Getting Things Done

15 Jul 2017

I have been trying to actually be productive in my evenings and weekends, but I find I often end up not getting as much done as I feel I could have. I end up browsing imgur, reading slashdot, reddit, twitter, etc. rather than reading books, writing or anything else.

The first point doesn’t fit in anywhere else, but somewhere I saw a tip about keeping a house clean (I think):

If it takes less than 2 minutes to do, do it immediately

This has helped me a lot in keeping my work areas tidier (e.g. take empty tea cups back to the sink…), but I also find I am applying this to things while working too. Notice a spelling mistake in a readme.md? Fix and pull request. Notice packages are out of date on a project? update them and pull request. Notice a method could be refactored to be clearer? Refactor and…you get the picture. Lots of little improvements add up. Katrina Owen does a great talk about Therapeutic Refactoring, and a lot of what she says applies to the fixing of small issues.

So here are some of the things which I have found help me to get things done.

A Good Environment

Being comfortable is super important. A slightly uncomfortable chair will niggle away at the back of your mind, and cause you to fidget. Try a standing desk if you find yourself getting restless sitting down all day.

If you can control the temperature of the room you are in (without causing office drama/war over it), do so! Nothing like the constant discomfort of being too hot to distract you. Oh, and if you want the room hotter, but someone else want’s it colder, let them have the coolness. You can put on more layers to stay warm, but they’re probably not allowed to take any more off by this point!

Lighting is another important part, and not just in making sure you are not straining your eyes, or coping with screen glare. One of my previous work locations had inset lights in the ceiling, but no diffusers underneath them, so in the corner of my eye all day was a bright halogen-type light. It was amazing how some days the light drove me crazy, and other days I barely noticed it.

A Good Virtual Environment

How often are you part way through a task, and you switch to reddit/twitter/slashdot/whatever to have a quick look? I never want to shut all my standard browsing tabs, but when I am working, I don’t want to be distracted by them either.

Luckily, Windows 10 finally added Virtual Desktop support in, which I use to create separate areas for different tasks. For example, the laptop I am typing on at the moment has 3 Virtual Desktops:

  1. General/day to day: chrome, spotify, etc
  2. Blog writing: atom, git bash, chrome (with only a tab of my local blog instance open)
  3. Current development project, so a couple of git bash windows, atom, rider, chrome with AWS tabs open

By doing this, when I get briefly distracted and tab to chrome…there is only task related tabs open, and I just keep on at the current task.

Music

Something to listen to, which wont distract. Game and film sound tracks are amazing for this, as they are designed to be immersive, but also not to distract you from what is going on. Generally there are no words to them, so you don’t end up singing along either. Personally, I like using:

Focus

I find timeboxing tasks helps me a great deal. The method I like is called Pomodoro, and just involves doing 3x 25min tasks with 5min breaks after, and the 4th task gets a longer break after. I tend to use 20 minute timers for this, and allow myself to keep working a little if I wish to finish a paragraph or similar.

Setting tasks up for success helps a great deal too. For example, I find getting started on writing something very difficult. For example, this blog post has been rattling around in my head for at least a week. To help write it, I start off by writing a list of bullet point ideas, which goes into my drafts folder. When I sit down to write a blog post, I can hopefully start off by expanding a bullet point or two, and by the time that is done, I am in the writing zone.

And on

Hopefully all these little techniques will become habit soon, and I will find more along the way I am sure.

productivity

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