definitely need better time management

Some days I’m filtering through all my email, tweets, and open tabs (the last list almost never gets shorter).    Some days I sink hours into getting the littlest thing to work.   In short, I need to manage my time better.  I’d say 90% of my real productivity is accomplished in 10% of my time.  Maybe less.

It’s not a new subject, and it’s certainly not unique to me.   I’m always vowing to do better, and sometimes I do, for a while.  This latest bout was sparked by an article (probably from a link on twitter)

http://www.swaroopch.com/blog/why-i-do-time-tracking/

There’s nothing new there.   The gist is:

  • Track your time to find out where it’s going
  • Avoid interruptions & timesinks

I could add

  • Prioritize

There are 10 points the author realized, a couple of which I found useful:

stop reading tech news websites during work hours and stop twittering.

switch off internet during the first two hours of work everyday

restrict time in front of the computer on weekends and outside work hours

work better when there are big chunks of work as opposed to many small things

more productive if I wake up early

count exercise time also as productive time

I think a big part of the problem is the context switching.  don’t read an article while you’re waiting for tests to run.  The tests will be done in 5 minutes, but you’ll spend 10 minutes reading the article (and 10 minutes reading the comments, and 10 minutes on a good link and…)  While that is useful time, it’s not productive time.  Budget time for browsing and researching, but don’t let it cut into productive time.

I thought to break tasks into several categories.  First there is productive time (coding, writing,  and learning) then their is non-productive but necessary time (administrative, setup, & maintenance.) This could also include meals, sleep, and exercise. Then there is communication time (email, phone, meetings).  This doesn’t include twitter, IM, and reading blogs.  That can fall into the next category, speculative time (networking, researching.)  Then there is leisure time.  Be honest, most of your “research” falls into this.  If you find something specific you need to research, create a speculative task for that specific subject, and timebox it.   Then there is wasted time.  If you’re wasting time, stop.  At the very least, pick a leisure activity and do it so that you can get enjoyment out of it.

In my last bout of time management mania, I decided I would get up early and spend two hours on one task – coding or writing.  That’s a good idea.  If I close shop the previous day with setup for that morning, I can jump right in.  No setting up the server, looking for pen & paper, cleaning out email (nothing important needs a response before 8am or after 5pm), or installing the right tools.  That means you can do research in administration work in the late afternoon when you don’t feel like being productive.

Don’t let that stifle creativity.  If you wake up with a good idea, pursue it, for 1 hour.  Then stop.  Prioritise, and move on.  Chances are, you killed your morning productivity, but at least you don’t have the idea scratching to get out.

If you don’t feel like doing what’s important, do something you can’t justify doing that you’d really like to do–  timesinks like redesigning your website, checking out a new framework, tinkering on that side project, etc.  You’re still being productive, you’re just breaking priorities.  Just don’t get too wrapped up in it without taking another look at your priorities.

After your morning productivity, it’s time for communication and business administration.  8-10 is communication time (or 9-11.)  The important thing is to get your communication done before lunch, so you can hopefully get another creative period in.  Stop reading after lunch is over, knowing you can go back to it soon.  Just a couple more hours productivity until that blood settles in your stomach (be sure not to have too big of a lunch).  Get up and take a walk to get your juices flowing.

If you find yourself drifting or getting frustrated in the afternoon, take a break.  Read some blogs.  Or write something useful in your own blog.  Or network (IM a friend).  But then as the day gets later, take a look at those small tasks.  Things that can take 5 minutes to 1 hour to complete.  Try to knock a few off.  It’ll make you feel worthwhile, and might get you back in the mood for work.

If you get going again (for a potentially 3rd creative period), be sure to stop short.  Take care of a few administrative tasks, including prioritization, to be able to be ready for your early morning work.  That’s your most productive time, and even if you’re on a roll now, it’s better to put a cap on it and let the juices ferment and the well refill for the morning.

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