What I’ve learned about Productivity from Leading software engineering teams

A leader’s perspective on getting more things done in 2018.

“A Field Notes memo book on top of a larger spiral notebook with two sharpies on the right and a phone on the left” by Kari Shea on Unsplash

Hi, I’m Torrey. I’m a leader of engineers, and a father of twins (nearly 2 years old now). I want to share my productivity philosophy that allows me to scale myself and juggle a half-dozen projects. I believe in continuous, life-long learning and constant experimentation. Many of the ideas below are born out of trial and error.

TLDR;

  • Defeat procrastination by taking imperfect action
  • What you don’t do is even more important that what you do do
  • Deploy Drucker’s 4 D’s: Do, Drop, Delegate, Defer
  • Schedule everything — including time to do nothing
  • Stay proactive by journaling

Defeat procrastination by taking imperfect action

Whenever you need to accomplish something important, but not urgent, it’s easily to fall into the procrastination trap. It seems like the longer you wait, the harder it is to get started. The simplest thing you can do to break that cycle is to take some small, imperfect action.

Examples: tell a friend what you need to do. Schedule a block of time on your calendar to work on the task. Send an email to yourself summarizing your half-baked thoughts. Write a few sentences in your journal.

Creating a tiny bit of momentum makes it easier to keep the ball rolling, and even accelerate.


What you don’t do is even more important than what you do do.

The world of now is one of endless entertainment and opportunity. If you are not deliberate and you do not filter out things that are low value to you, you will be overwhelmed and pulled in too many directions.

The ‘when’ is also crucial. If you are not thinking about how you spend your time today, question your sense of urgency. If you take on tasks with the wrong urgency, you are spending time ineffectively. Time you give to something due next month is time you could give to something due this afternoon.

Not every request you receive is ASAP. The world’s top high performance coach, Brendon Burchard, shares a strategy for solving this problem. He responds to every request with a very harsh and direct question: what is the absolute, drop-dead, world-will-explode, deadline for this request?

Deploy Drucker’s 4 D’s: Drop, Delegate, Defer, Do

Management guru Peter Drucker created this framework for request management, called the 4D’s. I use this almost every day.

If you’re not going to do something or you don’t care about it, you Drop it. The request takes no more of your attention and fades from mind. In your email app this is the “Archive” button, “Delete” button, or “Junk” button.

If you want someone else to do something, you Delegate it. You ask someone to help, stop thinking about it for now, and you follow up on the results later. In your email app this is the “forward”/“reply-all” and “schedule” buttons.

If you are unable to take action now, and want to come back to a task later, you Defer it. You let it leave your attention so you can stay focused on more urgent tasks. In your email app this is the “schedule” button.

Lastly, just Do it.


Schedule everything — including time to do nothing

The calendar in your smartphone is an amazing tool. Put everything on your calendar, as to outsource your brain’s memory. All your appointments, daily activities like going to the gym, commuting, spending time with family, hanging out with friends, whatever. This works wonders because of three things. 1. You don’t have to rely on your fallible memory to remember to do something. 2. You will be automatically reminded when it’s time to switch activities. 3. Other people usually see that, according to your calendar, you are busy and find another time to meet.

Make space to jump into firefighting mode when needed, but avoid being too opportunistic. Plan work weeks in advance. Ask: What do I want to be working on 3 weeks from now? When you force yourself to think farther out, you may be surprised by how difficult it is. You end up asking another question: what do I want to be doing in 3 weeks? Then, you have created your own agenda rather than someone else creating an agenda for you.


Stay proactive by journaling

As the week wears on, your energy levels dip. It becomes more difficult to stay focused on work that matters. And, it’s easier to slip out of proactivity into reactive mode. The way I solve this problem is by taking time every night to reflect and plan for tomorrow.

My daily journal format evolves constantly. At the moment I focus on these key things.

  • Luck — what great things happened today that were entirely due to luck? What action did I take in the past to create that luck?
  • Innovations — what new things, methods, routines did I try today? Did they work?
  • What didn’t go well — and why?
  • Plan for tomorrow — how can tomorrow be better than today? What are tomorrow’s goals?

Thanks for reading! Disagree? Let me know what you think.