In my previous entry, Mike Dartt asked me "how I did it". I tried to
answer in a reply, but it was so long LJ wouldn't let me post it. So,
here's another top-level article for you all, describing how I've gotten
organized and what I've been doing.
I've read lots of books on time management. None of them really helped.
I had to reduce this to the bare minimum, because I certainly couldn't have
paid attention to anything longer than this blog entry when I was trying to
get organized. If I could have, I probably wouldn't have needed it. So
here's my schedule:
- 8:30: Get up
- grab a Red Bull from the fridge and drink it
- Check email before the call
- 9:30: time for the group call, discuss what I'm going to do today.
The morning is a little nebulous, as I've reserved this time for meetings with co-workers and planning discussion. I also update the issue tracker to reflect what I'm really doing, writing any new to-do items down and assigning them an appropriate priority.
- 12:00: break for lunch even if I am in the middle of something.
- 1:00: "close my door". My office doesn't actually have a door, so it's a bit of an act of will to do this properly.
- 6:00: "leave the office".
Again, I often can't literally leave the room where I work, because that is where pretty much all of my stuff is, but it is time to mentally shut down for the day. I start writing a description of what I've done, since this usually takes me about an hour.
Since I'm responsible for "managing the team", I thought long and hard about
what had been effective for me in the past, and I took a leap of faith. I
didn't know that this sort of simplistic "management" technique would work on
anyone else, especially because I have been historically unsuccessful with such
plans, but it was my responsibility and I had to try something. So,
the three axioms and two corollaries I used to put together this schedule for
myself and the strategy for the team are1:
- If you want to avoid getting sidetracked, know what you are doing now and what you are doing next. Remind yourself of your to-do list at every opportunity.
Therefore: Keep a list, or many lists. Make sure they're
updated, and make sure they're in order. Having an issue tracker that
by default sorts by priority and shows you the top 10 things you have
to do in order is handy. Right now we're using href="http://www.bestpractical.com/rt/">Request Tracker, which has
a lot of problems, but is worthwhile because of that one feature that
many other trackers seem to lack. Our tracker wasn't exactly getting
ignored before, but everyone regarded the goals as extremely abstract
and high-level and they would get updated only rarely. I didn't trust
it to have the right things for me to do, and I assumed I had to put
together my own list of priorities daily. This would shift around and
sometimes not reflect the state of the tracker at all.
Now, I am
totally annoying all the time about the tracker, and I make sure to use
it for any random ideas that I might have. Repeating over and over
that it's important for everyone else to keep it in good shape has
forced me to do so as well.
If you want to actually get tasks done, you have to have enough energy to accomplish a specific task, and
- You must have a sense of urgency about actually working now.
As a fellow Hampshire-ite of the Dark Times ( href="http://www.livejournal.com/users/z3p/355249.html">kids these
days don't seem to have the same issues we did) Mike and href="http://www.livejournal.com/users/ordinalten">others will
certainly appreciate the soul-sapping power of work that is never really
due and can never really be complete. (If you can't fail, you can't
really succeed either. That's some taoist shit right there.)
Therefore: make sure the work is something you can walk away from. If you don't have a place you can leave, make it a time you can leave. Make sure that you show up and are focused 100% when you are working.
Oddly enough, the way that this started with myself and with my team, because we are all highly motivated, was bashing people about the head to stop working when the end of the work day rolled around. It was difficult to tell people to do, and it was difficult to do myself. It's especially hard when you're just starting with this, still tired all the time and you feel behind, and it's 6PM and you haven't done jack all day, to tell yourself "time to write an update that says I didn't do jack all day" and stop working.
The paradoxical effect of stopping working is that you'll get more work done. When you don't linger all night, only half-paying-attention to what you're doing, you come to work the next day ready to get something done. Moreover, you are aware that if you don't do it during the allotted hours, it's going to have to wait for the next day: personally, this has been a great motivator to get working now and not putter about reading comics and suchlike.
The fourth point, which is entirely personal, is "keep my body chemistry from interfering with my day". I have been attempting to force myself to eat snacks on a regular basis, drink caffeine at regular intervals, so that my blood sugar doesn't drop precipitously and my ADD doesn't start acting up at around 2pm (right as I should be getting into the thick of work) as it generally does. I am of course also trying to eat right and exercise but the main point I am trying to get to is just that my body's state of activity remains relatively consistent throughout the day, so that I'm not struggling with having huge bursts of energy when I'm supposed to be asleep and then exhaustion when I'm trying to focus on work. That's far more important to me, on a practical level, than the ability to run several miles at a good speed or do 100 pushups in a row.
To be honest, most everybody on the Divmod team is better at
self-management than I am, so this has made a bigger difference for me than
for everyone else. I doubt that most of them are desperately trying to
manage their glucose intake just so they don't collapse. I think it's
helping all around though, especially the carefully maintained group to-do
list. Now when I make a request of someone, I'm sure about what I'm asking
them to stop work on, so I can avoid interrupting important things.
Some of this is probably specific to working in a self-scheduled group environment, responsible for your own tasks, on creative projects. I hope it helps you with something. I'm just about out of time on my email/blog time budget, and this is only tenuously on-topic for work, so I'll have to stop here :).
1. I sure am loving these itemized lists today.