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Build a Baseline for Success

In our recent blog post on managing stress, we mentioned a time management technique called baselining. We fielded a few questions about it, and so we wanted to expand on the technique a little further.

A baseline is establishing a minimum starting point for your day – either in your personal or professional life. No matter what else happens that day, it is the stuff you will get done.

Take the advice given by Navy SEAL Admiral McRaven in his famous commencement speech a few years ago about making your bed every day. No matter what insanity shows up that day, you will have still achieved a handful of things that move you forward.

Your baseline could be something as simple as walking for 20 minutes after dinner or reading for 30 minutes in the morning. It could be something work-related like blocking two hours on your calendar each day to work on important projects – where you ignore emails and decline meeting invites. It does not have to be a big or huge thing – but it needs to be the important things – that lead to success or change over time.

Whatever it may be, your baseline needs to be non-negotiable – to you, your boss, your customers, whomever.

Here are two real-world examples:

One professional we know started walking his dog every morning before work for an hour while listening to audio books. Rain or shine, this became his baseline. He lost close to 50 pounds in the first year, and listened to twenty books. He told me that even the days he wanted to sleep in or slack off, he (and his dog) forced himself to head outside – saying he always felt more energized for the rest of the day when he did. He rotated the books from fiction to non-fiction to business.

A sales executive was always middle-of-the-pack in terms of sales. One day, he analyzed his sales funnel and realized that the quality of his sales calls was as important as the quantity. Instead of focusing on the number of cold calls he made each day he started focusing on the number of sales “presentations” (actually getting someone on the phone to sell to) he made each day. His non-negotiable baseline was seven presentations. Some days it took him two to three hours making calls, other days it was closer to six to seven hours - to hit his seven presentations. It drove the others on his team bananas – especially when they were waiting on something from him. He ignored everything else such as until he made his seventh presentation. After he started this process, however, his sales tripled in the span of a few months. He also flattened the roller coaster of ups and downs that can plague sales people by keeping a full sales funnel.

There are several keys to success when building a baseline. The first is to be hyper-aware that time is a limited resource. Each day there are only 24 hours to work with. You cannot make more. Trying to do take shortcuts like cutting sleep or sacrificing family time might work in the short term, but over time will dramatically decrease your quality of life, work performance, health, and happiness. Treating time as a finite (and precious resource) means you should focus on being as productive as possible in the shortest amount of time you can.

A good way to set a baseline for yourself is to break the day into 144 10-minute blocks of time. (24 hours x 6 blocks per hour = 144). Then build in to all the important, non-negotiable, and necessary things like sleep, exercise, personal hygiene, family time, etc. For your work hours, prioritize your most mission-critical activities, whatever they may be. For example, if you know to get your important work done you will need three hours of uninterrupted project time, block that time out.

Here is an example:

For your work-related baselines (or personal, wherever the two intersect), it is important to get buy-in from your manager. If you phrase it that you are trying to maximize your work productivity, they should agree to what you are trying to accomplish and ideally support you. Explain to them what you need from them to be successful. If that means that you need from 9-11 each morning free of meetings or have a hard-stop each day at 5PM, they should be understanding. Get a commitment from them for what you need them to do for you and hold them accountable.

Once you have done this, you will find you do not have as much time at work for the things that are secretly killing most of your productivity right now, like email, meetings, or just “looking busy” while checking the news, social, or your fantasy team. At home, you might not be able to watch several hours of TV each night.

If you stick to your baseline, you will find yourself with much more consistent in your success at work, and more time to do the things you want to do outside of work. Even on the worst days where nothing goes according to plan, you will still have accomplished some things towards your goals.

Once you have a plan, it only works if you stick to it. It does not make any sense if you set an alarm only to hit snooze for two hours in the morning or block your calendar to work on a project only to kill time on social media instead. It will take some discipline. Try it for a week, then a month, and see how it goes.

Have you tried this or something like this? Let us know what works for you!

The Rivet Group is a recruiting and consulting firm dedicated to the high-performing professionals that are holding everything together for those around them. We try to share best-practices to stay high-performing, healthy, and happy. If you are one of those people, we’d like to hear from you. You can connect with us at

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