Being Great at Work

A David Goggins quote appeared on my Instagram Reels this morning:

“Out of the hundred men that go to war, ten shouldn’t be there. Eighty of them are just targets. Nine do most of the fighting. One is a warrior. It is a true quote to life. I saw it going throughout training. I saw everywhere I went. Some so many people just show up to life that shouldn’t even be around. And there are a few people who do all the work. I wanted to be part of that nine, and I’m working towards being that one.”

David Goggins

I think that we often experience similar at work. 10% of people should not be there and usually remain due to poor management, conflict avoidance, or it can be easier to leave someone doing a poor job than the effort it takes to go through the dismissal process. The sad part is that 10% of people might be happier and more productive in a more suitable role.

80% of people turn up, do what is asked of them, and then go home, not ever going above and beyond or making significant innovations or impact but getting work done. 9% make a real difference, introducing new ways of doing things, volunteering for tough jobs, being prepared, staying late, and going above and beyond what is required.

Then there is the 1%, the people that impact not only the company or institution but the field or sector they work in, the key people of influence that push things forward and make lasting change. These people are wholly committed to their work and improving themselves and those around them to change the world.

Price’s Law

Price’s law states that 50% of the work is by the square root of the total number of people participating. So, the more employees a company has, the smaller the proportion of people that genuinely make a difference. According to the observations documented in Price’s Law:

  • In a micro company (up to 9 people), 50% of the results would be generated by up to three people. 
  • In a small business (10-49 people), half the results would be generated by up to seven people. 
  • In a medium-sized company (50-249), roughly 50% of the results would be generated by 16 people.
  • In a large business (over 250 employees) where the average employee number was around 1300 in 2021, half the results would be generated by just 36 employees.

The Good News

The good news is that if you want to progress, you can strive to be one of the nine employees and work and then gain the competencies and mindset to be that one in a hundred. 

The first step is quantity. If you have been smart enough to pick an industry that operates more or less as a meritocracy, you can start by working longer than everyone else. This might be easier than it sounds; according to multiple studies, the average person only productively works for 2-3 hours per day in a full-time job. If you can build up to six hours of highly productive work, you could produce twice the output within a standard 35-40 hour week.  

The next step is to understand the game you are playing within your industry. If you are an academic, that would be referenced research papers. A salesperson would be the revenue generated etc. Once you produce more than everyone else, you can target the specific output you are developing in this extra time to win the game. 

Finally, you can optimise your work through systems and processes to produce more of what matters within the same period. 

Hard questions

It is a tricky question to ask ourselves. Our egos do not want to admit if we are one of the 80% and not a top performer. I recently talked with one of my managers about Price’s law. I saw the blood drain from her face as she contemplated if she were one of the roughly seven people in our team of 50 people generating 50% of the results. She is, and by the fact you are reading a blog like this, you probably are one of your company’s top performers, as ordinary people don’t read stuff like this for fun.

Take some time to think about this, and then get a pen and paper out to make a plan:

  1. How many hours are you actually productive in the workday? (be brutally honest) How can you get this up to six hours?
  2. What game are you playing in your industry? What can you do to play better and win?
  3. How can you use systems and processes to optimise your outputs within your six productive hours? 

Journaling for ideas: how to use writing to capture your best thoughts 

Photo by Jessica Lewis Creative on

I never realised the power of my thoughts until I started writing them down. Journaling helps me set and achieve my goals in a way that simply thinking about them never could. By journaling, I gain clarity and a new perspective on my work.

I have started to carry a notepad again. I use it to make lists of high-value tasks, write goals, draw diagrams, write copy, calculate plans, envision my future, track thoughts and ideas, and mark milestones. I have been amazed by the insights and self-discoveries that came to me by writing them down and revisiting them regularly.

My Tools

My favourite notepad brand is Rhodia, they are reasonably priced, and the paper quality is excellent. For 2023 and the Entrepreneur Revolution challenge, I am using a simple and light Rhodia A5 Notebook with dotted paper. However, on my desk, I have kept a less portable A4 stapled notepad with squared paper for the last few years. As for pens, I lose them regularly, so I don’t use anything expensive; I currently use a pen borrowed from the City of London Club when I stayed there a few months back. I have heard the Lamy Swift is an idea journaling pen.

How to keep it up

I’m not too fond of linear journaling (a page per day) as I don’t want to do it daily. Keep it simple, and don’t give yourself too much to do and set yourself up to feel guilty about not doing it. Keep it non-linear so you never miss a day, a week, or a month; you use it when you have something to write. Use it how you want, use your headings and categories for pages that make sense to you, and keep the index up to date – this will make it invaluable in the future. Apart from that, use it any time you have a thought you want to explore.

Sections I am using

  1. Index – table of contents for my notebook – 2 page spread
  2. Future Log – my year at a glance – 4 pages
  3. Big Moments – memories, milestones and wins record – 1 page
  4. My Routine/Habits – 1 page
  5. SBA from Iman Gadzhi – 1 page each
    1. Life’s Vision
    2. 2023 Goals
    3. My future Wikipedia entry
    4. Affirmations
  6. Entrepreneur Revolution pages – 1 page each
    1. What am I most grateful for in my life so far?
    2. Who has helped me recently that I have not acknowledged?
    3. What do I want to achieve in the coming three years?
    4. What would I do if I had £100K to invest in my business?
    5. Who can I take out to lunch?
    6. What have I noticed since carrying £500 in my pocket?
    7. What problems can I solve for my clients?
    8. Where would I like to go on holiday in the next 12 months?
  7. Weekly planning – 2 page spread per week
  8. I will add new sections as I come up with them.


  1. Get an A5 notebook and carry it around with you.
  2. Create an index page and use the notepad for all your notes and ideas to plan out your thoughts.
  3. Let me know how you get on.

Fix what is broken before you start something new

New is shiny, new is exciting, and new is noteworthy, but if it is not the limiting factor, it will make things worse. Most success in life and work comes from doing what you know you should do but aren’t.

To quote The Phenix project, ‘Any improvement that is not at the constraint is an illusion.’ We tend to think that to grow or improve, we need to add something new, but if that new thing is not the constraint, it is unlikely to make a positive difference

The Theory of Constraints is a methodology for identifying the most important limiting factor (i.e., constraint) that stands in the way of achieving a goal and then systematically improving that constraint until it is no longer the limiting factor.

Imagine if the goal is to develop more online courses, but you are having trouble getting Subject Matter Experts (SMEs) to commit to their projects and deliver the required inputs on time. You might need better onboarding, clearer guidance on time commitments, better project management processes, improved project selection, or more straightforward tools and advice for the SME. Externally, the expectation of improving output would be to add more Learning Designers and take on more projects when you first need to address why they are not committing.

Better, More, New

Alex Hormozi explains this theory using the leaky bucket analogy. Think of your project or business as a bucket and the water as your customer. To handle more water, you first have to fix the holes in your bucket, and then you can increase the flow of water and finally add new buckets. Better, more, new.

Try it

Alex suggests the following activity: list the 25 things you should be doing to improve your work, then complete these things before thinking of doing something new.

Let me know how it goes…

What is an MBA

In the early days of Google, the company got rid of all their managers. They assumed that as they hired the brightest and most driven engineers, they did not need layers of bureaucracy stopping people from doing their job. The Google founders believed if you get intelligent people, you could give them pretty much any problem to solve, and they would work out how to do it. Within a short period, Google brought management roles back and started the ‘re:Work‘ programme to find the best scientific management methods. 

Fredrick Taylor introduced scientific management in the 1880s, and the theory’s ideas of economic efficiency and labour productivity formed the basis of the first Master’s of Business Administration at Harvard in 1908. Taylorism was one of the first attempts to apply scientific ideas like analysis, empiricism, and standardisation of best practices to process management and the move from craft, to production, to mass production made famous by Ford and the Model T. 

Thankfully, management science quickly evolved to include social ideas like behavioural science and care for employees as people. Still, the basic idea of applying the scientific method to increase productivity forms the basis of management in most fields. The MBA is where people go to learn this science.

It is possible to learn everything you find on an MBA curriculum in books and on the job, particularly if you join a graduate scheme and the places you work have strong internal development programmes. Most companies do not provide a rounded leadership and management training and support offer, so bright-minded individuals either end up not meeting their potential or seeking degree courses.

Peter principle…people in a hierarchy tend to rise to their “level of incompetence”: employees are promoted based on their success in previous jobs until they reach a level at which they are no longer competent, as skills in one job do not necessarily translate to another.


There are two strong reasons to do an MBA; the first is that if you want to progress to senior positions with a major corporation, it is a requirement, the second is that you want to learn a scientific approach to managing effectively.

An MBA curriculum should teach the fundamentals of management. It will cover the core functional areas, including accounting and finance, human resources, marketing, operations. A good programme will also cover leadership ideas such as strategy, law, and ethics. Most MBA courses will provide optional modules that cover entrepreneurship, digital transformation and global trade.

Many tech entrepreneurs, such as Elon Musk, have talked down the need for an MBA favouring people gaining technical skills. But good managers are essential, and the skill set is different from just being good at the technical parts of a job. The best MBA courses are highly selective and expect people to have gained technical proficiency in their specialist area and have ample experience in their field before joining. 

First, get good at the technical parts of your field, and then, if you choose to move up in an organisation and manage people, get an MBA.  

When to stop

I love productivity; I read books about it, watch Youtube videos about it, and follow the feeds of productivity ‘gurus’ on Twitter. It is important to get things done and use your time wisely, but when we are tired, should we rest and push through?

I am tired this evening writing this. I have got a reasonable amount done today; I trained, completed a full day at work, and had an Aubergine Katsu curry prepared for my wife shortly after returning home. But I still have to take the garden waste bin out, and I have to put away some clean washing. I have to sort out my messy gym gear draw, and tidy the kitchen and clear my desk. I had a big post planned for this evening on some teaching theory, and I have to send some links to my cousin and have a few missed calls during my run to return.

As an adult, I know I need to do these things, but where is the line that you stop and start again tomorrow? The bin must be done as they come early in the morning, a messy kitchen will irritate me, and I am committed to writing posts each day. The rest will have to wait.

I can’t help but think that I would feel better if I get my head down and do all of it, I might start doing the first few items and then get a second wind, but equally, I could fall asleep on the sofa where I sit and start again tomorrow. We shall see.

How many hours do you actually work?

The typical working day in most of the west is 8 hours or 40 hours per week. Working 8 hours per day can be traced back to sixteenth century Spain where the day was split into two four hour blocks with a break in the middle for when the day was at its hottest. The UK currently has a 48-hour working week limit, with a voluntary opt-out, set out in the Working Time Regulations of 1998 and later the EC Working Time Directive of 2003. But is the factory model of hours the most effective for knowledge workers?

“Eight hours’ labour, Eight hours’ recreation, Eight hours’ rest”

Robert Owen

In academia in the UK, contracted hours are more like 7.4 or 37 hours per week. Studies suggest that 7.6 hours per day or 38 hours per week is the optimum working hours for a knowledge worker and that productivity falls sharply over 50 hours per week. Taking a full day off each week and six weeks of holiday per year also positively impacts your productivity. 

A study of UK office workers found that people were only productive for 2 hours and 53 minutes each day on average. Workers spend the rest of the day on distractions, including checking social media (44 minutes), reading news websites (65 minutes), and discussing out of work activities with colleagues (40 minutes). Over half of those surveyed said that these distractions made the working day more bearable and aided in their productivity.  

Track your work for a week or two and find out how many hours your ‘at work’ and how many of those are on the things you think are essential. Once you have that information, decide how you want to spend your time; if you are only doing three hours per day of productive work, can you increase that to four and spend the rest of the day being more deliberate with your time? What could you do with those 44 minutes if you delete Instagram from your phone?

How to maximise your productivity at work

  • Average around 38 hours of work per week
  • Do not work over 50 hours a week regularly
  • Take at least one day per week entirely off
  • Take six weeks of holiday per year
  • Spend a week or two logging your work to identify the wasted time and eliminate that to free up your time for whatever you want to do with it. 

A 30 day time block scheduling challenge

Working from home has been good for my productivity. I am fitter and healthier than ever before, my work output has increased significantly, and I have been able to publish a daily blog. Work has moved on from the project-based approach used to manage to move a whole university online, and so the way I work needs to evolve too.

Removing the commute has given me an hour and a half of extra time each day, and working from home has given me more freedom around my working hours to focus on output rather than time in the office. I have used this time to train twice per day for the last year consistently; some cardio at 7 am each morning, some strength training or recovery work in the afternoon for 45 minutes to an hour between 16:00 and 18:00, and four-minute movement breaks where they fit throughout the day. The output so far has been a 1:35 half marathon, a 308w FTP on the bike, a 120kg Squat, a 100kg bench press, and a 142.5kg Deadlift, while weighing around 82kg and at 6ft tall.

I have written over 100 daily blog posts so far by finding around an hour each evening after dinner, between 19:00 and 20:00, to do some research, write, and publish it. I loosely aim to write somewhere in the region of 500 words to keep within the time and force myself to be concise. We consume so much content these days between articles on our phones, youtube videos, and reading for work, that I write about whatever I think about or consuming that day. I have found many of the posts useful for work; I have reused some of the content for work when the topic has been raised, sometimes weeks later.

My morning and evening routines outside of work are highly structured, but my working hours have to be more reactive. Universities have moved all, or most, of their teaching online, and so those of us in online learning has never been busier. This week I stopped my teams daily stand-ups. Our work is moving from project-based to a new normal, the daily meetings had become more social events than supporting productivity, so it is time to reassess how I use my working hours to have more of an impact. I want to be more deliberate with my time during work in a similar way to my strength and conditioning training and writing practice.

Time blocking

The first step of any productivity system is to spend five minutes writing a task list at the start of the day. Most people stop at this stage and then start with the first item or might prioritise the list and start with the most important. This approach presents two issues; the first is that tasks tend to expand to fill the time available, known as Parkinson’s law. The second is that we are not good at estimating the time something will take to block out space in our calendar. To solve these issues, we need to track how long tasks take consistently, and then we need to use this knowledge to block out that a suitable amount of time to complete the task efficiently.

Schedule every minute of your working day

For the next thirty days, I will follow a time blocking routine to be more deliberate in the use of my time and focus on the work that is going to impact students’ experience in the new academic year.

The practice:

  1. Write down what you want to do at the start of the day.
  2. Estimate how long each of these items will take.
  3. Schedule these blocks of time in 30-minute chunks around your existing commitments.
  4. Follow your schedule; at any point you deviate from it, update the plan for the rest of the day by moving the unfinished blocks as required.
  5. Make a note of how long each task took next to your estimate and assess why you were wrong – use this knowledge to help you schedule similar tasks in the future.

Let me know on Twitter if you want to try time blocking your workday too. A remember, the aim is to take control of your day and learn to plan your time better, not to be fixed to a schedule.

Leardership and management 101

I believe there are three keys to strong leadership and management:

  1. Vision
  2. Wellbeing
  3. Productivity

First, you have to have a clear and ambitious vision for the future your team is creating and communicate it so that they believe it. Next, you need to look after the individual team members and promote psychological safety. Finally, you need to break your vision down into clear goals and let each team member know what they are responsible for, then let them get on with it.  

Vision: the ability to think about or plan the future with imagination or wisdom.

Oxford Languages

Wellbeing: the state of being comfortable, healthy, or happy.

Oxford Languages

Productivity: the effectiveness of productive effort, especially in industry, as measured in terms of the rate of output per unit of input.

Oxford Languages

A new manager can start with simple steps for each of the three elements and then gradually built upon them to spiral out their capabilities as a manager and leader. For example, once you have written a vision, you are holding regular open and honest 1:1 meetings with each team member, and everyone is clear on what they should be working on, you could turn your vision into a strategy, You could add a daily stand each morning to build community in the team, and you can start to have more control over the flow of work by identifying and removing constraints.

If you want some ideas on how to spiral out your vision and productivity, Jim Collins’s Level 5 leadership and the Capability Maturity Model (CMM) are an excellent place to start. For wellbeing, begin by learning about creating a psychologically safe workplace and then take the lessons of Self-determination theory to encourage your team to develop autonomy, competence, and relatedness in their work.

Focus and flow with the Pomodoro technique

The Pomodoro technique is a simple way to increase your productivity and is particularly useful when working from home. You work in intervals of focused work with breaks of rest away from your desk. The breaks help your brain focus, gives space to assimilation new information or incubate new ideas, builds in time for you to make a coffee or use the toilet, and provides an opportunity for movement breaks.

The basic idea 

  1. Select a task or set of tasks
  2. Set a timer for 25 minutes
  3. Get your head down and work uninterrupted until the timer goes off 
  4. Take a 5-minute break away from your desk before starting step one again. 
  5. After a set of 4 Pomodoros, you give your self a 15-30 minute break.

Work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion.

Parkinson’s law

The six objectives

Once you are in the habit of separating your working day into Pomodoros, the 25-minute work intervals and breaks, work through the six objectives in sequence, only moving one once you have mastered the current objective.

  1. Time tracking – Become great at estimating how long tasks will take by tracking how many Pomodoros you need to complete all your focused work.
  2. Lazer Focus – Protect your work interval from all interruptions, extend the breaks to call people back or deal with emerging issues, but when you work you work.
  3. Estimate time needs for all tasks – Use your estimation skills gained from objective one to estimate how many Pomodoros you need for all activities in your todo list.
  4. Make your work interval more effective – Start your work interval with a few minutes to recap what you have done and end it with a review.
  5. Create a schedule – Plan out each day according to your todos and time available, scheduling in Pomodoro sessions in the slots available between commitments.
  6. Create your a personal objective – Come up with an objective that will make you more focused or better find time to complete your work.

Learn more in the Pomodoro Technique Handbook by its creator Francesco Cirillo.

Zero-inbox with Outlook

Zero-inbox at a tactical level is a set of techniques for managing large amounts of email in a reduced amount of time. At a strategic level, it is a way of taking more control of your working day, reducing the urge to spend your day reacting to every new message, and freeing up your mind to focus on tasks that have long term value. The Outlook web app has several integrated tools that can speed up the processing of your emails and reduce the time you spend in your inbox.

Your email inbox is someone else’s To Do list

Tiago Forte

There are four applications you need to manage your email, a calendar, a todo list, a read-later app, and a reference app. The Calendar and To Do app in Outlook will do for the first two; I use Instapaper to store things to read later and Roam Research for my reference app (OneNote is an office365 app and is a better option for you want it all integrated).

You can access both the Calendar and Todo apps in your Outlook online inbox by clicking on the ‘My Day’ icon in the top right-hand menu of the Outlook web app. The ‘My Day’ icon will open a panel down the right-hand side of the browser window. The exciting part is that you can drag an email into this panel and generate a calendar event or a todo item with the email attached for access to it later.

Some basic rules

  • Only read an email once in your inbox, process it as soon as you have read it.
  • Do not move onto a new email until the one you are reading is processed.
  • If ‘completing’ an email will take less than 2 minutes, do it there and then.
  • Block out a time each day when you process all your email in your inbox; I like to do this at the end of the day.
  • Block out a time once per week and then once per day where you read through your todo list and schedule which tasks you will do that week and each day; I like to plan my week on Sunday afternoon and then my day for 5 minutes each morning. 
  • Check-in with your inbox once or twice a day to read the subject lines or new emails to pick up anything urgent. 

How to process your email

  1. The setup
    1. Sort your email in date order with the oldest first, 
    2. Turn off focus inbox and any other tools that put email in additional boxes, so all your unprocessed email is in one inbox.
    3. Unsubscribe from all non-essential newsletters and email lists.
  2. Skim read the first email.
  3. If it takes less than two minutes to complete, do it straight away. 
  4. If it would take longer than two minutes, ask “what do I need to do about this?”
    1. If it requires a conversation, drag the email into the calendar and set a time to meet the sender and cc’d people.
    2. If it requires action, drag the email into the todo list.
    3. If it is a long read, save it to Instapaper to read later by forwarding the email to your personal Instapaper email address found in your Instapaper settings or opening linked webpages and using the chrome extension to save it.
    4. If you want to reference the email later copy and paste the text to your reference app (I will find a smarter way to do this and update this post).
  5. Drag the processed email into a reference folder; it is now accessible via the calendar event and todo item so you should not need to find it again. 
  6. Move to the next email and repeat until all your messages are out of your inbox.
  7. Close your email and go and do something productive.

Email is addictive; many of us will open our inbox as a holding task at any stage of the day when we are bored or have a few minutes to spare. Now you have this ‘holding task’ time back, fill it with a more productive habit such as opening Instapaper and reading something that will make you smarter.

Contact me on Twitter if you try this and want to share how it went. If you are interested in this and want to know more, I suggest you read the One-Touch to Inbox Zero post by Tiago Forte, and if you’re going to get into the details read Getting Things Done by David Allen.