Simple Guidelines for Workday Quality Over Quantity

February 26, 2009

Quality over quantity whiteboard guidelines This succinct set of workday guidelines is a nice blueprint for getting productive on the important stuff and ruthless about cutting the crap. Written on a unknown "major corp" whiteboard pictured here, they read:

QUALITY vs quantity, UX process.
Check email ONLY:
  • 10AM
  • 1PM
  • 4PM

Send any time
Set email to check every 3 hours.
NO email on evenings.
NO email on weekends.
EMERGENCY? = Use phone.

FOCUS 1-3 Activities max/day
LOG 1-3 Succinct status bullets every day on team wiki

MAXIMIZE single-tasking

OUT by 5:30PM
~No excuses~

These common productivity edicts are worth repeating; recently I advised Harvard Business readers to use a daily three-item task list myself. I've been practicing this technique every weekday without fail for the last six weeks, and it's served me well (though I've gotten cocky and the list has started inching up to five or six items). On top of sleeping, showering, eating, working out, commuting, cooking, and communicating, the reality is that three things DONE is a bigger set of accomplishments than it seems. As for the rest of these--well, I'm working on them. Hat tip to Caterina.

I am frankly amazed at how much I’ve gotten done this week by single-tasking as much as possible.

Jeff Harbert [+4]
Feb 26 09 at 4:09 pm

It’s in Tim Ferriss’ flickr photostream:

Andrew Barbour
Feb 26 09 at 4:30 pm

Where does news feed reading fit? Google Reader is a real problem for me.

Email 3 times a day and single tasking would be dramatic changes too.

Rafael Perrone [+1]
Feb 26 09 at 4:44 pm

Oh cool thanks Andrew! Adding attribution now.

Gina Trapani [+195]
Feb 26 09 at 4:50 pm

Very interesting. I need to work something like this out for my life.

Curtis Hollibaugh [+4]
Feb 26 09 at 6:03 pm

I only wish I could do something like this – and I wish that our engineers and task-oriented staff would take it on too: they’d be much more efficient.

I love work strategies like this, but I can never make them apply to a position where you have to be in any way reactive. For exmaple, for as much as I’m supposedly a project manager, I also wind up being an escalation point for my internal clients, to which I have to drop everything and assist, which then puts me behind on projects and such.

I’ll keep trying, but any advice from the crowd would be lovely!

phoenix [+3]
Feb 26 09 at 6:18 pm

Gotta have some fun, too! Zig Ziglar calls it “psychological sunshine”.

My three tasks for tomorrow: Space Mountain, California Screamin’ and Hollywood Tower of Terror. :)

drmelho [+28]
Feb 26 09 at 11:53 pm

Hi Gina.

The basic problem with working on your own is that there are so many dimensions of being productive. You’re practically taking care of every aspect of your business such as promotion, pitching, generating leads, replying to queries, making changes to work already done, maintaining your website, networking with people and turning in the actual work. Of course, many things can be outsourced but still there are many grey shades :-)

Amrit Hallan
Feb 27 09 at 12:25 am

Nice, I tend to check email twice a day. Like 10am and 4pm. I find that using a timer helps to be me focused, aware of my timing and balanced. It helps when writing a paper, a blog post, emails or even commenting on other sites. I keep tabs on that time because it’s easy to go overboard. :) Thanks for sharing.


Migs [+15]
Feb 27 09 at 9:41 am

I am with Amrit! When I was grad student, I always had clearly defined goals: write chapter X of thesis, go to archive Y for research, etc. As a lecturer, this continued as I always had a particular lecture to write or a certain pile of essays to mark. But now that I have left academia and am trying to make a go of it on my own, I have discovered just how much STUFF there is to do.

This is an interesting approach and I will give it a go for a while and see what happens.

Out of curiosity, have any of you tried the Autofocus ( )system? It too seems like an extremely simple (ie. I might actually USE it!) system, but it is very different from this one. Any thoughts?

kristowson [+2]
Feb 27 09 at 10:40 am

kristowson –

I’ve been using AutoFocus for a few weeks, and it’s not as inconsistent with the post we’re commenting as you may suppose. Many days I only get three things done. True, there is a tendency to knock off a number of smaller tasks too, but the structure of the system forces you back to the important big stuff soon enough.

If it intrigues you, try it. There’s no overhead or prep time, you can start in ten minutes; nothing ventured, nothing gained.


Bill Adams
Feb 27 09 at 4:37 pm

This is difficult in a situation where my clients, my boss, my co-workers walk in to my office six or seven times a day. I have to drop everything and attend to them. Still, kicking the habit of reading every email as it comes in would help me a lot.

So why the unread mail favicon for Better Gmail 2 if I’m not supposed to run and check it quick?:-)

Feb 27 09 at 8:53 pm

I liked this so much I descieded I wanted this list posted near my PC screen.
(That’s how distracted I get :-) ), since I didn’t like the print quality of the picture, I created a Word DOC and I’m sharing it with you guys here.

A PDF is avilable at:

and a DOC (editable) verion is avilable at:

Hope I havn’t broken any copyrights, enjoy all.

Gal Szkolnik
Mar 1 09 at 7:40 am

I’m planning on doing something almost exactly like this at work with a possible amendment to Minamise ‘Reading Blogs and Feeds’. I just need to spend a couple of weeks perfecting my handwriting before spending 4 hours of my day painstakingly drawing it up onto the whiteboard.

Or…. suppose I could type it out…i’ll add this to my todo list.

@ Bill Adams

Thanks for the reply – I am going to give it a shot and see how it goes. The simplicity of Autofocus is what attracted me to it in the first place. There is something very attractive about a system that requires a pen, some paper, and nothing else other than your attention!

kristowson [+2]
Mar 2 09 at 10:33 am

really interesting Gina
By curiosity because you set an “OUT” time with no excuse what is the IN time in the morning ?

This is to have an idea because being more of an “evening” person I would quit later but start later accordingly

Also it is interesting to have an idea of how long should a regular work day for you since you seem to have also an interesting idea about when in the evening you should go out for work

because the idea that you should be out at a certain time seems to be the outcome of an implicit broader view of working time ratio versus life time.

This is undoubtedly an interesting implicit life hack that I’m looking forward to see explicitly shared.

That fact is I’m on the dole at the moment and setting a regular rythm is not obvious that’s another motivation for my question.

best regards anyway

Thibault [+8]
Mar 4 09 at 6:50 am

I wanted a way to put this on my office wall, so I made a poster!

Please let me know what you think!

Elanor Matheson [+1]
Mar 11 09 at 9:42 am

Hi Gina,
Love the concept here…I would love to apply this to gmail but they won’t let me set the interval to check for new mail. Any way Better Gmail can do that?


Why don’t you just close Gmail until you’re ready to check it. Half the problem is leaving your email client open all the time.

Elanor Matheson [+1]
Mar 11 09 at 10:06 am

Comments are closed. Thanks for reading!