The Focus Course

We’re Still Doing 8 Week Cycles With Sabbaticals

The end of 2020 marks four years the Blanc Media team has been working in eight-week cycles.

It was on the train ride home after attending Basecamp’s Way to Work seminar in Chicago that Shawn laid out the master plan. It was a mash-up of Basecamp’s six-week approach to project work and Sean McCabe’s seven-week sabbatical rhythm.

Six weeks of project work followed by a buffer week to tie up loose ends, debrief as a team, and plan for the upcoming cycle, and then taking the eighth week off as a sabbatical. More on that in a moment.

Work Cycles

As I write this, buffer week is coming to a close which means next is sabbatical. While processing through our retrospective questions and dialoging with our team this week, I was reminded of just how much I appreciate this rhythm.

Staying Focused

Eight weeks continues to feel like a lot of time, but simultaneously not that much time at all. Too long to be an all out sprint but also short enough that you can’t afford to get caught sleeping for a week. And after our sabbatical, it only turns out to be 35 working business days.

Overall, I’ve come to really enjoy the length and cadence of our eight week cycles. Put your head down, stay focused, and make every day count. And before you know it, sabbatical week is knocking at your door.

Eight weeks seems to be a magical number that lets us stay flexible and adapt as the year unfolds. Instead of doing annual planning and hoping we’re still on track six months later, our work cycles build in a rhythm of realignment to our goals. This keeps our feedback loop short and enables us to make course corrections as needed.

Every buffer week we finalize our project load for the upcoming work cycle. That way, when we get back from sabbatical, the work has already been planned and allows us to hit the ground running. Planning the work is a crucial aspect of our cycle rhythm. A lack of planning leads to a lack of clarity, which easily translates to working days evaporating.

Projects expand to fill the time they are given, and we’re cramming seven weeks of work into six to enable an additional week off every cycle. If you could take a week off every eight weeks, why not? In which case, focus is the name of the game.

Project Scope

We usually end up with one or two larger projects that span 4 to 5 of the cycle weeks along with a few smaller projects that may only be a week or two of work. As much as possible, we try to only commit to projects that can be completed within a given cycle. If a project is larger than a single cycle, we split it up into sub-projects that become chunks small enough to manage within our eight week cadence.

Setting and committing our workload for each cycle is still something we’re dialing in. We could probably be a bit more scientific as to calculating our estimate workload and what we actually have capacity to pull off. We’ve more or less gone by feel, assessing the upcoming cycle’s projects and how much is on each team member’s plate.

Sometimes I’m primarily working on one larger project for most of the cycle, and other times it’s a handful of smaller projects. There’s an ebb and flow to the type of work I’m assigned from cycle to cycle, and I’ve found it keeps things interesting and fresh. Sometimes it’s really fun to go full monk-mode on a single project. At other times, I really find myself enjoying knocking off a project per week.

The planning, pre-defined timeline, and project scope all result in a calm work approach. At any given time we all know what we’re supposed to be working on weeks in advance. We each get to go about our work in a non-hurried controlled manner. No daily fire fighting, and, for the most part, no major course corrections at the drop of a hat.

Reflect and Celebrate

I’ve come to really enjoy our retrospective process as a team. Every buffer week presents the opportunity to reflect, learn from one another, and celebrate the work we’ve done. I love having this rhythm built into every work cycle.

I can’t say I’ve ever been part of a team that so regularly takes time to look back over a set period of time, debrief and process, pull out the knowledge gained, and talk about it as a group — whether it went as planned or not, celebrating the work that was accomplished. It’s rewarding to be part of a team that celebrates the wins — big or small.

Eight weeks seems to be just the right amount of time to think back and review what went well and what could be better instead of just powering on to the next project. Our work cycles force us to slow down and learn from ourselves.

By far my favorite part of this process is watching our team call one another out and celebrate the excellence they have witnessed in each other. Not just celebrating the work that’s been done, but celebrating the people that so diligently and skillfully put it together.

I love working with a team that isn’t afraid of honest reflection and, in the same breath, ready to celebrate and praise the work of one another.

Sabbatical

Truth be told, it feels really good to slide into a sabbatical week having put to bed seven weeks of hard work. Sabbatical continues to feel necessary to maintain the quality and longevity of the work we do. It feels luxurious in one sense and absolutely essential in another. Luxurious, because what other companies out there mandate a week away from work every eight weeks? Essential, because who could possibly sustain the rigorous balancing act of life without consistent time off?

At this point in my career, I could not imagine working for a company that did not have sabbaticals built into their work culture. It doesn’t have to look exactly like what Blanc Media does, but some sort of cadence that regularly enables employees to attend to the overwhelming duties of life.

I love knowing there is always a week in view in which things will slow down. Even if things with work are crazy, I know that in the not too distant future I will be able to pull back and get quality time with my family.

I have a hard time imagining I would ever spend weeks of my vacation time per year just to be home. We spend vacation days to go on vacation, which we return from needing a vacation! I love not feeling guilty about spending my sabbaticals at home with my family taking care of things on the home front.

We do also schedule trips and vacations during sabbatical weeks as well, but by and large, most of my sabbaticals are spent getting caught up with my wife and kids at home, and possibly knocking out a home project or two.

* * *

There are many things I love about working with the Blanc Media team, but chief among them is our eight-week work cycles. There are trade-offs, and our way is not the only way, but I truly love our cadence of working hard, reflecting and celebrating, and resting our minds and bodies. It’s focused and intentional, and makes a guy want to stick around for years to come.

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