David G. Quintas

/* this should never happen */

The X Hour Spreadsheet

You get to the office. It’s not clear where to start the day. Instead, you check the news, or social media, or your email. An hour later you still haven’t done any work.

When you start on some task, distraction strikes and you go back to doing all that again. When you should be heading home, you don’t; you feel you haven’t accomplished enough, but you don’t have a way to tell.

In summary, you spend a lot of time at the office not getting work done. The time you spent doing other things —things that should be enjoyable, like watching videos or reading random articles— aren’t enjoyable. You don’t work and you don’t chill. It sucks.

All that sounds like me. If it also sounds like you, keep reading.

I want to start the day as soon as I get to the office. I want to minimize the time I spend at the office while maximizing the amount of work done. Once I’m done for the day, I’ll leave to do whatever I want, without nagging feelings or guilt about work. Defrag work from life.

I’ve been experimenting with a way to stay focused, disarm procrastination, get shit done, and go home early with a well deserved sense of accomplishment. If you want to jump right to the method, click here.


tl;dr: “because I stumbled upon this idea and it works for me”.

It may not work for you. I’ve tried many systems. Some fell short —like the Pomodoro Technique—, others were impossibly complicated. I’d procrastinate on the technique I was trying to use to overcome procrastination. Failing recursively.

My issues with work or personal projects have always been:

This method works for me because:


It’s as old-school as implementing my own punch clock.

What you’ll need:

The Piece of Paper

  1. Write down the time the moment you sit down to do work1.
  2. When you want to take a break, write down the time2.
  3. Write down the time when you get back to work.

That’s it.



This example uses my personal nomenclature:

I don’t use highlighter, but I’ve included in the example for clarity. Green represents work periods, pink non-work (breaks, meals, gym, etc.)

Work Segments

Most of my work segments are 25 to 45 minutes, some as short as 10 minutes, some over an hour. It doesn’t really matter. Do you have 10 minutes and want to go quickly go over emails to chip at your quota? Are you in the zone and wanna keep grinding for 2 hours and have a surplus for tomorrow? Incentivize yourself with the idea of getting closer to your daily quota.


Daily quotas carry over. If you are 30 minutes short today, your quota for tomorrow increases by 30 minutes. If you worked an extra hour today, it’s one fewer hour you need to work tomorrow.


Breaks can be of any length. I try to keep them under 15 minutes. The idea is to do as much work as possible in the shortest amount of time. Then have the rest of the day for yourself. Save watching that video for the time you are done with work and enjoy it without any guilt or hurry.


I count work meetings, those helping me make progress on tasks. Other meetings —such as company-wide ones— may be interesting but don’t help you advance your tasks. Those don’t count as work.

Pro Tips

Carrying over extra work time to the next day day helps me push past my daily goal when I’m on a roll, but the “overtime” should be limited. The point is to have boundaries every day, instead of sprinting during a marathon. Minimize variance. But hey, if you overworked for 30 minutes or an hour, it’s sweet to know you can take it a bit easier the next day. This aligns incentives: you get more done every day for the promise of doing less tomorrow.

It’s a good idea to “quit while the going is good”: this will help you pick the task back again the next day, when you’ll know exactly how to get started. Then just ride that inertia.

The Spreadsheet


You can sync your paper with the spreadsheet as a small ritual after completing a work period. When I do it, I cross the time I’ve transferred to the spreadsheet.

Here’s an example. You can make a copy of it, download it, modify it to have it do all kinds of fancy spreadsheet stuff.

I track additional things like the time I get into the office and the time I leave. It surprised me how much time we spend at work even if you daily goal is significantly shorter than the length of your “official” work day. In other words, it’s a pretty good day if you spend half your official workday doing focused work, so don’t be shy about starting with a modest daily time goal.


  1. I use five minute increments. 

  2. Going to the restroom for two minutes or taking 30 seconds to write down something unrelated to work doesn’t really count. If you feel bad about it, simply round the time of your next break accordingly. This is not about fine grained time tracking.