Feeling Overwhelmed? These 3 Productivity Habits Will Make You Feel in Control Again
How to do more and better without getting burnt out
While making the right technological choices can help us deliver better software, there is still the question of how we can best use our time.
Adopting a Serverless Mindset gives us a superior approach to activity selection: it helps us choose what to focus on. It’s the ruthless elimination of the unnecessary in exchange for more time to build the things that actually matter to us and our customers.
But that still leaves us with work to do! Unfortunately, so many software professionals (and teams at large) seem to approach the question of execution almost entirely haphazardly.
What if we started questioning these practices? It’s easier, on the surface, to do what everyone else does. But being intentional about personal productivity and execution can lead to a more fulfilling career and a higher throughput.
Here are 3 practices that can be adopted both personally as well as in a team. They are a great place to start but by no means the only things that we can do to increase our productivity.
The true cost of meetings is staggering: if you schedule a meeting that’s going to last 1 hour and you invite 10 people, that’s actually a 10-hour meeting […] you’re trading 10 hours of productivity for a 1-hour meeting [..] and it’s probably more like 15 hours because there are mental switching costs ~ Jason Fried and David Heinemeier Hansson (Rework)
More often than not, meetings can be replaced by a simple process or tool.
For example, daily standup meetings can easily be replaced by an automatic check-in tool. More general meetings (if they have to be done at all) can be packed over one or two days a week. Also, Notion documents and GitHub Issues are great places to discuss complex topics asynchronously; this avoids the need to drag everyone into a lengthy (often unsuccessful) meeting.
Simple practices like these free up an enormous amount of context-switching power.
Informally pick a few days a week when you’re happy to have meetings, and then graciously start asking for existing and future meetings to be moved to those days.
Gently begin to introduce meeting alternatives within your organisation such as using GitHub Issues or Notion to discuss topics and make decisions.
On a more formal basis, enforce no-meeting days every week. Two days a week is the bare minimum, three or more is better.
Give team members permission to question the rationale behind any meeting they are invited to. If a meeting is not needed or can be replaced by an asynchronous tool, go for it.
Research and adopt collaboration and discussion tools such as Basecamp, GitHub Issue, Notion, etc.
Cal Newport on how to minimise meetings (podcast)
List of tools for running automated check-ins
#2 Know Your Best Time
Your energy waxes and wanes over your waking hours. Time feels different at different stages during the day. At some point in your life, you probably slotted yourself into one of the two great categories of human beings who walk this planet: early bird or night owl. Some people are comatose in the morning. Others, like me, struggle to stay awake after the sun sets ~ Carey Nieuwhof (At Your Best)
Figuring out what my best time of the day is has been a game-changer, and I hear the same excited response from everyone who has been through the same process.
Now, when I look at my to-do list for the day, I can organise and distribute tasks in a way that makes sense with my energy levels and ability to focus throughout the day.
It is a practice that I could not recommend highly enough.
Figure out when your most productive hours of the day are, and be intentional about allocating your highest-impact work accordingly.
If possible, push back on meetings and other interruptions scheduled during those hours.
Find out every team member’s most productive hours and come up with strategies to “protect” those hours.
Introduce flexibilities to allow team members to work at their most productive times (for example, someone whose best time is in the morning could shift their working hours so that they start an hour before everyone else, and likewise finish earlier).
At Your Best (book)
#3 Block Time in Advance
Time Blocking is a simple yet extremely powerful practice advocated by Cal Newport.
The idea is straightforward: at the start of each day, I allocate blocks of time to various activities. This allows me to be fully intentional about where every minute of my workday goes. I can, for example, ensure that my highest-impact work has a certain number of hours dedicated to it.
Planning my day like this, while also remaining flexible to change things up if my day ends up getting derailed, has the profound effect of shifting my mindset from a reactive to a proactive one. I am now in control! I can organise my time so that my efforts go into those things that I believe add the most value.
Try Time Blocking: every morning, spend a few minutes looking at your calendar along with your short and long terms priorities. Then, block time on your calendar to ensure that you make progress in those areas.
Encourage the team to schedule blocks of 1-2 hours at a time (you can call them “Focus Time”). This will prevent others from scheduling a meeting during those hours.
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