Short Question, Long Answer

Friday September 10, 2004

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:

  1. 8:30: Get up
  2. grab a Red Bull from the fridge and drink it
  3. Check email before the call
  4. 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.

  5. 12:00: break for lunch even if I am in the middle of something.
  6. 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.
  7. 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:

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.