first. I so clearly remember my first Champion Day. I was so excited. I went and got a large coffee, got to the library, sat down, turned my phone off, and then thought: “Now what?” Within five minutes, I was sheepishly reaching for my phone.

Luckily, I stuck with the practice, and now it’s a habit I’ve kept. More than 80 percent of the work I’m doing now got its footing on those Focus Days, my Champion Mondays.

At this point, I’m fully aware that you might be thinking: “Well, Shawn, that sounds great, but there’s no way I can schedule a full day every week just to think.” To that, I say: start with 30 minutes. Right this minute, I want you to slot 30 minutes into your calendar for thinking time. Then I want you to schedule 30 minutes at the same time tomorrow, and again for the day after, and again for the day after that. Make sure it’s always the same time (trust me on this one – it works). During that focused 30 minutes (or 60 if you’re feeling brave) I want you to turn your phone off and work on one topic or question that will bring you closer to where you want to be in the future. Whatever you do, don’t use this
time for day-to- day stuff. You can do that any other time. This 30 (or 60) minutes is just for creating your Future Self and Company.