Well… we're now a couple weeks into the experiment I started around productivity. Things seem to be going relatively easy, and have been made easier by some creative re-arrangement of my schedule. More in a moment.
The Ongoing Task List
My last entry had some complaints about things like an ongoing task list and simple minutiae which needed to happen on a daily or weekly basis. Exercise is a big one for me, but there's also things like laundry and cleaning. Those are important on a regular basis, but might not fit into one list. Going to the grocery store needs to get done, but sometimes it needs to happen on a Friday and sometimes it needs to happen on a Tuesday, or whenever.
I also spend about an hour per day writing. You can start keeping track of my non-business based writing (fiction, essays, short skits, etc.) here. That needs to be tracked as well.
It almost seemed to be a "setup to fail" situation. I would drown in the infinitude of things, and my efforts towards productivity would die of the trillion paper-cuts. This seemed like it was a solved problem, but the answer was not immediate.
Enter 12 Week Year and Soft Skills
My answer came from the audio version of the Soft Skills book by John Sonmez. There are two suggestions I found particularly compelling. First is that you can't predict your success, but you can book your time. It's a bad idea to say, "I will finish X, Y, Z" today, because you have no idea what those tasks will entail. In my case, a great example is a task I set for myself, "add three new automated tests to the API class". I thought "three is simple! It'll take only an hour or so and then I'll be done." But the task kept getting put off.
Sonmez's suggestion that you focus on time instead of accomplishment meant that getting work done was much simpler. If something came up in the middle of the day that was high priority and urgent, I could focus on that instead. It also means that at the end of the day, I can ask the question, "did I spend time well, and have I done work that I can successfully merge later?"
The next suggestion was, in effect, to batch like work. He combines this with the Pomodoro technique and it means that he can be sure to spend as much of his high-energy time working on the most difficult problems. It also means that things like "replying to email" are less of a drain on his creative output. Distractions are expensive, and distractions during your most productive hours are even more so.
12 Week Year
Interestingly enough, this matches much of what the book 12 Week Year by Brian advocates. Basically, where Somnez uses a quota system, Moran suggest moving into time-blocks. He calls Somnez's "quotas", "lead indicators", and points out that those are the best indicators whether your plan will succeed or fail. If you manage to keep up with your lag (accomplishment goals) indicators but not your lead (accomplishment steps) indicators then sooner or later you'll find that you're falling off of the course.
One of the things that Sonmez commented on above was the problem of getting more pomodori done in a day. He sounded like he capped at somewhere between 8 and 10 daily. I've noticed that if I schedule different types of work for different times, the lift of the different work decreased. Most importantly, I've noticed that if I have pomodori focused on different parts of the brain, then I have the ability to maintain productivity while still relaxing the most taxed areas.
This means I'm trying to normalize my day to about the following schedule:
- (before start) Meditate and schedule the day. This lets me see the priorities for the day and know what's coming up.
- (c. 9) Four pomodori
- (c. 11) Stand up, catch up on email
- (c. 11:30–1:30) pomodori
- (c. 2–3) Writing (work blog, Twitter, creative writing blog)
- (c. 3–5) pomodori
- (c. 5-> wrap up. final emails, communication, etc.)
Most of my "Slack" time fits between pomodori. This prevents multi-tasking. It means I'm less likely to be distracted, and more likely to stay at a high level of productivity. It also means I am less likely to wander off mentally and spend a hundred hours on reddit.
Will my employer like it?
I hope so. Most people in my office have already endorsed Pomodoro. Writing and study have shown themselves to make me more productive. Strangely enough, I've also increased my availability on Slack: before I would miss messages or only see them several hours later. Now, the longest anyone will need to wait is about 25 minutes, with a mean wait time of less than 12.
For lack of a better word, I'm also feeling more at peace. I'm not ending the day with a total mental collapse. Instead I have more energy in the evening to study new technologies and frameworks. I'm also spending the time between pomodori reading on business and department organization.
This is a new technique and a new approach. I'm still far away from implementing any one, specific, productivity system. I could well collapse a few weeks from now after finding that the new schedule is untenable. For now, however, my employer is benefitting, my client is benefitting, and I am benefitting. It's hard to argue with that.