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Home » Random

20 Days To A Better Business: Day 1 Block out time

20 Days To Improve Your Business

Each Monday for the next 20 weeks we are going to focus on one activity you can do today or  over the next week to build yourself a  better business.  These short, actionable posts will show you what steps you need to take to take your business to the next level.

This is Day 1 – Block Out Time

At Google its engineers are routinely allowed to block out 20% of their time to focus on their own pet projects. Some of these projects have grown into major products such as Google Docs and Google Mail.

Even the CEO routinely takes out 20% of his time to work on personal projects. In fact an article in the Financial Times quoted CEO Eric Schmidt as saying that 20% time was vital to the success of Google saying:

“Twenty per cent time acts as an “escape valve” for employees who have “control freak type managers”, he said. “It serves as a check and a balance over bad managerial behaviour… You’re going to be more creative if you have some control over your time.”

When you are your own boss you have total control over your time.  But it might not seem that way thanks to all the interruptions.  Phone calls, meetings, instant messages and emails all disrupt you from focusing on your business.

So you need to start thinking about focusing on your business and  creating your own 20% time to look at opportunities to grow your business.  Yes, we are talking one whole day to focus on your business. Where you focus on strategy, research new projects, review your competitors, read an industry report or a personal development book. Or even look at making changes to your business model or operating costs.

Fundamentally anything that could take your business to the next level. You could even schedule lunch with a client or a supplier on this day to learn more about their business and see if they can help you identify opportunities.

Start with 10% time

In the short term you might find it difficult to block out a whole day all in one go. So aim for half a day at first and make this the same day each week. Because if you keep changing it around you’ll never stick to it.  If you’re struggling to find half a day, start with an hour. Then next week add 2 hours and work up to it until you have a full day scheduled.  If you can’t do this maybe try two half days, but on the same days each week (eg. Wednesday and Friday afternoons)

When you start going through your calender make sure you block out at least 12 full days (or equivalents) over the next 3 months and protect this time as if your life depended on it.

Because this is the time that you’re working on your business and not in your business.

When you’ve got your head down and your nose to the grindstone, it’s difficult to see where you are going. So taking time out to look at the fundamentals of your business will pay dividends time and time again.

You know in your heart of hearts that you need to be spending more time working on your business, so this is the opportunity you’ve been looking for  to do something about it. Schedule that time in your calendar now.


  • John Soares said:

    Matthew, I really like your idea of blocking out time to focus on the bigger picture of my business. I do a lot of planning, product development, and learning throughout the week, but I find it works well for me to do it an hour here or two hours there. I’ll think about setting aside an entire day, or at least a whole morning or afternoon.

    I also get a lot of good ideas when I’m out on walks or hikes. That’s why I always bring my digital voice recorder.

  • Matthew Needham said:

    Hi John, thanks for the comment (welcome back from your blogging break too!). It’s great that you’re taking time out to focus on the business, but an hour here or there has the potential to get squeezed so it’s best to schedule it as it’s so important.

    Excellent idea about the digital recorder. I’ve recently started using Evernote’s ‘voice recorder’ function for exactly the same purposes. Especially when I’m driving.

    Thanks again, Matthew

  • Adrian Swinscoe said:

    Hi Matthew,
    I must say that this is great advice and a practice that I have advocated with clients and have used myself for a long time as I know it works and have seen the benefits.

    I find that blocking out the week into time chunks really helps me manage time and productivity. Doing it in colour too on a week planner can really help me, at a quick glance, understand what I am going to be working on that week.


  • Matthew Needham said:

    Hi Adrian, it’s such a powerful way of working and one I strongly advocate to my clients too. All too often I hear people say I’m really busy but the trouble is unless they do something about it, the situation never improves.

    Thanks for sharing the tip on colour coding your planner. I find that useful too. Just don’t change the colours!

    Thanks for the comment!

  • Amr Boghdady said:

    Great advice Matthew

    I’ve actually been following that advice for quite a few months now, and its been working great so far.
    Every week, I dedicate Friday for browsing through my competitor’s websites and comparing myself to them, evaluating all the work I had done over the prior week, and laying out my plans for the coming week.

    That has really helped organize my time and increase my productivity, because before that, I never had a clear plan of what I wanted to do everyday, everything was just so hectic, and so much time was wasted on uncompleted tasks!

  • Matthew Needham said:


    Thanks so much for the comment. You have a great website by the way, great product idea.

    I’m glad this is working out for you. Sounds like you’re really putting in the time to take things forward.

    I had exactly the same problem, working on too many projects means that too many projects go unfinished. I think thats the entrepreneurs curse.

    Thanks again for sharing the benefits of working this way.

  • Ryan Hanzel said:

    Leave it to Google to lead the way in innovation even on how they schedule their employee hours. I wish this concept would catch on in my job, that would be great. I get what you are saying though. Take a little time to manage progression/improvements instead of just maintenance will help your business expand and lead its own innovative presence in whatever industry it may reside in.

    I don’t have my own business but I can definitely use this concept in other area’s of my day to day life. Although it is not new to me, after reading this I am definitely considering setting up a schedule instead of just whenever I feel like it.

  • Matthew Needham said:

    Hi Ryan, yep you’re right this is a great way to encourage entrepreneurial behaviour in a large organisation.

    I’m glad you found this useful, but maybe you could use the time you set aside to start a business?

    Thanks for the comment!

  • El Edwards said:

    In 12 weeks time my youngest little one starts full time school. I can’t wait! Aside from a short power nap mid afternoon, I’m yet to set myself a schedule. I’m looking forward to learning from this series of yours. In the interim though I still have 2 hours every morning Monday thru Thursday when he’s in meithrin (plus after hours when they’re all asleep!) Great idea for a series Matthew. 🙂

  • Matthew Needham said:

    Hi El,

    The little ones grow up so quickly. My wife and I were only saying the other day we don’t have a baby anymore we have a little boy. I have no idea where this past 6 months has gone!

    You’re very fortunate in a way, in that you know this ‘free time’ is coming, so you can start to plan and schedule your time before hand.

    I think you’ll really benefit from the series. I have lots of ideas for posts!

    Thanks for the comment!

  • Patricia@lavenderuses said:

    Hi Matthew

    Very practical suggestion. I was only questining today what am I really achieving with my blog progress. I can see some but this blocked out time will be invaluable. Will have to put in my diary so that it starts and continues.

    Thanks for sharing this and I look forward to some of your other practical tips that you will be posting here in the coming weeks.

    Patricia Perth Australia

  • Rick Byrd said:

    Hey Matthew:

    I like the idea of blocking out time. It will definitely help to work on the creative and planning part of my online business. I do get caught up in the everyday activities that I do not take the time to vision the future of my business. This past year I only evaluated my business at the end of the year and never really took the time to look and make sure I am heading in the right direction or if I need to change directions.

    I look forward to the next 20 or is it 19 Mondays to see what you will be sharing. It should be interesting and useful!


    – Rick