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My Day: The Way I Work, Rest, and Play

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Click for photoThe other day I read a great article in Inc. about the workday of Paul English, the founder of Kayak.  I love to read pieces like this that give me insight into the “best practices” of others, because I always learn a thing or two about managing my own life.  My favorite part of the article was when Paul said “we work really hard for 40 to 45 hours a week.”  Very few entrepreneurs can say (or do… or even admit to) that.

I thought it would be fun to write about “how I work” as well, and expand on it a little to include play.  It’s a question I get asked a lot as a manager at Microsoft, and it certainly fits within my goal to make Refocuser more personal this year.  Instead of just writing generic “how to” articles and checklists of stuff, every once in a while I’ll dig into something a little closer to home.  This started in November with My Happiness Interview and continues here with this post.

I aspire to wake up at the same time each day, around 6:30am.  The exact time is dependent on whether or not my daughter has a cold (like she does now) which makes it a little earlier – or later if she had me up during the night.  I recently bought a wake-up lamp for Seattle winters which has made waking up much easier for me.  I’ve always been a night person.  But gradual increases in light coupled with soft chirping bird sounds is a much more pleasant way to rise than jumping out of bed from the sounds of a beeping alarm clock.

After showering, getting dressed, and quickly making the bed, I meditate in a quiet, dark room for 15 minutes.  If I did this as soon as I woke up, I’d probably just fall right back asleep.  This is time I need to start the day; getting myself into the right frame of mind.  Once the 15 minutes are up, I prepare my daughter’s breakfast along with my own, which is usually a bowl of Kashi GOLEAN cereal with fresh blueberries and 32oz of water.  I use breakfast time to quickly catch-up on email, Twitter, and RSS feeds.  I try to power through my work inbox from the night before to bounce at zero before the day officially begins.  Once we’re finished with breakfast, I spend some time playing with my daughter before she leaves for school.  I always let her choose the activity.

My drive to work takes about a half hour, not including a stop at the local coffee shop for a short cappuccino.  I know everyone who works there at this point, and it’s fun to see them everyday.  They know more about me than a lot of the people I work with everyday.  I use my car as a rolling classroom for both ends of my commute.  Depending on my mood, I listen to either audiobooks or podcasts, and on rare occasion, some music if I want to relax my mind.  Spoken word audio has really helped me to enjoy things I used to try to avoid… like shopping.

I usually get to the office between 9 and 9:30 most days, and hit the ground running with meetings and interviews.  I work hard to balance my schedule over the week so that I only have about 4 meetings each day.  This way I have time to focus on things as they come up (which they always do) and I’m able to walk the halls or have impromptu chats with people on the team.  I also like to use non-meeting time to work with my team on feature design or anything else that needs some work that week, and to catch up with our internal partner teams on work we’re doing together.

I try not to take a laptop to meetings, a habit that most people at Microsoft can’t break.  I figure if I’m not going to pay attention, there’s little point in attending.  Of course there are a few meetings each month which are exceptions, and even without a laptop I do still glance at my smartphone once or twice to see where I’m going next and to make sure nothing has blown up.  Given a meeting-happy culture, I try hard to protect my time by scheduling 15 or 30 minute meetings (instead of an hour) and pushing to get the time back if the meeting isn’t productive.  Inefficient meetings can easily fill the day if you’re not careful.

Our job at Microsoft is to help people organize and tell stories through their digital memories (photos and videos).  With over 1 billion people using Windows around the world, it can be a big, scary mission.  But it’s what I’ve wanted to do for as long as I can remember, so even when I have to deal with the not-so-sexy parts of the job, I try and keep it all in perspective.

Two things I do everyday: eat frequently and get outside.  At 10am, 12pm, and 3pm or so, I make sure to eat – usually greek yogurt, almonds, string cheese, or an apple (see focus snacks) along with a clean lunch.  This keeps my brain working when I need it, otherwise I’d be a walking zombie.  I also go on short walks instead of sitting in my office, usually with my direct reports or peers during weekly 1:1s.  If the meeting doesn’t need a screen or a whiteboard, we’re not doing it sitting down.  The campus has some great places to walk to, and a little fresh air can really help in the middle of the day.

On a busy day, I can easily rack up a few hundred emails.  I’m diligent about having dedicated email bursts throughout the day where I go through my inbox deleting, filing, or replying.  I never read an email twice if I can avoid it.  I also try not to send as many emails as I receive, because that’s just asking for trouble in a place where email is as ubiquitous as Diet Coke.  During the day I try and maintain fewer than 10 emails in my inbox most of the time, and I almost always clear those out before walking out the door.  Getting to zero a few times each day is important to me.

Because I’m usually hopping around from meeting to meeting throughout the day, whenever an idea pops into my head (no matter what the context) I capture it in my task list or my note-taking software.  I don’t have the ability to store and manage everything in my head, so I rely on this habit more than any other to keep me from forgetting important things.  I do regular sweeps (usually at the end of each day) where I’ll go through my tasks and notes and make sure things are heading in the right direction.  Collecting my thoughts doesn’t get me very far unless I actually organize and process them.

A couple nights each week I’ll hit the gym in place of sitting in traffic, with an even split between strength training and cardio work.  I spend no more than 50 minutes in the gym; my goal is to get in and get out so I can get home to my family.  On the nights I don’t go to the gym, I use this extra time to get ahead on work for the week, or if the traffic is light, I’ll get an extra hour or so in with the fam that night.  Of course, my car speaks to me on the way home too with tech commentary or Audible books, so no matter how long it takes, it’s productive and fun.

Once home, I spend as much time with my daughter as I can before she goes to sleep.  Playing, reading, eating, “flying” around the house.  Once she’s asleep, some nights my wife and I watch a little TV – no cable or commercials, strictly Netflix or Xbox video on demand.  We almost never watch more than a single episode of whatever we’re currently addicted to.  Some nights I write or work on blog-related things instead like coding or planning new features for the site.  I almost always check-in with work email to get back to zero during the evening as well – just not right before bed – as I’ll then be stuck in “work mode” while trying to fall asleep.

I read for about 30-60 min on my Kindle every night before going to bed.  I really do love consuming information and find it hard to stop reading in order to go to sleep, frequently reading past my self-imposed deadline.  Reading fiction or psychology before bed has been better for keeping my attention lately since I’m thinking about business and technology all day long.  Once ready to sleep, I “switch off”, get comfortable, and start my pre-dream routine.  I’m usually asleep within 15 minutes.

Weekends are dedicated to friends & family with the exception of quick morning workouts, and writing on Sunday during my daughter’s nap.  We spend a lot of the weekend together as a family.  My wife is our social coordinator and makes sure we’re also getting in quality time with people we care about.   We also try and get out, just the two of us, a few times each month to pretend we’re not old homebodies.  But many weekend nights we just relax at home with a movie.  And at some point during the weekend, I usually find myself a cupcake 🙂

We also try and travel as much as we can.  While we both love our jobs and our life in Seattle, in order to really appreciate it, we need to maintain perspective.  We’ve found that getting away can really help with that, even if it’s just a long weekend somewhere local.  I’ve discovered that I’m exponentially more creative when I change up my environment, especially when surrounded by the ocean or trees.  So while pure relaxation is fun for a while, I usually find myself using that downtime to explore things I would never think to do otherwise.  I love it.

Written by Mike Torres

February 2nd, 2010 at 8:03 am

  • I like how you actively pay attention to how many meetings you have in a day and how you try to be mobile for meetings if you don't need a white board or screen. It's so important to allow and even plan for those unscheduled meetings to be productive and not jam packed into the lack of available time or taking away time from other meetings. Those unscheduled meetings are often the most productive – as long as the org culture is not fire fighting all the time. Thanks for sharing!

  • I like how you actively pay attention to how many meetings you have in a day and how you try to be mobile for meetings if you don't need a white board or screen. It's so important to allow and even plan for those unscheduled meetings to be productive and not jam packed into the lack of available time or taking away time from other meetings. Those unscheduled meetings are often the most productive – as long as the org culture is not fire fighting all the time. Thanks for sharing!

  • Thanks Toby!

  • James

    Thanks for sharing your routine with us Mike. For someone about to enter the workforce It is really empowering to see an experienced persons daily happenings. Articles like these really motivate me. Thanks mate.
    – James

  • Thanks for this – very insightful. I’m self-employed, and work from home which has it’s upsides (no traffic) and downsides (switching off in the evenings is difficult to do). Been working on improving my routine, knowing that I work best with an early start, so was good to read about your structure and where I can improve (I often skip breakfast and breaks which I’m sure makes me less productive in the long run).

  • Thanks guys! Please do let me know if there's anything specific you'd like me to cover in the future.

    I used to work from home as well and had a lot of the same thoughts. Switching off was really, really hard. I ended up erecting a virtual wall between my work & the rest of my life in order to be able to sleep 😉

  • Drew Lommen

    Hey Mike,

    Where does facebook fit into your life…it would be interesting to get your take on FB; how it should be used, how it shouldnt, when it should, when it shouldnt, etc…

    • Good question Drew. I wonder if that's the topic of a future post. Generally, I look at Facebook in two ways: 1) as a utility (to find people, phone numbers, etc.) and 2) as a time-waster (not always in a bad way). I limit my Facebook usage to about 15-20 minutes a day if I can. That sounds like a small amount of time, but it's the only way I can stay sane and still get work done.

      I've found that the more things I comment on publicly, the more I get sucked back in. So I limit how many things I comment on or Like. It results in too many emails and desire to chime in again!

      I've also created a group on FB for my close friends and family, and that's what I default to. I want to know what's going on with them first – and if I have a little extra time, I'll troll through my entire list of ~550. It's about looking through a keyhole instead of opening the door.

  • Drew Lommen

    Hey Mike,

    Where does facebook fit into your life…it would be interesting to get your take on FB; how it should be used, how it shouldnt, when it should, when it shouldnt, etc…

  • Good question Drew. I wonder if that's the topic of a future post. Generally, I look at Facebook in two ways: 1) as a utility (to find people, phone numbers, etc.) and 2) as a time-waster (not always in a bad way). I limit my Facebook usage to about 15-20 minutes a day if I can. That sounds like a small amount of time, but it's the only way I can stay sane and still get work done.

    I've found that the more things I comment on publicly, the more I get sucked back in. So I limit how many things I comment on or Like. It results in too many emails and desire to chime in again!

    I've also created a group on FB for my close friends and family, and that's what I default to. I want to know what's going on with them first – and if I have a little extra time, I'll troll through my entire list of ~550. It's about looking through a keyhole instead of opening the door.

  • Ann Hudspeth

    You listen to audiobooks while shopping? That's such a great idea! Would probably cut down on impulse purchases as well.

    • Heck yeah! It makes going to the supermarket something I look forward to.

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