Software Engineering, Project Management, and Effectiveness
The secret to time management isn't more time management hacks at all. Here's the keys I've found:
I often here the argument, "if I had more time for this or that, I could ..." Well, unfortunately, having more time doesn't always mean getting more done. It doesn't guarantee getting the right things done either. Sometimes I get more done in an hour than I can sometimes get done in a week. Why is that? For me, it's actually about energy. There's only so many hours in a day. While I can't make more hours in a day, I can use my energy better. Sure there's lots of interesting little time savers, but there's plenty of time wasters too. I find the force that makes the most measurable difference is the energy and engagement I bring to the table.
Assuming I have all my energy ready to tackle my day, I need to distinguish between urgent and important. If I'm only reacting to urgent, then I'm missing out on opportunity to deal with important, whether that's job impact or personal growth. The moral of the story is, if I don't make time for the big rocks, the fillers in my day won't leave room. I like Steven Covey's perspective on urgent vs. important in his First Thing's First book. Here's a nice summary of the popular Make Room for the Big Rocks story.
Anticipation is a actually a skill that I haven't worked on as much as I should. I actually plan to do a 30 Day Improvement Sprint, when the time is right. It's funny how many recurring things happen each year, that take me by surprise. Birthdays. Holidays. Reviews. Events. Geeze! You'd think I'd see the patterns ;)
Well, I do. I've seen the pattern of me reacting to events I don't anticipate. While the corporate ninja expects the unexpected, I also find that with a little anticipation, a stitch in time saves nine. If I make project plans, and there's a major event I didn't account for, I shouldn't be surprised when suddenly nobody's around. At the same time, I'm sure I can find a way to leverage the sudden spurt of energy some folks have right after mid-year discussion.
This is a very interesting post. I too feel very time-constrained. Therefore, I am procrastinating on my work and post a comment instead. :)
In all seriousness though, it sometime feels like time is spent all on reactive issues. Although not always true, I often consider "clearing my inbox" or sitting in less than relevant meetings reactive. Maybe a better term to use would be tactical as opposed to reactive.
Some things that have helped me are -
1. Know how to say "No"
If you say yes to everyone regarding everything, you quickly get bogged down. It's often better to do 5 things right as opposed to 10 things half-assed.
2. Have a hobby outside of work
I don't know if it's a Microsoft thing, a Seattle thing, or a technology sector thing, but it's easy to get engulfed in work work work. If you like your job and are getting rewarded for great work, it makes it easier, and it is ok to work hard. This said, I have found that when I have a well-balanced life, I perform better when I am in the office. My mind is clearer and I tend to try to get my work done so I can get to my other activities. For me, this includes mixed martial arts, hiking, working out, and making time for friends and family.
3. Work Smarter, Not Harder
I know everyone says this. It means everything and nothing at the same time. But really, there are ways to work smarter. For example, know your limitations and get help from the experts. It's good to learn, but dont spend countless hours on non value-add things that someone can do in 5 minutes. If I have a question on .NET Security or Perf, I will do some basic research for a few minutes, then call J.D. Also be aware of the law of diminishing returns. Do a great job, but realize that there comes a point when you have finished the work, reviewed it, polished it, and then need to send it off. You can get it incrementally better sometimes, but is it worth spending the same amount of time on the last 5% of the work as you spent on the first 95%, or should you move on to another project?
Good luck to all!
Comments for J.D. Meier’s Blog
You're right on here J.D., as the old saying goes "Life Management begins with Time Management". Getting Things Done (by David Allen) talks a good bit about the effectiveness of energy level and I'd agree with both of you. Here are my “Top 10” productivity tips.
1. Capture Your Tasks
One must understand the big picture of what all needs to be done in order to know what to focus on and prioritize. Capturing all little thoughts of stuff to do and organizing them are hugely valuable and mentally freeing. I use stick notes, a piece of paper, voice memos, and track in “Swift To-Do List”. http://blogs.msdn.com/noahc/archive/2007/01/15/task-management-software-to-do-lists.aspx
2. Understand the ROI
Return on Investment directly applies to tasks. Some tasks take relatively little effort but have large impact or high visibility. These are golden nuggets. Get used to using KANO analysis mentally. http://blogs.msdn.com/noahc/archive/2006/10/20/removing-dissatisfies-kano-analysis-a-decision-making-tool.aspx
3. Work on Stuff You Like (Manage Energy)
People are most productive doing stuff they enjoy (on the order of 10x). Try to keep the type of stuff you work on in the domain of things you enjoy and watch that productivity soar! Keep that energy focused. Like J.D. Meier points out, everyone has the same finite amount of time, so one’s energy level greatly impacts the amount they can accomplish during that time.
4. Focus on Processes Improvement
When solving problems, think of the classification of the work, guiding principles, and optimize a process, not just a specific task, and other similar tasks will flow faster. This goes for all of life. Be a Life Hacker. Apply CMMI to your life, get a process, collect feedback, then improve that process.
5. Listen to the Drumbeat
What’s your surrounding context? What’s hot and what’s not? Tackling “hot” topics as opposed to “cold” or stale tasks increases the ROI. Listen to the people and issues around you for the drumbeat.
6. Read “Getting Things Done”
Seriously, everyone interested in increasing productivity should read David Allen’s book. It is simple and outlines most the principles here.
7. Reduce Clutter & Noise
The more clutter/noise around you just drains brain cycles. Staying in the habit of keeping your office, house, files, folders, desktop, relationships, work, etc as free of clutter works wonders on staying productive. The more little details you have to manage in life just takes time away from moving forward. Some people feed off of noise and live soap operatic lives, they tend not to be the most self productive.
8. Effectively Utilize Your Resources
We all have smart capable people
9. Work Smarter, Not Harder
Here I’ll just chime in with Rick Samona. It’s a popular saying for a damn good reason. I love what Rick mentions, “be aware of diminishing returns”, if you’re getting stuck or slowing down, try another approach. Remember the 80%/20% rule, sometimes 20% of your time accomplishes 80% of the work. Try to improve the odds.
10. Practice Effective Simplicity
In the end, these principles get wrapped up in the notion of focusing on “Effective Simplicity”. Balance keeping things as simple as possible, while maximizing efficiency. Trim down your “toolbox” to those tools that are the simplest yet most useful (reduces clutter). As Albert Einstein stated, “Everything should be made as simple as possible, but not simpler”.
Okay that’s a probably plenty to digest. Gosh I’ve been meaning to blog this stuff for a long time. Thanks for the inspiration J.D.!
1) Know when your creative time is, and protect that time
Most folks have some specific time at which they are most creative. It could be mornings, afternoons or late night. Protect that time by blocking it off on your calendar so that you can get things done!
2) Discourage drop-in meetings
My normal response to an ad-hoc meeting, especially when I am in the zone and working on my high energy time is "I keep my calendar up to date, please feel free to schedule me!" This allows me to dedicate my complete attention to that particular topic at a time that is convenient to both parties without worrying about what I have to do etc.
JD, I usually only schedule about 50-75% of my office hours because of the unexpected. When the unexpected happens it usually adds to stress levels and reduces productivity. My scheduling for it I can make it fit me and get out of stress zone.
J.D. has covered the most important secrets to time management that have helped me immensely in my crazy work/life/school schedule. Other tips shared in the comments are also very interesting. One thing that really helped me learn time management is living through the crazy 80-90 hr weeks. In my case combination of work, part time MBA and new dad degree forced me to always look ahead for what’s coming, be good at prioritizing tasks, come up with contingency plan for anything important and ultimately improve focus. It is like when you are driving at 100 mph, your field of vision becomes pretty narrow and you concentrate on only the important things and filter out all the distractions. I think once you go through such a phase you get to know what works for you and what doesn’t. I would highly recommend living through one such busy phase (willingly) to get to know your limits and sharpen your time management skills.
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Grigori Melnik joined our team recently. He's new to Microsoft so I shared some tips for effectiveness.
Looking for a video showing the "Big Rocks" time management story demonstrated. Any help you can provide is appreciated.
I've been looking for a video on that too!
Routines help build efficiency and effectiveness. Consistent action over time is the key to real results.
Routines help build efficiency and effectiveness. Consistent action over time is the key to real results
The secret to time management isn't more time management hacks at all. Here's the keys I've found: Manage energy not time . Make room for your big rocks . Use anticipation to drive versus react . I often here the argument, "if I had more time for