Category Archives: Time Management

What is “productive”?

As an entrepreneur, productivity is extra-important because (as Ramit Sethi points out) no one is paying you for time — people are paying you for results. So it’s important that you do work that helps you get results.

A while back, in “How will this help you win”, I wrote about considering the rationale for everything you do. If an activity won’t help you “win”, why are you doing it?

My definition of productivity

As I’m going through the day, I mark down what I’m doing when, and highlight the tasks that are productive. And as I’m doing that, my definition is this: if it helps me accomplish one of my goals — if it helps me win — it’s productive. If it doesn’t, it’s not.

Exercising is productive — it helps me accomplish my goal of being healthy.
Meditating and journaling are productive — they help me accomplish my goals of being emotionally stronger and keeping my temper.
Writing blog posts or ebooks for sale or speeches are all productive — they help me create products, which helps me accomplish my goal of developing passive income.

Reorganizing my filing cabinet is not productive — my current filing system is fine, and reorganizing it does not help me accomplish any of my goals.
When I was an employee, going to work was not productive — it did not help me accomplish any of my goals. (Quitting that job therefore dropped the biggest block of non-productive time off my schedule of all time-saving techniques I’ve ever used.)

Were you productive today?

What did you do today?
Which tasks helped you win?

Resources for Further Reading
How Will This Help You Win?

Homework: Where are you spending your XP?

XP, as anyone who plays tabletop or computer role-playing games can tell you, stands for “experience points”. You earn XP for your adventures, and can then trade them in to improve your skills and abilities.

In real life, the equivalent is practice. When you spend time on something, you get better at doing it. Whatever skills are required for your job, you’re probably pretty good at them, because you spend a lot of time doing them. Whatever you spend your time on, those are the skills you’re building.

Do you read history discussion forums in the evenings? You’re building your history knowledge skill. Do you play chess? You’re improving your chess skill. Do you listen to technology podcasts while on the way to school? You’re improving your technology knowledge skill. Do you spend time with your family and friends? You’re improving your interpersonal skills.

Do you watch reality TV in the evenings? You’re improving your Reality TV Knowledge Skill. Do you play Halo? You’re improving your Halo skill. Do you listen to baseball games as you drive to work? You’re improving your baseball knowledge skill.

None of those are inherently good or bad. I’m not judging where you spend your XP – I’m asking you to judge where you spend your XP.

XP Analysis Homework

What would you like to do? Go back to your “what do you care about” homework for ideas. Write down all the things that you’d like to get done, that you’d like to learn, that you’d like to find time for.

Now, keep an activity log for a week. It can be complex software, or as simple as a notebook that you keep in your pocket. Write down everything you do, and how long you spend doing it.

At the end of the week, write down all your activities. Where did you spend your XP this week?

Are those the skills you care most about improving? If not, what changes can you make to bring your XP expenditures in line with your priorities?

Step 7: Choosing Metrics

This step is new to the annual planning process: we added it in this year when we realized that “number of objectives achieved” was a crude and inaccurate measure of our accomplishments: some projects weren’t expected to be completed (they were clearly multi-year projects from the start); some objectives were started in February and could be expected to be completed; some were such micro-projects that completing them was no big achievement. We wanted to be able to more accurately measure what we had done.

Enter Metrics

I wrote earlier about the benefits of metrics in your business (just not competitive metrics!), why not use metrics for the rest of your life as well? Especially since our goals this year were process oriented, providing direction but not distance, we needed a way to measure how far we’d come, so we could compare our accomplishments year to year.

I wasn’t really paying attention to the process while we did this; I was focusing on making metrics. So I’m kind of reconstructing it; please bear with me.

Decide what’s important to you

Look down your list of goals, and decide which of them want metrics. (For some goals, the best measure of success might be “Did I achieve it?” In those cases, you don’t need separate metrics — you’ll already be able to measure accomplishment next year.) For others, where achieving it is unlikely to happen within a year, or where “did I achieve it” is a question without a clear answer, you’ll want to make metrics.

Decide how to measure them

Some examples:

As I mentioned previously, my partner and I decided that maintaining and improving our relationship was our #1 priority. This isn’t really a project… we’re not making to-do lists and checking off tasks to accomplish it… but we do want to have some way to measure what we’re doing.

One such measure is simply subjective assessment: do we think we’re doing better or worse. We’ll grade ourselves each day, and try to keep our “better” days as high a percentage as possible.

Another way to measure it is average duration of a fight: the time elapsed from when the fight begins, to when it’s resolved (both of us understand and accept the other’s position, and we have arrived at a decision that neither resents, and made up). We want to “fight” productively, respecting each other’s opinions, communicating effectively, and making decisions that work for both partners and for the relationship. So keeping that as low as possible will help us measure our success there.

Another objective is to be healthy… but what does that mean?

To me it means eating right, so I’m going to rate my diet each day on a scale of 1 – 10, and try for as high a score as possible by the end of the year.

It also means being able to do things without wearing down so fast or running out of breath, so I Googled a test for aerobic capacity, that measures how quickly I can cover a mile and how much it raises my pulse to do so. I will measure this monthly, and want to maintain or improve my score on this test over the year.

And finally, I want to be able to lift more, and to not injure myself doing everyday chores like gardening. So I want to measure how strong I am, and aim to maintain or improve my lifting capacity over the year.

Decide what the best way is to measure the things that matter to you.

Decide when to measure them

Different metrics make sense at different intervals: I need to eat healthy almost every day, but measuring my aerobic capacity on a daily basis would be a waste of time and drive me crazy. So decide how to measure your progress, and how often you want to do so.

Set up a system to remind you to measure your metrics on the appropriate schedule; use mine if you’d like — it has a tab for daily goals and a tab for monthly measurements, and they’re both printable.

And… you’re ready!

That was quite a process. You analyzed where you’re at and what’s going on, put together long-term goals and short-term goals, and assembled projects and metrics to help you get there. You deserve a reward. My partner and I usually go out to dinner and see a play at the local theatre, but pick something that works for you (guys). And enjoy the year!

Resources for Further Reading
Annual Planning
Using Metrics

Step 5: Goal Setting

Goal setting is step 4 of the Annual Planning process if you’re doing it for the first time, but in subsequent years you need to add in a step (review last year) that bumps it back to step 5. As we discovered at our second annual retreat, you also need to modify this step some.

We weren’t sure what to do about this step. I was thinking to just re-do the whole goal-setting process, because I was afraid that re-using the same goals year after year would lead, eventually, to growing disconnected from our own goals. I wanted to be sure that our objectives grew and changed as we did. But my partner felt (quite accurately), that it would be silly and wasteful to just duplicate all the effort we went to last year, and that we’d be so busy trying to remember what we said last year that we wouldn’t think about new stuff. What we came up with, to answer both of our concerns, was this:

Write down last year’s goals

Just like last year, write down each goal on a separate piece of paper or an index card (or if you happened to keep last year’s cards, you can just pull them out again.)

Write down any new goals

A friend of mine is opening a business this year, and I’m helping him out – that obviously wasn’t on our list last year. You might have discovered something new you want to try doing, or a new event to which you’d like to travel. Or you might have thought of something you forgot last year. Whatever the reason, write down any new goals you may have, each on a separate piece of paper.

Sort them

This process is the same as last year: take all your goals, draw them out one at a time, and put them in order of priority. (They’re on separate pieces of paper so you can easily rearrange them.) This is likely to be faster than last year, because you already have a feeling of how these goals compare to each other, but you should still discuss why the goals are important to you as you decide where to place them.


You now have a prioritized list of what’s most important to you, and if you did this with a partner, you guys are now on the same page about where you want to go. That’s pretty sweet!

The next step is to make it tangible and turn it into a plan for the year, so move on to Your Projects: Assembling the Plan

Step 1: Review Last Year

This post is an addendum to the Annual Planning series written earlier this year. That series was written after I’d done my first annual planning retreat, but before I’d done my second, and it was clear that someadditions to the process needed to be made. First off, you probably want to review how last year went before you charge headlong into planning next year the same way.

Step 1: How did it go?

Look over your planning notes from last year. What did you hope to accomplish? Write those down in the left column below. Did you accomplish them? If you only accomplished partway, put down a fraction: ½ accomplished, ¾ accomplished, or whatever. Also jot down whatever notes you think might be helpful – project changes and so on.

Objective Completeness Notes

Now with your partner (if you have a partner) or in a notebook (if you’re doing this alone), talk about the year overall, and your objectives in particular. Do any patterns emerge that you should take into account when planning this year? For example, the first time I did this, I determined that I tried to tackle WAY too many projects in my first year. For my second year, I decided to limit myself to five projects at a time.

Highlight, circle, or in some other way indicate which unfinished projects you would like to roll over into consideration for next year’s plan. Then you’re ready for step 2 (which used to be step 1): External Analysis