Software Engineering, Project Management, and Effectiveness
I did an interview with Harvey Schachter on Agile Results and timeboxing (from my book on mastering productivity and time management, Getting Results the Agile Way.) Harvey is a freelance writer, who writes three columns a week for The Globe and Mail, Canada's national newspaper, on management and workplace issues. The Monday column is about management tips.
And that’s where I fit in.
Here’s the interview online:
How To Focus in 20 Minute Bursts
Here are some additional points about timeboxing to get the most from the interview …
The focus in the interview is to make more out of the thin time slices we have, and to cope with mental fatigue, even when chasing problems we love.
Basically, if we're doing significant thought work, we burn out our prefrontal cortex throughout the day. To put it another way, our brain works better in short-bursts, more like sprints, less like marathons. Books like Flow, The Power of Full Engagement, Flawless Execution elaborate on this quite well, and share stories and the science behind this.
Wandering around in work you enjoy, or even just staying engaged, is not the same as staying focused while producing tangible results. If you’ve ever gotten lost in your passion, but then had nothing to show for it, you know what I mean. We go through different stages of research, analysis, creative synthesis, and actual production of information assets or products. The shift from exploration to execution often takes deliberate focus, with a clear end-result in mind.
Directing our attention is a skill, and we can learn how to improve our precision. Edward de Bono has spent a lifetime teaching people how to direct their attention and how to leverage executive thinking skills by ordinary people. While focus may not a be a problem per se, there is always room for improvement, and we can improve both our ability to direct our attention, and our ability to focus for longer periods of time.
Additionally, while you can certainly use 20 minutes batches of extreme productivity or timeboxing to deal with drudgery and boring work, it’s better to eliminate the drudgery to begin with. Interestingly, drudgery happens more often when things are unbounded. Something can start off fun, but if there’s no end in sight and you don’t know how long you need to do it for, it can get old fast. And, the longer you continue unbounded, the more you’ll feel the tugs of competing priorities, especially if you don’t have a time and place for them.
Also, keep in mind that, single-tasking, or avoiding multiplexing is a way to boost productivity. Reduce open work to improve your productivity. Rather than have a bunch of open work, you close the loops, and finish what you start. A common pattern here is to stay focused on meaningful task, while having a background task to switch to, when you get stuck or blocked on the main task, or need a brain break.
Unfortunately, the value of single-tasking and avoiding multiplexing is often misunderstood, or undervalued.
While knowing is half the battle, doing is the harder half, but remember that if you want to flourish, it’s a journey, not a destination.
The key is to find your sustainable way, and that’s what Agile Results is all about.
Check out my interview with The Globe and Mail on How To Focus in 20 Minute Bursts, and be sure to stop by and say, “Hi.”
Agile Results on a Page
How I Use Agile Results
Personal Effectiveness at Microsoft
Hi JD, long time reader here!
Great article - I personally use 20 minute bursts to great effect. When collaborating with others, those give me faster pace collaborations, focused on iterating good enough instead of obsessing on perfect and sets an overall great tone for a "no-waste" environment. Added bonus is: others appreciate the courtesy of not taking too much of their time :-)
I also use chunks of 20 minutes with myself to get complete focus on one of my tasks/wins for the day. Works wonders!
Keep writing, I cannot recommend your blog enough!
@ Ricardo -- Thank you!
You reminded me how we treat time more preciously when we set limits. It gets us out of the habit of throwing time at things, and instead, focused on value and results.