What are the fixed costs on your time?

What are the fixed costs on your time? [PMP #205]

Tell me if this sounds familiar – When you plan your time, do you ever over-commit and run out of time to do your work? Especially when it comes to doing deep work that generates results but requires real focus. It’s so easy to say, “I’m going to spend the day working on X” only to get bogged down with other admin tasks and distractions.

I’ve been caught out by this more than a few times…

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It’s easy to start your week with good intentions to be proactive and do meaningful work. But often we get pulled into a more reactive mode as urgent tasks and last-minute stuff comes up.

Recently I’ve had a few clients ask me how to manage the team's workload and budget the capacity everyone has to do this kind of deep work. I’ve seen a number of people make the mistake of over budgeting their teams capacity by assuming everyone can handle 40 hours of work a week.

But wait, for a full-time employee, 40 hours sounds correct, doesn’t it?

Well, the issue is they’re not factoring in the fixed costs on people’s time. For example, each day a certain amount of time is taken up by email, meetings, admin work and other tasks that have to happen. I refer to this type of work as a ‘fixed cost’ because like a financial fixed cost (e.g. rent), they’re costs that come up each day or week whether we like it or not.

One of the prerequisites to successful time management is to be realistic with your time.

If you’re someone that runs out of time to do their work, here’s a simple process for working out the actual capacity you have to do “deep work”:

  1. Work out your starting capacity – What is the total amount of time each week you have to do your job? If you’re a full-time employee, that may be around 40/hrs per week. If you work part-time, have a side-hustle or if you’re a student, you can work out how many hours per week you’d ideally like to allocate to that endeavour. What’s your baseline?
  2. Identify and deduct your fixed costs – Your fixed costs are the things that come up each week that have to happen. There’s the obvious stuff like responding to email, weekly meetings and admin work. But don't forget about other routine tasks. In my case, I know that I need a certain number of hours every Monday to produce content for the week. Create a list of all these ‘fixed costs’ and how much time each of them require.
  3. Budget time for urgent work – Each week you may have to spend time on urgent work that comes up at the last minute. Maybe it’s a client or customer emailing you with an issue or a last-minute request from a colleague or manager. It’s worth factoring in some ‘buffer time’ for this kind of unforeseen work.
  4. Calculate your capacity for “deep work” – By deducting the fixed costs and unforeseen work from your initial capacity, you should be left with a rough idea of how much time you have to do your proactive, deep work.

To make planning my time even easier, I’ve scheduled these fixed costs onto my calendar. For example, I’ve scheduled an hour each morning for email and another half hour before lunch. On Mondays, I’ve set aside a few hours for working on content. Every Friday I’ve set aside time for analysis and planning. So when I sit down to plan my time, I can look at the available slots on my calendar in between the fixed costs to plan when I’m going to work on my deep work tasks. Check out my article on time-blocking to learn more about how I use my calendar to plan my time.

Following this approach helps you to be a lot more realistic with how you plan your time so you don’t get to the end of the week feeling like you haven’t achieved anything. And by planning when to be reactive, you’re actually being more proactive.

Good luck and leave me a comment below to let me know how you got on.