During the year of 2016 I reflected a lot on my personal performance and how to better my output. I read a number of books on personal improvement, procrastination and managing the anxiety of a overflowing todo list.
This is my compilation of things that have worked for me. I follow this almost religiously.
You wake up. You got to work.
1Every morning have coffee and eat something. Many times I found the temptation of just rushing through my todo list and not eat anything or drink coffee. This is sacred. Without this, you don’t execute as well. This is also your ‘me’ time.
2Plan your tasks in the morning. Knowing what you will do this day is the most important thing. Many tasks will come from the previous day, many will appear in my head as I go to work. But writing them down in a notebook or in a document is important so they are somewhere and not in my head.
There are several questions I use to prioritise my tasks for the day:
- What are the most important things from my todo?
- What do I feel most anxiety about? What am I procrastinating?
- Are these tasks the biggest contributions I am giving my company? Is it moving the needle?
- Is this task suited to my strengths? Can I delegate it?
This becomes auto pilot after a while where you become much more selective in the tasks that you execute.
3As soon as you start, you need to finish: it is very common to leave tasks incomplete or to start tasks that become much harder than predicted.
One of the greatest books on productivity that I read recently was the martian. In the book, the left behind astronaut takes a very disciplined approach to problem solving. He has tons of problems threatening his life at any moment. But for every problem he:
- Solves it as best as he can so that he doesn’t have to think about it again (and spends as much time as possible on it to make sure this is true).
- Moves on to the next problem.
By doing this, over time he builds on a foundation of finished things of having a large set of incomplete tasks (that would inevitable kill him).
By ‘finish’, I mean: reaching something deliverable for you or your team.
After I finish a task, I ask myself:
- Do you feel comfortable with it?
- Are there any unanswered questions?
- Does it serve the goal instead of just showing work?
4Do it NOW: for most important tasks in our todos, the best time to finished them was yesterday. The second best time is now. Now you already know this. However, what I have found is that by doing most things now instead of planning and burdening your future self with the work you get wins which compound nicely over time.
There are many reasons why you want to postpone doing a task later:
- You think it’s too hard
- It will require more effort/time that you think
- You already have other tasks pending
- You just want to watch another episode on Netflix.
However, in practice most tasks are in fact much easier than they initially appear.
Here’s a simple framework to get shit done:
- Start with your task
- If it’s simple enough finish it and feel great about yourself before passing on to the next one
- If it’s a complex task:
* Break it into smaller chunks. What are the sub tasks related into the bigger problem your solving? Identify those.
* Assign a date/hour for each sub task to be done
* Complete the first subtask
Divide and conquer. Done.
5Don’t deviate from that task because other tasks are appearing: I used to work with a colleague in college that when interrupted he would always say:
“Just a minute, I’m finishing something”
He would invariable finish his task before talking to me even if it took 1 hour. It always struck my as rude and odd why he would say that and not talk to me. It wasn’t until years later that I saw the importance of negating interruptions and not deviating from finishing tasks.
In software engineering this is particularly important because interruptions that cause context switching will incur in significant loss of productivity.
So here’s how I deal with unrelated tasks:
- Write them down
- Schedule them
- Continue with what you’re doing.
If it’s a meeting, an email, a question, a call: write, schedule and continue.
If you don’t write and schedule your head will bear the burden of those tasks and it will affect your current tasks.
If for some reason this task is more important that your previous one (if it causes now anxiety), backtrack your head into decision why the first task was important. That’s what requires your focus.
My problem solving is not multithreaded. Knowing this has helped me tremendously.
6Worst than a bad decision is no decision: many times we’re faced with complex problems that can take some time to solve. Many times you don’t have the data points to completely make a perfect decision. I find it better to ship an imperfect decision (assuming I gave my best finding that solution) that delaying that decision many times. It is more comfortable to wait. You’ll have more data points in the future. However, there’s no progress in waiting.
If you can’t decide on what to do:
- Make a quick pros vs cons
- Use your judgement and data (alone or with few people)
- Write down your decision somewhere so you can revisit (and document why you made that decision)
Things to remember
These are a few thoughts to remember while you’re getting shit done that are particularly helpful to me:
Don’t live with broken windows
Fix things as you see them. Don’t get used to broken shit.
It’s ok if it’s hard. It’s supposed to be.
We deal with hard by decomposing into easy.
You are 1 person in 7 billion, in a universe with more stars than grains of sand in the world.
Live and breath.
Everyone is pretending to be a machine.
Everyone has fears, insecurities, anxieties and frustrations.
There is nothing that you should be afraid of unless it’s terminal disease
Even then, why should be afraid of it anyway. ⚔ ⚔ ⚔