Thinking through where I’m going to focus my time and energy in 2016

This post is primarily for my own benefit. I’m often not completely sure about things until I write them down. So, if you’re reading this, apologies for thinking out loud…


In December 2014 I set up my consultancy business, Dynamic Skillset. In April 2015 I left my role at Mozilla and became a full-time independent consultant. Initially, City & Guilds took all of my consultancy time; I worked for them five days per week until the end of September.

Starting in October, I agreed with City & Guilds to taper my time with them down to two days per week from January 2016. At the same time, I’ve been experimenting with working a four-day week. This is for a number of reasons.

  • Although I enjoy my work, it’s not the most important thing in my life – my family is. The less I work the more time I get to spend with them.
  • Whereas employees (legitimately) take time for their own personal and professional development, I can’t do that during the time I’m working as a consultant for my clients.
  • I need breathing space. Some weeks I may need to re-jig my days, and having a day ‘off’ allows me to do this more easily. It also means I can take my wife away for long weekends (grandparents permitting!)
  • Having one ‘Doug day’ (as I’ve come to call them) per week means I can take myself away from screens to something entirely different – like the Mountain Leader course I hope to take in 2016.
  • The day off also allows me to have built-in time for pro-bono work, without feeling guilty that I’m not engaged in revenue-generating activity.

The last point is an important one. I want to figure out a way in which I can dedicate a certain number of days per year to working for free for good causes.

Working it all out

According to the giant wall calendar in my home office, there are 53 Fridays in 2016 (that seemed wrong, so I double-checked). Once we remove my days off for Christmas holidays, we’re down to 50 Fridays. Then we need to remove the two weeks in the summer when Team Belshaw will be driving and camping around Europe. So that take us down to 48.

Note: I may choose to chunk my ‘Doug days’ so that I have a Friday off one week, and a Monday the next.

From the bullet points above, we have four main things I’d like to spend my ‘Doug days’ on. Taking them in order of importance, these are:

  1. Long weekends with my wife / family
  2. Getting away and up a mountain by myself
  3. Personal / professional development
  4. Pro-bono work


I want to ensure that during school holidays I’m spending as much time with my family as possible. So I’ll probably work three days during half-terms, and then make that up the week before or after by working a five-day week. There’s three half-terms in 2016, so that’s six ‘Doug days’. We’re down to 42.

In addition, there’s the two-week Easter school holidays, which means another four ‘Doug days’. There’s also every Friday during the summer holidays (other than the weeks we’re camping). That’s another four. So we’re down to 34 days after taking 14 of them for long weekends with my wife / family.

Mountain Training

According to the MTS website, I need to have logged ’20 quality mountain days’ before I start my Mountain Leader course. I can do some of these at the weekend (and indeed may have to if I’m going with other people) so let’s take 10 days for getting away and up a mountain by myself. That leaves 24 days.

Pro-bono work & Professional development

If I split those remaining days in half, it means I’ve got 12 days for pro-bono work, and 12 days for personal and professional development. Of course, the Mountain Training course easily counts as my ‘personal’ development. So I need to be very intentional about my ‘professional’ development in 2016. After all, 12 days isn’t loads.

Of the 48 days we started with, I’ll aim to divide them as follows:

  1. Long weekends with my wife / family (14)
  2. Getting away and up a mountain by myself (10)
  3. Personal / professional development (12)
  4. Pro-bono work (12)

That seems reasonable.

Figuring out my pro-bono work

One of the things I’ve already got planned is to help with a new version of our church’s website. That’s probably going to take three or four of my Doug days set aside for pro-bono work. As with the Mountain Training, I’m not factoring weekends into this.

I haven’t got a hard-and-fast definition of what qualifies for my pro-bono work, but I’ll know what counts when I see it. Using the church website example above, it’s a project that:

  • can’t afford my day rate
  • does something I think is important
  • isn’t a profit-oriented organisation
  • won’t lead to an ongoing (i.e. weekly) time commitment

I’ll tighten this up over the course of the year as things pop up.


All of this pre-supposes that every day of my time is filled for the rest of the year. That’s currently not the case, but nothing to be concerned about. I’ve got enough work with my City & Guilds, London CLC, and a couple of new potential clients to keep me going in the short term. I’ve got a minimum amount to achieve in 2016 which shouldn’t be too difficult to achieve.

At the end of the day, there’s broadly two ends of the spectrum in terms of ways I can live my life. One end of the spectrum involves living up to my ever-increasing financial means. I could aim to earn as much as possible so I (and my family) can have the material things this world has to offer. Many people enjoy that lifestyle, and good for them.

The other end of the spectrum, which I try to tend towards, is to reduce my needs to end up with a financial surplus. This means I’ll be beholden to no-one, and end up with ever-increasing free time to spend on what I deem important.

I thought 2015 was a great year. I learned a lot about myself, my family, and the world. I’m entirely confident that 2016 will be even better. For the first time in a few years I’m going into a new year with a smile on my face.