One of the great questions in life is:
What should I be working on today that will have the greatest impact long-term?
The Edrolo OS is a system of time-prioritisation pioneered by Edrolo — a Blackbird portfolio company whose mission is to give all students access to the best teachers regardless of where they live or what school they attend.
The founders of Edrolo have developed this system over 5+ years, and it has been integral to helping them scale their business to 60+ people.
All credit for the system goes to them.
The Edrolo OS is the backbone of how I manage my days now, and something everyone at Blackbird has started to leverage.
Edrolo OS — Short Summary
This article is long, but the Edrolo OS is very simple.
1. Track your time.
2. Plan your weeks. Identify when, where and for how long you’ll do your most impactful work.
3. Report weekly on how you went, how you can improve, and what your most impactful work next week will be.
Time is the most valuable thing you have
The fundamental premise of the Edrolo OS is that time is the most valuable thing we have.
Most people are blind to how they allocate their time. Which, if you think about it, is worse than being blind to how you spend your money.
The nature of work today is all small drips — emails, tweets, slack messages, texts… It is increasingly difficult to do the long stretches of unbroken, focussed work that hard problems need.
“There’s only so many hours in a day. Time is your most precious resource. The most important lesson to learn is to value your time. I think most people undervalue their time. You can always find more of other resources, but time is the main asset.” — Keith Rabois
Step 1: Tracking
The first step of the Edrolo OS is to know where your time goes.
There are many analogies for the timesheet in behaviour change — tracking your spending to help you gain wealth, tracking your food intake to help you lose weight…
But the simplest version is a Google Sheet and a pivot table. An example Google Sheet time tracker like the one I use is here.
Whatever you choose, the key is not the tool; it’s the doing it.
Tracking your time has a wonderful, secondary consequence.
When you’re forced to record how you’re spending your time, you are reminded to spend it well. The mere act of recording how you spend your time should result in an immediate improvement in how you use it.
Step 2: Weekly Planning
The second step in implementing the Edrolo OS is planning every week in advance.
Every Friday afternoon, using whatever tool you like (I use Trello):
- Look to the week ahead and map out everything you plan on doing.
- Against everything you plan on doing, estimate the time it will take (the scrum for trello plugin is great for this).
Never schedule a full week’s work.
If you’re aiming for 8 hours of actual work per day, leave at least 2 hours each day unscheduled. Inevitably, the most important or urgent thing you’ll need to do each day won’t necessarily be known to you the Friday beforehand.
Include an allocation of time for mid-week additions to the schedule (these are inevitable). And for meetings, include travel time, prep time and time for follow-up.
Prioritise the week in advance.
Decide which of your tasks have the highest value (try to limit yourself to three if you can).
Now block time in your calendar for those highest value tasks. And pay particular attention to:
- where you’ll do the work;
- how long you’ll do the work for;
- how you’ll protect yourself from distractions; and
- what kinds of small gestures you could make to honour that time (coffee, sparkling water, music, a new location).
Expect this process to take 20+ minutes.
Step 3: Weekly Review & Accountability
Once you’ve planned the upcoming week (Friday afternoon is the best time to do this, Monday morning is the second best), look back on the week just gone.
Look at your time spent.
Look at what you planned to do and what you actually did.
Look at how long you estimated things would take vs. the time they took.
And then write answers to four questions:
- How was your time spent this week? (Break it down by category).
- Did you get your top priorities for the week done?
- If you could do the week again, how would you do it differently?
- What are your top priorities next week?
Expect answering these questions to take 15+ minutes.
Finally, to drive real accountability send your answers to the above questions to your colleagues. Pick colleagues that will care, and that you have proximity to in some way. The larger the group, the more you will dilute your message.
Whoever you choose, you want to do this in order to create a layer of external obligation and lock in the gains of the reflection and the planning.
Some Quick Tips
Start Small — It’s likely that anything is better than what you’re doing right now concerning tracking, allocation and reflecting on time spent. Start small with the Edrolo OS, and build up over time.
Tools — Don’t obsess over the tools for at least four weeks. Just try doing the steps above using email and a Google Spreadsheet before you make a judgment on whether you’re going to continue with the Edrolo OS.
Tracking Time — In practice, I find waiting until the end of the day means that it ends up being a 10-minute task reviewing my calendar, phone and internet history to get it all recorded. If you update the timesheet at regular intervals, 4–5 times throughout the day, the time commitment becomes negligible.
Shocks — Expect some shocks. It’s unlikely that:
- You accurately know where your time is being spent.
- You’re working optimally right now.
- You’re spending your best time on the things that matter most.
Hang in there, even if at first the Edrolo OS feels uncomfortable. Tweak it as you go to make it better and more relevant to you.
A Personal Note
I’ve been on the Edrolo OS for more than a year.
Qualitatively, I feel at least 30–40% more productive. More than that, hour to hour, I don’t carry a sense of doubt about whether I’m doing what I’m meant to be doing, or whether I’m missing something important.
Quantitatively, I know exactly where my time has gone. (Huge thanks goes to Michael Batko for his help in generating simple reporting templates from the mass of time tracking data I’ve accumulated).
One of my goals in Q3 was to deepen my relationships with portfolio companies. Because this is something I track, I can see that I spent much more time in Q3 with portfolio companies than I did earlier in the year.
One of my goals for this year was to transition out of Startmate operationally and focus my time just on Startmate mentoring, and that plays out in the numbers too.
I can see that regardless of how little I want to be doing email, it nonetheless takes about an hour every day to stay at inbox zero.
All of this tracking allows me to plan very accurately what’s possible.
Not only do we all have very little time, we have an even smaller subset of time to proactively direct to the things that most matter.
Case in point: I’m able to do about 42 hours of actual work every week. Over the course of a year, I can see that in an average week:
- Internal meetings (partner, community, and operations meetings and 1:1s) take up 7.75 hours.
- Emails take 6.5 hours.
- Admin work takes 4.75.
That leaves just 23 hours a week for the real work of spending time with portfolio companies, meeting new companies, connecting with people working on interesting things, and writing and reading.
Week to week, that’s the time I have to do the best work of my life… and I don’t want to waste it.
Edrolo OS is a constant, beautiful reminder of that.
Time is precious. It’s worth treating it that way.
A Note From the Edrolo Team :)
“Nick portrays the Edrolo OS in a more personal way that misses the two most important elements that we have developed and refined across our business more recently:
Alignment of priorities across the business …
The power of everyone stating what they plan to do in the upcoming week and then reporting back against that drastically increases the probability that (1) people are planning to do the most important things and (2) people do the things they said they would.
This is super useful in weekly 1:1s between managers and direct reports, and super super useful when teams are reporting back on what they have achieved.
2. Utilisation planning is a super power…
The true value of measuring and understanding your time is that you get better at estimating, which makes you better able to predict the future.
We use this intelligence to continually create and refine utilisation plans — see slide 35 onwards in this deck.
The impact of this mindset on planning your own time is epic… the impact on resource planning across the company epic squared.”
Some Further Reading/Inspiration…
Deep Work (book). Summaries here: