While, in pursuit of productivity, of creating something useful for the world.

Last week I celebrated my third work-anniversary at Aubergine. These three years have taught a lot compared to what I have learned in past 8 years. One thing which is very specific and I enjoy learning since very first day at Aubergine is knowing Time. There is never enough time. Or maybe there is, but we spend it recklessly, paying large sums for little returns only to find ourselves coming up short for what’s truly important.

And over the years, it has become very obvious to me that there is no more challenging and worthwhile task than good time management. This is what Productivity boils down to.

At this work-anniversary, I decided to do a very focused retrospective of my past three-year calendar, and noticeably, my majority of the time was devoted in pursuit of productivity, of creating something useful for the world. And few things that I have learned from this retrospective is:

  1. Know your time.
    The more you know ‘your’ Time, the more it simple it gets to manage. I am mostly very productive on the days when I am not having too many meetings and devoting a big chunk of my day to a task. It has produced quality design proposals and less iterations in the them going further. Most importantly it has made me feel that I have created something useful for the world. This makes me think that if you’re a maker (i.e. designer, engineer, writer, scientist, etc.), it’s critical that you have long, uninterrupted blocks of time in your day to get into the flow of creative problem-solving. This reminds me of David Gillis, Facebook design manager, who proposes that makers should aim to have at least six chunks of 3+ hours of uninterrupted work time on their calendar every week. This averages out to one 3-hours block everyday and one day with 2 such blocks. Looking at the calendar there were few weeks where I’ve almost failed to follow David’s proposal, i.e. my calendar didn’t have at least that much time to focus on making stuff, and I was not productive at all, or I was working after hours and on weekends to fill that gap, which isn’t sustainable. And it is a very critical problem that must be solved pronto. I try my best to devote big chunks of my working day on a task and make sure that I produce something very useful for the world every week.
  2. Clarity and un-interrupted workspace.
    Inspite of spending big chunk of time on a task, there are instances where I have failed in creating quality design solutions. And as a result I have run into short-time for the next iteration. And the entire week’s plan goes to waste, I end up spending more time after hours and on weekends. But what didn’t work? First is, clarity of what I need to do. I wasn’t setting the clarity for what I want to accomplish. So its better to set the clarity of what’s supposed to be done in this big chunk of time. Second is, focus. I was working in a notification-work environment. Looking at all the notification, physical or digital, many times this took 30% of big chunk. So don’t say ‘I’m going to explore this design solution’ and then get waylaid by checking and responding to e-mails. Make sure you are in a comfortable work environment devoid of interruptions so you can really focus. Few tiny tips, find a hidden nook away from your desk if that works better for you, get your favourite beats queued up, turn off your notifications, and fuel up with a full stomach or some coffee or tea. Minimise your distractions so it’s easier to get into the flow and get cranking.
  3. Task-oriented vs Time-oriented.
    One thing that has worked very well for me is the Weekly planning at Aubergine. It has helped us to plan the entire team’s time intentionally. Blocking off 30minutes every Monday morning to study what’s left on the plate and what new stuff to put on the plate for this week. Recently, we have pivoted our focus on accomplishing the task than just filling up the 40-hour calendar. The sense and feeling of achievement makers get after accomplishing a task is far more worthy than spending 40 hours a week and not creating anything useful for the world. This approach has already started improving the productivity and noticeably helped makers to spend less time after hours or on weekends. This is an amazing perspective change which has worked. To make this approach more concrete and focused, I’m going to try Julie Zhuo’s (VP of Product design at Facebook) theory, i.e. start the weekly planning by identifying the 3 most important things you want to accomplish this week, and make sure there is time blocked out for those things. Then look at every single meeting or subsequent tasks of that week to make sure it belongs. I believe in this theory is because human brain can’t focus on too many things that needs to be accomplished in 40 hours window. For makers, creating less but quality work is more productive, it may sound strange but its true. The reason is very simple, quality work will invite less iterations and thus the task will be accomplished much sooner.
  4. Doing what you love vs doing what is important.
    Create time for learning, networking and inspiration. Not everything that is important is urgent, and there is no better example of this than taking the time to invest in ourselves. Learning something new, taking time to nurture important relationships, getting mentored or coached, attending/hosting meet ups, listening to speaker you admire, or simply doing more reading about what’s going on in your field.

Interestingly, we know eating salads is healthy and eating cookies is not. And yet, we give in to the sweet tooth from time to time. The same can be said for our time. Some tasks that you work on because you love doing them, because they resonate with you and give you energy, it makes you happy. I love hand-lettering, cycling, catching up with friends and family, going out to virgin beaches and hiking green mountains, long drives; but this should not interfere with the job I am hired to do.

I’ve learned that I’m the warden of my own time. It seems, that the struggle just gets harder and harder as I get older. This year at Aubergine I want to make sure that I create something useful for the world every week.