Tag Archives: 6am

Not The 4-Hour Workweek: lessons in scheduling, time tracking and an abundance of hours

This is the first full work week completely under my own control. I set the tasks, the hours, the goals and overall strategy. Anyone who knows me will agree I love to have that kind of control. It has been a steep learning curve, but years of practicing in my free time outside of the 9-5, as well as the lessons in project management I’ve learned over the years working in companies, has made it much easier than it could have been.

Towards the end of 2016, I listened to The 4-Hour Workweek by Tim Ferris. For anyone who has ever considered location independent living or being a digital nomad, then this is often the springboard book. Besides, with a title like that, who wouldn’t want to work just four hours?

Of course, is that really what the book is saying? ‘Do nothing and get rich’ is the answer a lot of people hope to get from it. But at it’s heart, it’s about doing the things that matter in the most effective way possible. It is a bible for lifestyle design. People who can automate their business to the point that they only spend four hours on them are the kinds of people who don’t then retire. They start another business. The ‘be effective’ and commitment to living big is the message they take away, not do as little as you can.

Four hours sounds nice on the surface. But if you work doing the things you enjoy, which I suspect most of Ferris’ disciples do, then four hours is never the goal.

Time tracking

As you can guess from the title, this has not been a four hour work week. My life hasn’t been fully automated with a bunch of virtual assistants running businesses for me while I sip cocktails in Bali. How do I know this? For the first time in years, I did proper time tracking.

I didn’t spend hours looking at all the different options for doing this. Instead I picked toggl, as Mike and Grey were talking about it so much on the recent episodes of Cortex. Have I gone all in? Nope, I won’t be taking advantage of that extensive API to play with. I just want to know how much time I am spending on the key areas that now constitute my day.

The results? I might not be working a four hour week, but I’m not doing a forty hour one either:

This is actual work. This is not ‘killing time’ work. This is not timesheet submission busy-work. When the tasks for the day are done, then I am done. I focus on them completely and make them as efficient as they can be. This is just the first week of data, but it is fascinating. I’ve always believed that quality of work is more important than hours spent and this is re-enforcing that in a big way.

Time scheduling – a combination of digital and analogue

In a less time efficient move, I have lost countless hours since January looking at digital project and time management tools. None of them seem to be just what I was looking for. Many were far too time intensive to set up projects and tasks for my small, single-person projects. Secondly, I’m still reliant on the GTD way of thinking, meaning that many have critical pieces missing. Thirdly, none would emphasise calendaring in a way that works for me. I’m a deadline driven person, so without a ‘real’ due date, my default action will be to happily defer.

Rather than continuing this frustration, right now I am managing things in an analog and digital combo. The first is a paper planner (the Moleskine Weekly Planner that I reviewed here) and a separate ‘work’ calendar that chunks times of the day into very high level categories (for example, editing time vs ‘line edit of x book’).

Putting the two together has allowed me to focus on the bigger picture, whilst still getting into the detail of the day. Whether it will continue to work in the long term remains to be seen, but for this first focused week, just about everything went according to plan, with enough flexibility to allow for one or two unscheduled events.

Free time and the sensation of guilt (‘I should be doing…’)

I’ve been sticking to my usual routine of starting my workday at 6am. Doing around 4 hours means I have a lot of day left at the end of my day. Whilst this sounds like a dream – and it is – the thing that I have noticed at times is an overwhelming sense of guilt. Even on the day I used all my brainpower writing 7,500 words, it was an obvious nagging sensation at the back of my brain. The quest for something ‘productive’ to do. It has made me realise how much we are compelled to fill our hours with work, when sometimes the thing to do is just relax.

I hope this is something that disappears quickly. It feels like a hangover from the 9-5 life and it serves no purpose as far as I can tell.

Walking and thinking is a valid use of time

Conclusion – scary, at times overwhelming, but eye-opening and utterly rewarding

Would I class this first proper full time writing week as a success? Yes, I would. I’ve eaten well, I’ve rested well and I’ve spent time creating new products and learning new things.

Has it been difficult and crazy ass scary at times? Of course it has. Any big change always does (and anyone who tells you otherwise has got caught up in their own lies and bravado). But I’ve also loved the freedom and the self-reliance. I’ve loved a semi-traditional work week, with all of the benefits and very few downsides.

I already can’t wait to see what next week brings when reality sets in.

It’s quitting time: How Jon Acuff’s Quitter changed my life

I first read Jon Acuff’s Quitter 3 years ago on vacation. I even wrote a review on it.

I loved the book. It had many useful insights. So, did I come home from that sunny beachside view, walk into the office and hand in my notice?


No, I did not.

Why? Not because I didn’t want to. At the end of the book, when you feel the glimmering possibility of quitting your day job for your dream job, there is a pop quiz. One that gives you an idea of whether or not you’d make it in the real world.

I answered the questions and, despite knowing doing so wouldn’t give me the answer I wanted, I answered them honestly. The result? I was putting in some work, but not in enough areas to enable me to quit. I was annoyed with the outcome, but only because it was telling me what I already knew. It wasn’t giving me a quick out. It wasn’t giving me any kind of false hope.

The false hope is a common flaw of many business / self-help books. Their purpose is to sell you a concept. The promise that the book will change your life forever if you just follow their new approach or idea. Life isn’t that simple. Especially when it comes to quitting a stable, good job in a tough economy.

So I went back to work, but I also looked seriously at my side projects. My passion projects. Instead of keeping them as hobbies, I made them into real, practical things. Hobbies are great, but they don’t come with obligations and deadlines. You don’t hustle on a hobby. Writing for fun is the best thing ever, but I had to understand the difference between that and writing things that would allow me to follow my dreams.


Every year since that first experience, during my two weeks looking out over the ocean, I read the book and took the quiz again. Each year, my score got a little higher. It was slow, but it was progress.

Then one day, without that sunny view, I could feel the change in the air. It was a normal Tuesday morning, but something tickled the back of my mind. I grabbed the book and before work, I took the survey. I got a score of 65. That seemed pretty good. Higher than ever before. I flicked to the scorecard to double check.

The answer: it’s quitting time.

Still, felt like I had some work commitments and loose ends to tie up. It seemed like the decent thing to do. I also see there was a little bit of fear involved with quitting. A reason to put it off for a little while longer.

Now, after so many years of wishing it was time to quit, I finally have.

In four weeks, it will be my last day with my present company before going it alone for a while. It will be tough, but it is the most exciting thing I have ever done. Persistence has paid off and Quitter gave me the framework to create my best chance of success, rather than an impulsive leap into the unknown.

Thanks Jon!

You can find my original Jon Acuff’s Quitter review here.

2017: New Year, New Goals, New Dreams

I’m not going to lie. During November and December I fell off so many wagons I couldn’t work out which one I wanted to get back on first. So I drank another glass of wine, enough cheese and crackers to sink a small boat and opened a box of chocolates instead.

But now that has all changed! By the mystical power of the calendar year flicking over, my willpower has returned and I am wholesome and virtuous again!

I wish.

I’m not sure I’ve ever been wholesome and virtuous. But I have begun to steadily correct course this week to get back on track. But where did it all go wrong in the first place?

I suspect much of it came down to illness and exhaustion. I failed to achieve a lot of things in 2016 because I felt worn out or ill most of the time. Listening to the Creative Penn podcast, it was great to hear another writer making health a priority in 2017. It is very easy to set ‘business’ type goals only. We’re taught how to focus on finance and career, but not necessarily spiritual or health goals. Last year was a harsh reminder of how if I don’t sleep and maintain a healthy lifestyle, eventually I’ll fail in other areas as well. I had two (because I’m a slow learner) fairly serious burnouts last year. I’m determined not to make the same mistakes again.

I’m tracking my sleep on my Fitbit and have once again begun the process of detoxing from sugar. I got a huge morale boost from seeing my book, The Realist’s Guide To Sugar Free at #2 in the kindle personal health charts in the first days of January. Hopefully I’ve been able to help a few people on their journey towards making the change too. Throw in a daily journaling and gratitudes practice and I can keep moving towards a physically and emotionally better me.

I’ve also challenged myself to read a book a week in 2017. With an English degree, I find it easy to read quickly, so the only excuse I have for not doing it is that I simply haven’t made it a priority. I have to hold myself accountable for that.

Mainly, I want to work on more exciting and challenging writing projects in 2017. I won’t give the numbers, but I have set myself a pretty hardcore stretch goal for increasing my writing income compared to 2016. Like health and reading, it will come down to prioritising and commitment. I’m good with that. When the 6am alarm sounded each day this week, I got up, got coffee and did the work. That’s how you achieve anything, right?

So those are some of my goals and plans for 2017. I want to get into a more consistent blogging schedule as well, to hold myself accountable to these things as much as anything. It also means I’ll get to share some tips and tricks I find along the way.

2016 was a terrible year generally, but with some major personal highs. I want 2017 to be the year to give back. To use my voice to make a change in the world when I can. That sounds lofty and ambitious. But if you haven’t been happy with the way things went politically in 2016 then you have to raise your voice. You have to do something. As Shonda Rhimes said, a hashtag is not a movement. Do something.

Game Changer: Scrivener for iOS

I am actually drafting this blogpost in the waiting room of a mechanic shop while they fit two new tyres. Why? Well, because they needed changing. And because I now have Scrivener for iOS. Yes, finally, there is a Scrivener app. I’m not going to lie; I did a little squee when it was released.


I have done all my outlining and drafting in Scrivener for years now. I only use MS Word for final formatting to submit to the rest of the world, who seem to enjoy the sweet misery that it brings.  What writer doesn’t die a little inside when they see that (not responding) banner?

Anyway, my main problem with Scrivener – in fact, my only problem with it – was portability. I am often travelling for work and do not want the additional hassle of taking my MacBook with me. One laptop is enough for anyone. I have, at times, come up with an almost alternative workflow whereby I email myself the next part of the story. Clunky at best. It is also reliant on having written down the details of the next writing point, rather than just flicking to the handy outliner view. feature-corkboard

It also doesn’t take into account that some of the things I write really should not be jotted down onto a work laptop. Ever.


So whilst the difficulty was never enough to make me stop using Scrivener, it did hamper my ability to get work done consistently each week. I am a creature of routine. I like to be able to write each weekday morning and if I lose two of those mornings because of a massive commute, my writing productivity gets slashed almost in half.

For the sake of complete transparency, I will confess that I have really struggled with this for two years now, since moving to my current employer. I have questioned many times whether this inability to bring balance to the one area of my life that I love so much could actually be a deal breaker. Perhaps that is a level of honesty that some would label career-limiting, but it is the truth.

Enter Scrivener for iOS. In my daily life, that means I can now write away from home using only the iPad. This is considerably more convenient than having a MacBook with me. It also means at times like this, when I have unexpected time on my hands, I can pick up my phone and do short bursts of bonus work.

It is a game changer. I don’t say that lightly.

So far, I managed to write every day last week, despite being away from home at 6am two out of the five mornings. This week is turning out much the same. After some really simple setup, I tested the sync option with caution. I’ve tested software that syncs across devices before and if it is not implemented correctly, it is nothing short of a nightmare.

Not a single issue. Mind blown.

The functionality was my next test. Apps seldom have the full functionality of a desktop product. Yet everything I need is here. Despite bemoaning the fact it hasn’t existed for years, I am really happy that Literature and Latte apparently took the time because they were getting it right. I’ve yet to encounter a single feature where I’ve been frustrated because my mobile experience does not reflect the desktop one. That is a fantastic place to be in.

A very unusual place to be in.


I frequently mix with other writers, both aspiring and best-selling. It doesn’t matter who they are or what level of experience, I’ve never hesitated in recommending Scrivener as my writing tool of choice. Especially if they are a planner rather than a pantser, there is nothing better for collating all your research material into a single place.

So, now my tyres are changed and I am going to wrap this up. I’m sure I’ll do some minor edits on my main machine before posting, but the bulk of it has been completed on my phone with ease.

So thank you Scrivener, for changing the way I can integrate the dream of writing into the much more harsh reality of a daily life, with its travel and to do lists and not enough hours.


images courtesy of Literature & Latte

Life hacking my year

I set myself some pretty big goals in 2015 and intend to make 2016 my most successful year ever. Of course, we’re still in January, so making bold statements like that before the grudging reality of the daily grind kicks in is still possible. Even so, I picked up a few life hacks last year that I’m going to carry over into this year. They apply to daily life, so they cover off all my goal types: writing, financial, spiritual, physical etc.

Top tip number 1 – the standing desk.

Several personal development pros I follow have recommended this, but the biggest influencers for me were Jeff Sanders and Michael Hyatt’s blogpost and podcasts on the topic:

7 Amazing Benefits of a Standing Desk

4 Reasons you should buy a standup desk – right now

Previously I would spend 6-8am sitting writing, 9-6 sitting for my job, then often 7-9 sitting doing more writing. That is a lot of sitting. Now I still do the writing stints sitting down, but the day is spent standing, unless I physically need to be at head office. That persistent twinge in my left shoulder has gone, along with general back pain. I’ve recently added a balance plate to keep myself moving too, rather than just standing still.

Top tip number 2 – a really good morning routine.

I’ve had a morning writing routine for at least 5 years now. Time flies, so I can’t really be sure. Over 2015 I really upped my game on this. My morning routine now includes more than just knocking out 1000 words on my latest writing project each day. It includes affirmations and journalling (my form of meditative practice). It all felt very American at first, but once I got over being all British and reserved, it’s had huge benefits. It’s a real mental health compliment to the physical health tip above. For an idea of how to start setting it up, Hal Elrod’s Miracle Morning is a great place to start (he has a pretty full on personal story to check out too).

Top tip number 3 – carry a notebook and pen EVERYWHERE

The more I did the above top tips, the more my brain seemed to become able to throw out ideas and see potential everywhere. As I wrote in my last post, I made a habit of capturing them straight away, rather than lose them or have to waste a ton of mental energy trying to remember them for later. It could be that sudden strategic insight that you needed to get a result on that big project, or it could be that you need to add cheese to the weekly shopping list – it doesn’t matter. Getting it down on paper means that your brain can then carry on being the awesome beast that it was designed to be. Field Notes have become my pocket notebook of choice, but it’s all personal preference.

Top tip number 4 – track it

Digital or analogue, tracking what you’re doing is the easiest way of making sure you’re doing what you need to do. I use coach.me and have a few habits that I’ve done so many days in a row that I will now go out of my way to complete them so that I don’t break my streak. I’ve done 10 pushups (upgraded to 20 nearly a year ago) each morning now for over 500 consecutive days. There is no way I’d do that without the app.

These all work for me, but if anyone else has any suggestions then feel free to comment. I’m always looking for ways to up my game…

Throwback Thursday – Fraser Island

Last night I had a dreams with three apparently memorable components. One was about bunking off work to go to a sixth form reunion, another was something very messy involving mashed potatoes and gravy and the last one was being back on Fraser Island.

I suspect it is in part a hankering for the sunshine as the autumn begins to encroach. I don’t feel like we had a particularly amazing summer weather-wise and as much as I find the changing of the leaves a beautiful sight, I don’t like that damp chill in the air when I get up to write at 6am. I want blue skies and warm sunshine and white sand. And peace. So it’s no wonder really that in my dreams I would go back to a place like this:

Lake Mackenzie Fraser Island

Now forgive the picture quality, because this was taken with my first ever digital camera, given to me as a parting gift from a dear friend before I set off to adventure around the world. This was back when 2megapixels didn’t mean anything to anyone but it was about the best you could get for under five hundred quid. Now you can get a burner phone with better. How quickly the world has changed in a decade.

I’m so lucky to have travelled to so many places and god willing I hope to travel to many, many more. For these are the places that are the source of my inspiration and the memories that I can keep returning to on the mundane, cold days to remind me of just how privileged I really am.

So this is a Throwback Thursday to sunshine, but a present day moment of gratitude.

Putting the wheels back on the wagon

This isn’t my first blog about Getting Things Done (GTD for short) and it probably won’t be the last. Also, I always want to spell waggon with those two gs, but apparently that’s been classed as archaic now for a century. Clearly I really might be as old as I feel some days.

Anyway, I’ve had my GTD system set up for so long now that I’ve forgotten how to live without it. Or, at least, I thought I had. Then it became abundantly clear that I’ve been slowly sliding towards chaos in both work and personal areas. Luckily for me, my version of chaos is most people’s version of normal, so nothing slipped or became a problem. The only problem as such was in the way I felt. Like I was always on the edge of forgetting something important. It was horrible.

So on Friday I completely got things sorted on the work front: projects identified, next actions defined, emails and tasks list all up to date. It gave me a wonderful sense of freedom. One which was also, unfortunately, a false sense of security in how easy it was.

On Sunday, I then spent my day working through this:


By the end of the day, you know where I was at?

Step 1: Stuff to in (or collect, for those of you who prefer the term).

All of those things that had been lying around, pieces of paperwork, random receipts, half held thoughts in my head, were actually at least captured all in one place. For most people who pick up Getting Things Done, I think they fall at this hurdle. Don’t get me wrong, it is massively overwhelming. I burst into tears at one point and I am not a person prone to random crying. Well, not at this stuff anyway.

So why keep going? Because I do know what it feels like at the other end. To be able to be mysteriously more productive and still have time for creative thinking. Having this system will essentially allow me to have two jobs: employee and writer. The bills still need paying and without a system, the one I love the most would be the one I have to sacrifice.

That’s how you put the wheels back on. You remember that the two days of 100% overwhelm will be followed by many more days when you know exactly what has to be done and how you are going to do it. I’d rather do that than run through every day at 25% stress and go to bed each night kicking myself for making progress on everything other than the things that matter to me most.