If I told you there’s a way of working that helps you be incredibly productive, stay focused working on the right things, and make massive progress towards your most important goals…
Would you be interested?
Of course you would!
No, I don’t mean the two-wheeled transport variety.
I’m talking “work cycles”.
And while I admit this particular kind of cycle doesn’t sound tremendously sexy, I do very much like how working in cycles helps me and the team get so much done and make tons of progress in the right direction.
I’ll explain what a ‘work cycle’ means in a moment.
But just to say…
I first started working on Teach The Tech back in late-October 2021, back then with my friend Chris. We only had time for one work cycle for what was left of the year.
But during that one cycle, between us we managed to create the whole TTT brand, designed and built a website, created a lead magnet funnel, wrote and set up a load of email sequences and automations, and planned and launched our first product.
Not too shabby for 8 weeks.
Before I explain how cycles work (and why they work so well), I just want to stress that it’s not my idea.
The “work cycles” idea actually comes from two places:
One of my favorite bloggers, Shawn Blanc, first started talking about how his team had started to work in cycles back in 2017.
And also the team at Basecamp (the project management tool we love running our entire business on) work in similar cycles, as outlined in their brilliant (and free) book Shape Up.
In fact, the whole Shape Up philosophy significantly informs how I think about managing my own projects. It has nothing to do with Scrum or sprints, or anything else that sounds far too exhausting.
So, I plan and work in focused “work cycles”.
What’s a work cycle?
Each cycle is 8 weeks long, and therefore there are roughly 6 cycles per year.
For each cycle, me and my team decide upfront which ONE project I’m going to deliver (maybe two at most).
The key is, it has to be something meaningful that can be started, finished, and delivered in one cycle.
It should be a deliverable that brings real value and a big “win” for our company and for our customers.
So that might be a launch, a new website update, a phase of customer research, etc.
Here’s the structure:
Weeks 1-6: Full-on focused ‘all hands on deck’ work to get the planned work shipped and done.
Week 7: A ‘buffer’ week, to allow me to wrap up any loose ends from the current cycle, plus plan for the next cycle.
Week 8: A week off.
Ok, maybe not an all-out vacation every single time. But it’s a chance to stop, recharge, and re-energize, even if to spend some time taking courses and further professional development.
(Or a week on a sunny beach also works well too, of course).
Now obviously, there’s always ongoing regular stuff that needs to happen in the business too, regardless of whatever the project is for any particular cycle.
For me, that ongoing work is making free content to attract new leads (e.g. YouTube videos), writing email newsletters every week, etc.
This regular work needs to be factored in when planning cycles.
I deliberately don’t plan too far ahead, usually only deciding for sure what the next cycle will be as we’re finishing up the current one.
Sure, we have a rough roadmap in mind of what we want to work on and deliver across any upcoming year.
But I don’t waste time meticulously planning out a whole year’s worth of cycles, cos I simply don’t know what new information I’ll have learnt by then.
Generally, planning cycle by cycle works best.
Why do I LOVE working this way?
There are SO many benefits!
First, all the decision-making is made upfront about what we’ll all be working on for the next 6 weeks.
This means no-one wastes precious time and energy constantly making decisions and re-orienting.
Sure, things change as the cycle progresses–usually, we realise the scope has to be scaled back a bit due to being over-ambitious.
But still, the aim is to always end up delivering the important core value of what we decided upfront, even if we end losing some “nice to haves” along the way.
Second, focusing all our efforts on ONE thing means we make massive progress on something we decided is really important.
It’s all too easy to try to work on lots of different little bits of things, thinking you’re being more efficient…. but ultimately not make much meaningful progress on any of it.
Third, it’s easy when you’re your own boss to allow projects to take as much time as you give them (Parkinson’s law is real).
Sure, you can work on something for 6 months, but with a fixed, non-negotiable shipping deadline you could instead have delivered real value within 6 weeks.
Our rule with the cycles is: fixed timescale, variable scope.
Meaning, the 6-week cycle deadline never changes, but the scope of what’s delivered can be adjusted (as long as what we ship contains the essential core value).
It’s a fantastic antidote to my perfectionist tendency, which I fight at every turn.
Fourth, a non-negotiable deadline focuses the mind. When you only have 6 weeks, you’d better get on with it.
And finally: I love having an entire week off to look forward to. It’s so important to take time to refresh and recharge.
I’m not waiting till I’m exhausted before I take a break. It’s on the calendar, scheduled, non-negotiable. That way, everyone stays fresh and productive and happy.
You may be asking though…
Does this work cycle way of working always work out perfectly?
No, of course it doesn’t. But it’s a fantastic framework and conceptual model to work with, even if real life knocks your best laid plans off course a little.
Does this work if your business model is client project work?
Yes, I know people who do mostly client work who work in “work cycles”. You can definitely make this work if your business is more of a “client project” model, you just have to decide this is how you want to do things and then communicate it well to your clients (and team).
That said, it works FANTASTICALLY well for an online course business, where you can set your own agenda and don’t have many of the pressures and variability that typically come with client work.