[NOTE: This was actually written Thursday the 5th, things make more sense with that in mind.]
I sat here today, and several normal things happened that made me think of some seriously important things. The thoughts are presented very well by Scott Hanselman in a talk on scaling oneself. He’s got a lot of gems in this presentation (links and video below), which he’s given a few times. In those presentations he makes a few very quotable statements that I had pop into my mind.
“It’s not what you read, it’s what you ignore.” - Scott Hanselman
The other really great gem is,
“Sometimes dropping the ball is the right thing to do.” - Scott Hanselman
Both of these are so true. It’s an important balancing act that one must perform to maintain a high level of productivity, especially in any complex work. Seriously, even digging a ditch can be complex, just look at Boston. They spent the years 1982 through 2002 to work on this project. They failed a dozen times on a dozen aspects of the project. It barely finished even a percentage of what was intended all for an initial estimate that was $2.8 Billion that ended up being $14.8 billion (only $8.08 Billion in 1982 dollars though :o ). In this situation, just to finish, the city had to actually drop the ball on a number of aspects of the Big Dig.
But I digress, my problems I’m working on solutions for aren’t anywhere near the dilemma of the Big Dig. I do however find myself needing to chose between becoming swamped and living life, or dropping the ball. If I chose carefully I can still succeed even while dropping the ball on some things. Because sometimes it is indeed, the right thing to do.
An alternative, delegate and get help.
Another solution to dropping the ball or not dropping the ball, is to simply delegate and pass the ball to others who can help out. Both dropping the ball and delegating are honestly great leadership skills that can be harnessed to effectively multiply your productivity levels. Both of them can seem almost like the same thing to those that have expectations upon your work, and both can be force multipliers for you, but their results can obviously be very different initially. In the end, both end up requiring someone to pick up the work or write off the work. I’ll leave you to guess which one results in which result. ;)
As these things popped into my head I looked at my immediate to-do list of things. I knew I was rather bombarded with things I needed to do, so it was time to figure out what could be delegated and what could be dropped. This list, of course is only tech related and work related. It is also a list that has to be done before the end of the week, which is Sunday @ 6pm in time for Game of Thrones for this particular instance.
- Infrastructure: DNS migration completion from provider X to Google Cloud DNS via Terraform & Atlas.
- Resolve a firewall change.
- Determine Zookeeper working situation with Kubernetes & container tech vs. installed on VM. Prepare a seamless immutable infra deployment of said Zookeeper cluster.
- .NET Fringe - Setup voting for proposals and get team to vote.
- .NET Fringe - Get bike ride event posted for day before conference.
- .NET Fringe - Get schedule put together for workshops.
- .NET Fringe - Finalize curriculum, course topics, abstracts, and titles for workshops.
- .NET Fringe - Get Geek Train setup, scheduled, call Amtrak to confirm date and get a ticket block.
- .NET Fringe - Get marketing done around Geek Train, Bike Ride, Workshops, etc.
- .NET Fringe - Update website w/ progress.
- Node PDX - Get bike ride event posted for day before conference.
- Node PDX - Get schedule put together for workshops.
- Node PDX - Meet with Code Fellows about partnership and workshop resources (space etc)
- Node PDX - Get proposals sorted and prepared for selection and make selection w/ team.
- Node PDX - Get Geek Train setup, scheduled, call Amtrak to confirm date and get a ticket block.
- PDX Node - (Not PDX Node and not Node PDX!) meetup tonight (Thursday) at Urban Airship to plan the future of the meetup and coordinate with organizers!
Ok, that’s enough. You get the idea. I’m a bit underwater on things. But this is how it works. There are weeks where there isn’t a high priority on a single thing, and then BOOM, the deluge has come upon me and I have no hope of finishing things in a timely manner. Privatization, delegation, and dropping the ball are the options available during this time.
Question Things, Question Yourself, Always Ask Questions
I always ask several questions about things I need to get done during this time. For instance, how could I get help or even get someone to organize a bike ride or do the work of setting up logistics around the geek train? How could I make the amount of work I need to do to setup the DNS migration and complete it the absolute minimum while ensuring it’ll get done right, on time, and seamlessly without interruption? Could I just drop the Zookeeper and Kubernetes work for now? There is always a balance to be reached among things that provides the maximum return.
Among all the questions there are two other things that are super important. Again, I’m going to pull a Hanselman quote.
Effectiveness is doing the right thing. Efficiency is doing things right. - Scott Hanselman
These two things are huge. If either falters, even in a small way, I’ve found it’s better to call a full stop and reflect on what I’m doing. I’ve also found, that when others start to give in and their efficiency and effectiveness drops, it’s time to call a full stop. This is something that’s hugely helpful when providing leadership for people too, help them help you help everybody move forward and don’t let them fall prey to be overworked and overwhelmed!
These are a few things, largely focused around Scott’s blog entries and presentations. Absolutely great, well researched, and he practices what he preaches. Scott is a seriously kick ass, highly reliable, consistent guy.
On to some other things that Scott might have said, but these are things I’ve come up with just from life. The following might actually seem counter-intuitive, but I promise you when these practices are mastered you will stand out strong while others falter around you. However they’re tricky, because if you have a “warm body in seat” type of boss, don’t have work flexibility around hours, schedule, remote or onsite all of these become extremely difficult. In spite of this they’re all wroth investing in to get them to work for you. I’ve easily quadrupled what I can do by doing the following.
My Productivity ListRemember one thing. Work is not your core focus and reason to exist in life. You, your family, your love is why you work in order to live and to create and build. Don’t get these things mixed up ever. If work takes to much toll, figure something out to reduce it’s damage to your life.
Coffee Without Work
Have your coffee without work in the morning. I can’t rave enough about getting one’s head in the game before actually starting on work tasks. Whatever your morning tradition is, mine being that wicked awesome coffee that Portland is famous for, this needs to be done without having work interfere. If someone is emailing you or calling you don’t let it interrupt. If you feel you need to be interrupted in the morning then you really need to find different work where this time will be respected.
You might have another coffee with coffee folk at work, but whatever the case, have your first coffee in your own head space without interruptions. Better yet, have it with your wife, children, or loved ones so you remember why you are who you are and do what you do.
Cut The To-do List in Half
Ever noticed the lies of to-do lists? It takes practice to create to-do lists that are actually able to be completed on a schedule. Don’t even lie about it, that’s what all of our first to-do lists do, is lie to us. There are tons of rules and thoughts around to-do lists. Keep em’ to three isn’t a bad one, but as you’ve seen I have a catastrophe in the making listed above. So I need to split that to-do list into manageable segments.
The times to-do lists turn into a multidimensional array of to-do lists are to frequent to count. So cut them in half, stay focused on one list. ONE LIST, not anymore. If you have more delete them. They’re waste, total waste. I keep a single list and notes. The notes are merely random thoughts and things that might one day end up one day on a list. That leads me to the next thing…
Write, Note, and Think
Write down things, not particularly lists, but just things that you think or ponder frequently. This helps one formalize what their thoughts are. Write these notes and think, think, and think some more. For me, this helps me refocus and insure I’m always working (or actively procrastinating at least) effectively and efficiently on things instead of getting hit with analysis paralysis or other such anti-pattern problems.
Take a Break
Take a break frequently. Taking a break frequently and move around. Walk around a space, the block, or whatever you can find. Walk for at least 15 minutes every 2-4 hours. I’m sure doctors say this too, but I’ve got this on my list of productivity helpers because it legitimately helps people keep that brain clear and helps in numerous other ways. This activity will also help knock out thinking road blocks, resolve errors that crop up, and generally keep you quick thinking. Otherwise we humans tend to fade at a dramatically faster rate during the day without a break, in spite of what we sometimes think we need to do. So take a break, walk around.
Be Active, Stay Healthy… Blagh Blagh Blagh…
I’m touchy about this one and I know a bunch of people are. But this is seriously pivotal to staying productive! There are more studies than I can count and might hit on the topic in a subsequent blog entry. For now, it’s safe to say I stay active and it is massive part of how I stay productive.
Don’t Work Hard, Work Smart
This is said by half the planet, but seriously take it to heart. If you’re working hard, then you’re likely getting behind. If you find yourself repeatedly doing some copy and pasting, or just cranking through typing line after line of some nonsense, or you’ve been delved into a problem for many hours, step back. Are you just working hard at the problem or actually trying to work smartly to resolve the problem? Far to often we work at the problem instead of trying to actually think our way through the problem or even around the problem!
Another article I saw popup recently, which translates to the idea behind don’t work hard, work smart is stop being busy, start being productive.
Does this need repeated? There’s a reason there are other options on meeting invites besides the accept option. Use them readily, frequently, and with intent. Remove yourself from, and don’t let yourself fall into the trap of creating meetings that are unnecessary. Meetings are toxic, and seriously one of the biggest problems of going to work is that far to often work doesn’t happen at work. Largely because of, as Jason Fried states, “M & M“.
For the last few, these are just a few things to NOT do. If you find yourself stuck in these anti-patterns of productivity start looking for a way out. These anti-patterns are basically indicators of a death march. You aren’t going to fix it, let it die.
- If requested overtime happens more than once a month. I’d even say, if overtime requests happens more than once a year, get out. This is a sure indicator of being underfunded, understaffed, poorly managed, and a lack of project leadership that understand how to achieve the best results for a project, product, service, or otherwise. The only time overtime is acceptable is if YOU choose for YOU or YOUR COMPANY to work overtime. In the same turn, don’t request of others this nonsensical thing, it’s a sure sign you’ve lost control of dictating your company’s future effectively.
- Do not lose sleep. Unless it’s because you’re super excited, that happens sometimes. But if you do lose sleep, make absolutely sure that you regain it somehow. If you lose sleep to often you will absolutely, 100% land in a seriously flawed and troublesome failing state. This is not a good situation to be in.
- This next one might sound odd, but I do nto jest even lightly about this one. Drink more water than you do now. Statistically Americans are somewhere around 96-97% chronically dehydrated. That means we’re almost always operating under less than ideal personal physical condition. This is very bad… if you don’t buy this one, go read up on how dehydration works. Then think about it, I promise it’s far more important than you might thing and it’s ridiculously easy to actually fix. This isn’t the 10th century anymore, nobody is really walking down to the river for water, just grab a bottle and carry it on your person.
A few more related references:
- First and foremost, check out Scott’s list of tips.
- Here’s one Scaling Yourself from 2012 @ Dev Day
- Also Scaling Yourself at goto; conf.