Doing the work

Sometimes it is painful.

The deadline that is looming closer. The code that just won’t work correctly no matter how much you cuss at it. The simple library upgrade that wrecks your program completely.

But it has to be done. And you need to do it.

At times like this you need to remind yourself that nothing great was ever created without some struggle. Everything that was ever created that is considered good involved some one doing hard work to make it happen. You are no different. If you are going to make something good, you will be working hard on it. Continue reading

Hiring Hacks: Make a schedule

“Goals without deadlines are just dreams”

Time is a resource. The interesting thing about time is that we all have the same amount, 24 hours each day. The thing that separates effective people (you know, the ones we all secretly grumble at) from everyone else is how they use that time.

Making a schedule of how you are going to spend your time is one of the best ways to make sure you get lots of things done. I have discovered a few tips and hacks on how to make the most of a schedule.

  • Plan out your schedule on one day (and plan several days)
  • Make no task shorted than 15 minutes
  • Make no task longer than 1 hour (unless it is an interview or something in-person)
  • Batch like tasks together

Plan out your schedule

If you try to decide what to do right before you do it… you are not going to get much done. You would do much better to try and make your schedule the night before, when you are not focused on the “OMG, I gotta get something done NOW NOW NOW” frame of mind.

Along the same lines I have found that if I go ahead and plan out a week’s worth of time I tend to get more done: It allows me to objectively look at my tasks (such as writing a blog post) and figure out where and when would be the best time to do it.

There is also a certain peace of mind that comes from having things mapped out. On any given day you know what you should be working on, so you can just go do it. No energy is wasted on trying to make a decision, the decision has already been made. All you have to do is… do it.

Length of tasks

I feel that on your calendar no task should be less than 15 minutes. If it takes you less than 15 minutes to do something, then that’s fine. Use the remaining time to do some filing, clean up your desk, etc. Trying to cram 10 1 minutes tasks onto a 10 minute block on your calendar is a waste of time. Seriously. At that point it is just busy work because you are spending more time entering the tasks than you are actually doing them.

On the other side of the coin, I would not make a task longer than an hour. Sitting for too long can cause you to get distracted. I like to break up long tasks into multiple entries on my calendar, either over several days, or with some other unrelated task in between. By putting this constraint on my tasks I find I’m more productive and effective with my time. A quick pro-tip: If you have a multi-hour task, try to put a block of time for physical activity in between session. Getting outside and getting the blood flowing is a very effective way to keep mentally alert and to keep the creative juices flowing.

Batch similar tasks together

When you are in the zone you are unstoppable. So why break up your streak by doing wildly different tasks? Context switching can be very expensive, but if you can stay in the same frame of mind as you switch tasks you will find you can get more done.

For example, imagine that you need to update your resume, clean your office, write a blog post, and make some phone calls. If you schedule the blog and the resume back to back, you will probably get more done faster because they are both writing tasks. If instead you decided to do the phone calls in between the writing tasks… well there’s no telling when you will get around to finishing the 2nd task. Phone calls seem to take forever!

Personally, I like to try and schedule phone calls and interviews in the afternoon. I find I’m more creative in the mornings and more social in the afternoons. By scheduling my day around these “facts” I find I get more done (and usually faster).

Wrapping it up

Make a schedule. Make it several days in advance. Make it around your strengths. Follow the schedule. Make it happen!

How to identify what to measure

My last post about metrics really got me thinking. Most GTD programs don’t really talk about improvements from a dead stop, they are more concerned about changing your process. But altering how you implement your process can have a huge impact.

Here is a suggestion on how to identify what to measure:

  1. What is causing you pain?
  2. What causes the pain to occur?

Step 1 is all about prioritization. Pain is bad. If something is causing you pain, you want to stop it. You need to stop it. So pick the thing/item/problem that is causing you the most pain. This is what you need to improve or fix.

Step 2 is looking at what is causing the pain to occur in the first place. Once you know the factors that are contributing to the pain, you can try to change them. If you are doing the right thing, the factors contribute less, and the pain should go down.

For example: Let us say I want to write more python code. My day job doesn’t involve much python, so I feel like I’m being left behind because all of the cool kids on reddit are talking about the fun they are having writing python code.

The pain: Not being able to write in the language I want to. The cause: Day job doesn’t use python.

Addressing the cause will affect the “pain”. If you get a different job (e.g. one that involves writing python code) then you have solved both problems.

But what if you can’t just switch jobs? Then you try experimenting with writing python code for your own personal use. Try writing it to solve scripting problems on your PC at work. If that makes you feel better, then you are moving in the right direction. If you try writing open source code in python in your after work hours, but it winds up stressing you out, then you are moving in the wrong direction. (Or you’ve identified that there might be a different problem than what you originally though there was!)

By tackling the sources of your pains, and applying small changes there, you can get a measure of where your efforts are going. Sometimes these measures are going to be cold hard numbers, and sometimes they are just going to be “feelings”. But either way, they are indicators of how you should change your processes and habits in order to become more successful.

Success begets success

For me the best motivation is success. Kind of a vicious cycle, its hard to get motivated, but the motivations comes from success. No success, no motivation. How in the world can you get started if you can’t reach a starting point?

I’ve found the key is to have a small easy-to-achieve goal. Something trivial. Implement a small helper function. Wash the dishes in the sink. go for a small walk (instead of sitting watching TV). Do one small blog post. 😉

Accomplishing one thing, no matter how tiny is a small victory. And usually I wind up thinking “Well, it was easy to wash those dishes, I should wipe off the counter too, that will only take a second”. Before I know it, I usually accomplished a quite a few small things, and that usually adds up to a big thing.

So the next time you are lacking motivation, just think of one or two small things you can knock out quickly and easily. (You do have a to-do list, right?) I’ll bet that getting a few things done will help motivate you to tackle the bigger jobs.

And speaking of bigger jobs, I’m off to try and write a few methods to try and make a class or two spring to life.