What is your Most Important Work (MIW)? Do you know?
What’s the one thing you need to be working on every day that is going to get your projects to where they need to be?
An easy way to describe MIW is that, in Eisenhower’s Quadrant, this is often the “Important, Not Urgent” category of work.
Most people focus on what’s easy to do and/or what’s urgent rather than moving their own vision forward. When you define MIW, it’s clear when it is and isn’t getting done.
You can scope projects to get the work done. You can carve out time to do the work and protect that time against distraction and everything else that might infringe on that work – like fires, other people’s needs, your own mind, and other little things that might need to get done, but won’t have as much impact. You can set clear parameters for when that work is finished and choose to not move the finish line so you know when you’ve hit milestones and then scope the next part of the work and keep going.
Knowing what your Most Important Work is gives you the ability to choose the work and do the work. It’s choosing the work that this energy that you’ve been building and harnessing will be applied to. Structures to support this work are vital.
The Challenge to Doing Most Important Work
There are very few people who I’ve spoken to in life who don’t have something that they want to create in the world. It’s often outside of the scope of the work that they’ll be immediately paid for and usually involves doing deep thinking and building something that exists only within their minds.
The process of taking an ephemeral idea and making it real can feel challenging, the process unclear and a question often hovers – how the heck do you even carve out the time to do it with all the other demands that exist?
How do you get deep work done and do that consistently?
How do you keep your energy moving in one direction rather than diffusing it?
How do you deal with motivation, lack of clear scoping (especially with big projects) and manage/eliminate distractions that pull attention away from what’s truly important?
So how do you do this MIW thing?
Ultraworking has a very effective tool and methodology called Work Cycles, which harnesses a dozen best practices related to getting focused and deep work done. It then takes these best practices and wraps them all into a straightforward package and structure that evokes better performance from everyone who uses it.
As they articulate:
“We’re obsessed with helping you be more effective — more great work getting done, faster and more enjoyably. To do that, we focus on two missing ingredients for higher peak performance —
1. Social accountability, and,
2. Getting the mechanics of work consistently right.”
Work Cycles is the component of the system that supports getting the mechanics of work right and The Work Gym supports social accountability with a membership where you can co-work virtually with hundreds of smart professionals from all over the world.
Using these tools creates a process that forces you to become conscious of your own process. This is extremely valuable because the greater self awareness that you build, the more effective you become in wielding your energy.
Work Cycles is a simple system that draws on research about what leads to max effective work within a particular period of time. You work in 30 minute blocks with 10 minute breaks in between and use a Work Cycles planning spreadsheet to scope your work and keep it on the rails. In virtual Work Cycles sessions, you work for a 4-hour block with other people from around the world using Videoconferencing software.
In The Work Gym, you have access to several 4-hours blocks of virtual Work Cycles throughout the week – usually one or two blocks a day several times a week currently, although Ultraworking will reach 24/7 coverage in the near future.
There are several best practices harnessed that create an environment of success between Work Cycles and The Work Gym:
- Clear Scoping of Work
- Defining completeness – knowing when the work is done or when a target has been reached
- Awareness of the why that is powering the work
- Understanding one’s energy and how it fluctuates throughout any given work session
- Risk mitigation and managing hazards around potential distractions and interruptions
- Social accountability – being in a group of people who are also doing their MIW
- Learning and debriefing from each session of work to discern patterns, areas of improvement and things that went well (it just so happens that people don’t analyze their successes enough and then leverage those for continued winning)
- Improving one’s understanding of what is possible within a particular work block in terms of the amount of work that can be accomplished and the type of work that’s best suited to Work Cycles
- Setting baseline targets for completion and stretch goals
- Doing de-risking if it appears targets won’t be reached to rescope for more effective workflow or set more accessible targets
- Get way better at estimating what can be accomplished during certain periods of time
So how do each of these systems work? Like most things in life, signing up for a free session and trying it out (get on Ultraworking’s email list to be notified when these are happening) is the best way to experience the result for yourself.
But, ok, you want to know what this really looks like.
Let’s talk about Work Cycles first.
Currently, the Work Cycles framework lives in a Google Sheet, which you can get by signing up here.
There is some very cool spreadsheet wizardry happening here as architected by Kai Zau, Co-Founder and Head of Development at Ultraworking.
To start with Work Cycles, you Prepare first and set up for your work cycles session. You decide when you’re going to start, choose how long your work cycles and breaks are, set a start time and how many cycles you’ll be doing and then answer a bunch of questions to prepare.
These include identifying what you’re going to accomplish in the work session, why the work itself is important and valuable, how you will know when the work is complete, or if there are any risks / hazard / potential distractions or interruptions. You end by stating if the work is concrete / measurable or subjective / ambiguous. There’s a section to pen down anything else noteworthy and then you’re ready to hop into the next section.
Then you do the work.
For each block of work, you scope the work for that particular cycle, however long you have the cycle set for. To setup for the cycle, you identify what you want to accomplish during that cycle, how you will get started, if there are any hazards present, and the level of your energy and morale (low/medium/high).
This is all really good stuff because it forces you to think about what’s possible during a block of work, how to actually get started in the work (which is usually a sticky point, but can be easily overcome when you think about it) and then de-risk any hazards for the work (maybe you’re expecting a package or the kids are coming home from school or you’re just not in a great headspace). Then you can actually track your energy – physical energy level – and morale – how you’re doing mentally/emotionally – throughout the span of work getting done.
Once the work block is done, it’s debrief time.
You list if you hit your target (Yes/Half/No), if there was anything noteworthy (it’s always noteworthy if you didn’t hit your target), if there were any distractions and if there’s anything to improve for the coming cycle.
Then rinse and repeat until the block of work is done.
When it’s all done, you move into the final Debrief phase.
This is where you get insights from the work session that you can apply to work going forward – this includes anything that went well and anything that did not go so well.
Most people don’t introspect enough and this step helps to close that loop. It’s not only doing the work, but learning from it and applying those learnings that makes a big difference in the ability to get that Most Important Work done.
In the debrief phase, you get to see a cool graph of the connection between your energy and morale over that particular work session. It’s useful not to take any graph on its own, but look at trends over time.
For reflection and learning, you list out what you got completed during the work session, how it compares to your normal output, if you got bogged down anywhere and where, what went well and how you can replicate it in the future, and if there are any other takeaways or lessons to share with others.
Sometimes there are only slight tweaks or gains, but every once in awhile, a big new thing will land that can make a big difference.
The Work Gym
In The Work Gym, you do Work Cycles in a virtual group format.
Everyone pops onto Zoom, a virtual video conferencing platform and there’s a moderator who guides everyone through the process of setting up, preparing and debriefing from each separate cycle and then doing the full debrief at the end. They keep track of the time and facilitate the 10-minute breaks.
You can have your camera on or off. I have my camera on 95% of the time because I feel more like I’m in a room with other people working when I do this. Everyone is muted, so there isn’t any weird background noise.
There is a chat function, but you can’t privately message people, which keeps all the conversation focused in one place.
The thing about folks who are on The Work Gym is they are smart people. There is a lot to be learned just from reading other attendees insights and how they are approaching their process. It’s like being in a lab with people who are tooling their work for several hours, many times a week. There is a lot to learn. It’s very cool.
On breaks, there is everything from people getting feedback on their Cycles sheets for improvements, to speaker breaks where someone talks about the work they’re doing, to focused de-risking to understand how likely everyone is to hit their targets.
It’s an extremely productive and distraction-free environment. It’s the ultimate container for getting great work done consistently.
Why It Works
Aside from the fact that Work Cycles and The Work Gym leverages a bunch of best practices, there’s a bunch of reasons this works well from my experience having done Work Cycles for about 22 months now and having been a member of The Work Gym for over a year.
Slight gains in a number of categories add up to big gains. If you get a 1% edge in 10 places, now you have a 10% edge. Work that over time and you increase your ability to perform.
Since The Work Gym hosts sessions every week, you get the gains from consistency and developing a habit over time, which builds on itself.
On top of that, it forces you to THINK about your work and think about it at least 6 times throughout a work session. Good things come from this. You build on your knowledge and experience over time, get to see patterns and continue to implement what works for you and mitigate the things that don’t. This naturally increases flow and effectiveness over time.
There’s an awesome group of people doing cool work together. For me, this is incredibly motivating. I love hearing what other Work Gym members are up to, what they’re creating and what they’ve learned works for them regarding their work habits.
It’s like plugging into a brain trust of effectiveness multiple times per week.
Between the debriefs and feedback, it’s a solid learning environment where you get to own your learning.
The moderators and other community members provide a really great, positive space for effectiveness to happen and for each member to be called into their greatest expression of effectiveness by showing up and doing the work and paying attention to what works and what doesn’t and making those changes over time.
What has changed for me as a result of doing this is I have several blocks of work every week that are protected from distractions and interruptions. I am able to get deep work done consistently. Work Cycles are great AND I notice that I get better work done when I do Work Cycles in The Work Gym. Social accountability works for me and makes me less distractible.
I often get 2-4x the amount of work done than if I wasn’t using the Work Cycles framework. For me, it’s a mix of things, but scoping clearly and putting myself in a container means I put my phone on airplane mode, don’t look at websites, don’t take phone calls and know what are distractions and stay away from those.
The number of projects I’ve shipped not only for others, but especially myself and my business, has meant that the last 18 months have been the most effective of my life. I anticipate that during the next 6-8 months, I might have output equal to the past 12 due to how I use Work Cycles and stay focused with The Work Gym.
Everyone talks about the coveted “Flow State.”
Well, with Work Cycles and The Work Gym, I very nearly have access to Flow On Demand.
Train your body enough to do something and it will just do it as long as the factors and environment are correct.
I have a special playlist that is used for Work Cycles, so when I put it on, it triggers “Work Flow Mode.” I couple that with clear scoping for work, work from a to minimize the amount of thinking I have to do when in implementation mode and I make sure that I drink a lot of water and move on the breaks to keep energy flowing. Within 10-15 minutes of working, I’m usually dropped in and not prone to distractions or interruptions.
Of course, I have my days where this doesn’t quite happen, but about 90% of the time, I hop into The Work Gym and everything comes together for a great work session.
“You don’t win in the basketball court, you win in the gym.” And in this case, The Work Gym.
Work Cycles + The Work Gym = Possibly The Best Way Ever to Get Your Work Done
Even if you don’t know if it’ll work for you, it’s worth a shot, right? The worst that can happen is you spend a couple hours testing something that isn’t a fit for you.
Then debrief, figure out why and use that learning to move forward. It’s valuable for you either way.
Ok, so you’re ready to try it out…
Sign up to get the Work Cycles materials. Then you’ll have the worksheet and you can run cycles yourself. It’ll also put you on Ultraworking’s email list so you’ll hear about free Cycles events and other cool things they offer to the community.
If you wanna hop in for the whole enchilada, you can join The Work Gym.
For me, it’s a no brainer to pay for the membership. It’s a very small investment to reap a number of rewards that pay dividends over time that will never go backwards as long as you keep showing up.
If you have questions about my experience, feel free to post in the comments or drop me a line.