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Beginning, Finishing, The Space In Between

by David Brock on April 19th, 2014

Yesterday I had the privilege of spending a day with the founding team of one of the most exciting start-ups I’ve seen in years.  These people are sharp, excited, and have an idea that can change the lives of business professionals as much as the telephone, email, and social applications have.  But, I can’t go further — for the moment.  I made a pinky swear of confidentiality with the CEO.  They are in stealth mode but should be launching in a few months.  Stay tuned.

But our meetings got me started thinking about how we–business professionals–spend certain parts of our day.  I’d really like your feedback in the comments or if you want to keep it private, send an email to dabrock@excellenc.com.

Here’s what I’d like to hear from you:

How do you spend your first 30 minutes or so when you start your business day?  Do you catch up on email, sip that cup of coffee, review your calendar for the day, update your to-do list, catch up on the latest news, look at your internal “group communications” using things like Chatter, Jive, or external networks, make a few phone calls, or something else.  Do you spend time reflecting/prepping for the next meeting or two?

How do you spend the last 30 minutes of your business day?  A final glance at your emails?  Look at your calendar for the next day?  Prep for the next day’s meetings?  Peruse social networks or internal networks.

Finally, how do you spend the “spaces in between?”  By that, I mean those few minutes between meetings or while you might be waiting for a customer, or like me right now–waiting for a flight in airport or those few minutes of unscheduled time you see on your calendars.  Do you catch up on emails, a few calls, look at your social media sites, think about the next meeting/prep for it?

I’d really appreciate your feedback and it will be of enormous help to the team.

Since I’m asking you a huge favor, let me share my responses for the questions I’ve posed:

How I start my day:  Well it depends.  Normally, I spend the first 45-60 minutes on my blog and social media–for example, participating in discussions on LinkedIn or looking at twitter.  The next 30 minutes is clearing email, quickly looking at my calendar and mentally setting my priorities for the day.  If my day starts with a very early call, I shift all that stuff to later, but I spend 5 minutes before the call (religiously) prepping myself mentally–what do I want to accomplish, I may quickly look at the person’s social profile or their company’s web site to see if there has been a change that I should be aware of.

How I end my day:  The last 30 minutes of my day is clean up and prep.  I clean up my to-do’s, notes, etc. from the day.  I look at my calendar for the next day, spend a few minutes thinking about each meeting/call, doing some prep, perhaps writing myself a few notes.  I update my to-do’s, then stop my business day  (well sort of, I’m compulsive, I’ll check email up until bed time, maybe a few tweets, and do a lot of business and recreational reading.

On the spaces in between.  Before a meeting, I’m obsessive about reviewing my plan/agenda for the meeting and what we should accomplish.  I don’t believe in meetings without an agenda.  I don’t believe in walking into a meeting and winging it.  If it’s a meeting with a client or anyone outside the company, I quickly do some research, I check their LinkedIn profiles, and social feeds to see if there is anything I should be aware of.  I look to see if their company has made any announcements.  If I have idle time, for example, at the airport, I carry a list of people I want to call.  These are friends, colleagues, clients I may not have spoken with for some time.  I try to connect with a minimum of 5 people a day (this is beyond my scheduled and prospecting calls.)  I may look at twitter or some of my other social channels, or like now, whip out a quick blog post.

So how do you begin and finish?  How do you fill the spaces in between?

Thanks so much for your help!  (Please forward this to your friend/colleagues and tweet to get others to participate)

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12 Comments
  1. Great post, Dave. Very intriguing, and I look forward to seeing what people say. Here are my answers to your questions.

    The first 30 minutes of my day: I’m not a morning person, so the first part of my day is simply about turning my brain on. I scan emails, review social media, check the news online, and drink tea/coffee. If I have a morning appointment with a client, I try to look at things that will resonate with their reality (e.g. if they are international, I find out what is happening in their country).

    The last 30 minutes of my day: I try to release the day’s tasks and just let my mind wander. I think about possibilities and “what if’s” in my head. I think about the complex problems that I haven’t been able to sort out yet. I try not to do any tasks. For me, this time is the opposite of that. Then, if anything important/inspirational comes out of the exercise, I quickly make a note/reminder and pick it up the next day.

    The spaces in-between: I usually invest in relationships. If I am with a client, we grab a coffee, we talk in the hallway, we discuss random stuff. If I am in my home office, I respond to emails. I scan social media to comment or encourage someone’s tweet/post/etc. I see these moments as investments in the longer term relationship. When you have this kind of simple, casual interaction, the complex, formal interactions are so much smoother.

  2. Very excited to see the results!

    Ready…go:

    First 30 minutes:
    I am different than others. I spend 5 minutes sharing content. (my posts are always queued up early) and reviewing tasks and the calendar. Then I HAVE to dig right into at least 2 critical activities right away. I wake up and make calls or work on proposals.I set it up the night before. I tell sales reps that too…Get up make 10 calls bc once you start cruising, chatting, etc…you don’t get the start you need and aren’t as productive the rest of the day. I decide on these critical tasks the night before.

    Middle:
    In between meetings, etc i am relentlessly on my phone reading, responding, etc. My social activity, research, etc is in between meetings. I prepare everything the night before so I spend less time worrying. For example, if I have a big presentation…I don’t look at it on the “day of”. I have done my work before, I would rather check someone out on LinkedIn then or read a blog post than fret. IF I have a sales call, I give myself 3 minutes to get caught up on them. When I get a meeting with someone I do research on them when it is scheduled and then immediately before the meeting — I do 3 minutes. I am the guy who hits my phone the minute I get a chance.

    Last 30:
    Ill answer this as my “night”. I thoroughly vet my tasks for the day. Study my schedule. Set myself up. I do research at the end of my day on anyone or thing happening the next day. As I mentioned when I was chronicling the “middle” of my day, when my game face is on…I go to Twitter. (: In other words, I try to get my next day ready because when the next morning starts — I want to sprint.

    Hope this helps. I have always been an odd duck so I am interested to see how odd I am…

    • Well Craig, you are an odd duck 😉 But not because of this. It’s remarkable how similar it is what I see of other top notch professionals! Thanks so much for contributing and for publicizing this.

  3. My first 30 minutes every day depends on how late I was coding or blogging the night before. If i wake up before 6AM, I am curating the content on ShareBloc and reading through the previous night’s Twitter feed and my Feedly RSS feed. If after 6AM, I am prepping the day, including the tweets that will come out from @ShareBloc and my meetings for the day. In either case, I respond to the critical emails.

    In between, I am curating content, writing content, coding or taking meetings. Each day is different because I’m also a startup founder.

    My last 30 minutes are probably the evening’s tweets and some more last minute content curation and email. Since we have a lot of users in India, a tweet from 10PM – 12AM PT has value.

  4. David: As a moderator, I start my day and end my day on Bizsugar. The first I do is preparing a cup of tea. It is like a ritual, concentrating on the day in a calm way. Do you have tips on how to handle the space between with all the different “distractions,” email messages, phone calls, meetings, etc.? 😉

    Have you studied Get tings Things Done material? I am developing my own productive approach called, F.I.X IT! (form – information – eXecute Information Technology!). It is based on physical personal kanban worfklow system with bulletin boards, stick-it notes, Eisenhower matrix, Workflowy list, etc.

    • Thanks Martin. I’m familiar with GTD (use my own variant of it). Your Fixit approach sound like the visible work flow/signals approach in lean. Thanks for contributing.

  5. Hi Dave,

    I had grand plans to try to take tips from Tim Ferriss’ 4-Hour Work Week but it hasn’t quite worked according to plan. Starting with the last 30 minutes of my day – that’s where I do a final check of my next day’s meetings to make sure there’s nothing outstanding on my deliverable list, and to block out any time for “must-do” items. I clean out my inbox and do any last-minute replies where I can, and then update my to-do list, so I can be organized for the next day. I’ll also put in reminders and calendar items for all my new to-dos so I don’t get stuck doing things at the last minute. I do try to figure out what things MUST get done the next day so I can focus on those first.

    When I get in the office, my first 30 minutes are spent doing a quick check of new emails, taking any quick-wins off my list, then going through my reporting dashboard. Because I’ve ideally planned the night before, I can start strong rather than spend time figuring out my day. I will go through my Google Alert news feed and figure out if/what I will be sharing on social media. Then I’ll coordinate with my team to make sure we’re on track with any deliverables for the day.

    The in-between is where I’m a little less consistent. I attempt to block out time for items with deadlines to make sure I can stay focused. If possible, I do try to shut off email or chat or at least let coworkers know I’m heads down and to not interrupt. While “office hours” may sound a little less personal, if I can plan to at least get an hour or two of uninterrupted time in my day, then I feel hugely successful. Email and IM can be killers for productivity. And I try to get the meat of my work done before lunch, as the afternoon tends to get filled up with meetings or other distractions. I try to book meetings for 2:00 or after if possible so I can be productive. And I also try to keep meetings to 30 min or less and force organizers to have an agenda for the meeting to make sure we aren’t wasting time (when possible).

  6. I feel like my day has no real beginning or end but here goes!

    First 30 minutes:

    My first 30 mins are done on my phone. I am based in San Francisco but most of my team is based outside Toronto. They are starting at 6 am PST and so am I. I am there to get things started or add my feedback to keep things moving. I use Asana and Slack to keep things rolling.

    I also have team members all over the world who have been working all night so I am checking in on their work and keeping those projects moving forward.

    In a way I have many first 30 minutes in a day as different people come online and start working. It all starts at 6am PST with my core team and continues all day until 7 or 8 pm when other workers start.

    The beginning of the day is about managing my team and setting myself up to focus on sales and BD in the middle of the day.

    Middle:

    I try to set aside the middle of the day for being on the phone, social and writing emails. My goal is to focus on things that generate revenue between 9-5 PST.

    Last 30:

    This is back to managing. Setting up task for the next day, making sure no one is waiting on me for my feedback. Once again I am away from the phone and email and social and back to Asana and Slack.

    In short I start and finishing by managing people.
    I focus the middle of the day on efforts to build relationships and generate leads and revenue.

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