Personal productivity (only self-tested methods)

Hi, my dear readers. I’ll be brief. Some statistics: during the latest three years I have 10 times increased my income without having become a crazy workaholic; rather vice versa, I have been travelling more lately; moreover, the number of my successfully started and completed projects has grown three times — and here I am not speaking about work projects only. Perhaps, you know my Java course(on Russian!) that I have been successfully developing at my work-free time. The key to this lies in 3 parts:

  • effective management of quality time;
  • effective management of resources and projects
  • effective and constant self-study.

In this post I will touch upon the first (the crucial) aspect. No abstract theory, just personal cases I have worked out for years and experienced it first-hand. More importantly, all is free, without SMS and registration, on LifeHacker (this is also a translation of my article on Megamozg from Russian). If you like my article, I will write, eventually, about other aspects.

Sweet sleep, soul charmer …

TLDR:

  • Sleep 8 hours a day as a minimum
  • Divide your day into three segments 4–5 hours in each (better 4–5–4);
  • After each segment have a 20–30 minutes nap;
  • After the second segment jog for 20 minutes;
  • At weekend, if you are tired of this routine, spend your time as you like;

Nowadays lots of people are crazy about time management; however, in reality, it is not the time but its quality of the time that is a critical resource. Each hour of your productivity is different. The theory of time management goes that if you don’t sleep at all, you will manage to do a lot, which in itself is far from reality. The most important resource is the quality of your time. The quality of time could be enhanced artificially (for example, having had a cup of coffee), but it works just for short chunks of time and is fraught with the worsening of time quality in the long-term perspective.

Coffee (or any other stimulants) may be used only if your body has enough strength for the required coefficient of efficiency level but has not come into the normal rhythm of work, for example, early in the morning after 8 hours of sleep when you still feel sleepy but need to start working and your body is ready for work.

I have a nap in the office during lunch and/or every time when my CE decreases below a certain level. If there is no suitable place for it in the office — I sleep at my desk, my head on my elbows, or look for a “quiet” room where I just lie down on the floor =)

After the second active segment (usually after the end of my working day) I have a nap in the public transport. After a nap it is very important to go to a gym to get refreshed before the third completing segment. By the evening without sport you will be “a vegetable” not capable of making any useful movement except some effort spent on what is necessary for physical survival: cleaning/children/etc. It is only by having your body toned by sport you may succeed in having your third stage of evening work.

“Why do today what you can put off till tomorrow?”

TLDR:

  • Break your 4–5 hour work segment into “quanta” 25–30 minutes each;
  • Make a 5 minute break after each quantum;
  • Keep focused on one task each quantum of time;
  • If you wish to procrastinate — have a list of tasks that will take you to “a quantum” and will be useful;

Each person may have an individual quantum, but most find 25 minutes suitable. During these 25 minutes you should be focused on one task only. Alongside this you should always have a list of projects unrelated to work and interesting for you that will distract your brain during the time of procrastination. To read an article about Kubernetes, to play with AWS ECS, or do whatever is interesting to you… All of it is much better than browse the Twitter, or read news on a website, to look for new interesting publications.

Abstract tasks without any tangible outcome should be left for breaks between quanta during which I would recommend to walk around the office room, phone in hand, reading news or so=)

I noticed through my own experience that a very slight discomfort helps to work. Not the one when somebody is hitting your fingers with a hammer, just a slight one. To get such an effect I started working standing and very recently I started using FluidStance.

To measure quanta, any Pomodoro timer would suit. I would recommend getting a smart-watch and installing a timer straight into it, plus having an opportunity before switching on the timer to put the phone into a “not to disturb” mode.

What is the Pomodoro technique like? Its essence is as follows: you should focus on and do one task. And in fact — no matter which one. You switch on Pomodoro, choose a task for 25 minutes. Even if you are lazy and you wish to read news, OK — you read news for 25 minutes. Just read it — you forbid yourself to change an activity, to jump from one activity to another. Then you have a short break, 5–10 minutes. I normally take a 5 minutes break. I have 5–6 quanta before lunch, and 6–8 such quanta after lunch.

Voice all the list, please

TLDR:

  • All long-term tasks should be broken into projects (or as a minimum should make up one project);
  • A project always has a SMART goal;
  • A project has one short-term goal as a minimum, which is detailed so clearly that you could take it and start performing it straight away without any thinking;
  • A short-term task should be achievable within one quantum of time as a maximum;
  • If any external hindrance appears during the quantum time, it should be described as a task and sent to the incoming tasks;

During the quantum time you should WORK! Which means all your projects should have clear tasks with their priorities. There must not be two projects with N1 priority. However, if a current task from project N1 is paused, you may switch over to project N2, but not otherwise.

A task should not imply additional thinking! For example, “to reply to “Donald Duckman” may be a poorly formulated task if “the reply” requires a lot of work. If there is a slight probability that the task may take more time — make it a project with one task at the beginning: “To re-read the request from Donald and to write out the questions that should be answered in the document”, “Proceeding from the document to create further tasks”. After performing these tasks a project may grow with new tasks, for example, “To find out when they wrap up module M “, “To reply on the results of the module”, “To find out who can help Donald at the current moment and to give him their details”…

Thinking should be required only at the moment of taking decisions on projects and tasks. During the quantum if you feel cornered, you waste a quantum of time on decision making instead of productive work. It is the result of bad planning! Plan more efficiently=). To do this, I recommend using OmniFocus2 or Things.

Imagine you have amnesty and, as soon as you switch over the context, you forget what was happening with the current project (the current task). This is the way we should work on any task. A wonderful film “Memento” comes to my mind. I recommend watching it if you have not seen it yet.

At the beginning of each day make a review of the upcoming day; set tasks to be fulfilled during the day. If you get more incoming tasks than quanta — transfer them to other days. You may allow over-work only in rare cases; otherwise, your productivity within every quantum falls (the work slows down).

Analyse your work each day at the end of it. Answer the questions: what is fulfilled and what not. If you should let somebody know that the work is not done — do it.

If we consider time from the point of view of its investability, you have private time of a certain quality. This quality could be suitable for monotonous work or for active brainwork. The function of “to do” lists is to collect varied type tasks for you into which you could invest your time. For example, you wish to do a monotonous task now and in the “to do” list there should be a task which suits this type of time. Do it right now, and, as a result, the task will move the project ahead at 20%. If you don’t have this project, you may have a feeling that you idle away your time.

Afterword

In this way I manage my time and its quality. The scheme elements may vary for each individual, but the essence remains the same. And this is just the top of an iceberg, but the most indispensable one. It is also important how you prioritise tasks and which tasks get into your list and which get removed for good. This is what distinguishes those who bring critical projects to the end and those who do not finish their projects; those who always grow and study something new and those who get stuck doing one-type tasks. We will talk about it another time, as it is a story about a different level of self-organisation.

P.S. By the time of writing this article a podcast(on Russian) on what young developers should focus their attention to become successful in their business has come out.

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