My thoughts about the workplace have changed a lot over time.
I now believe that work doesn't happen at work (those are Jason Fried's words but I couldn't agree more)
The workplace is full of distractions, getting pulled into meetings, a tap on the shoulder, a ping on slack, impromptu coffee break, smoke break, etc. These are so engraved in how our workplaces operate, it's a miracle anything get's done!
To get something meaningful done, you need at least 3 - 4 hours of uninterrupted time. This is true for developers, designers, content writers, product managers, anyone who has job that requires creation.
You cannot get the same amount of work in 3 one-hour chunks separated by interruptions.
There's a great article by Paul Graham on the Maker vs Manager schedule that you should read, I'll add a link to it at the end.
Okay, be honest, when you have a deadline approaching and need to get work done fast, where do you go?
a) home, late at night + weekends?
b) the office, early morning before everyone comes or late at night after people leave?
c) the office, between 10 am and 5pm
If you answered anything other c) you see the problem. We're all going to the office but we're not getting our most productive work done there.
And sure, you need to attend meetings, discuss solutions with your team, all of that. But, there has to be a better way!
Let's take a tiny detour and talk about meetings first.
Think of the last 3 meetings you were a part of, think about the people in it, was everyone required in that meeting? Did you get anything meaningful out of it or were you there just for attendance?
Badly run meetings tend to involve more people than required, run longer than needed and leave everyone with more questions than they came in with.
I'm a big fan of transparent information flow (if you are following my new sticker company, you already know that), but calling a meeting to distribute information is a very ineffective model.
I'm just saying meetings should involve only those people who are required to make decisions and everyone else should be sent an email about it to read it when they are not busy.
Okay, now that we have that out of the way, let's talk about action.
Sometime last year, I felt like I was getting nothing done. If you asked me what I did last week, I'd be blank. (Quick exercise, what did you last week?)
If you have read the previous newsletters, you know I like doing silly experiments. This time, I started documenting where my time was going on google calendar.
At the end of the week, I would categorise my hours into buckets: creation time (coding/design/etc), planning time, time in meeting, time pass 😅etc.
Within 2 weeks of this activity, few patterns came up:
Even though I was spending at least 9 hours at work everyday, I wasn't spending more than 4 hours of creation time in a day. And more importantly, I did not have 3-4 hours of uninterrupted creation time on any day.
I encourage you to do the same and see where your time is going.
If you can't measure it, you can't fix it.
As the next step, I decided to take control of my time. I thought about how I wanted to spend my time.
Two blocks of 3 hours each for creation time, a maximum of 1.5 hour in meetings per day. 2 hour for relaxation + chatting up friends
I noticed I was able to get a lot more done each day, my productivity sky rocketed.
Here are some practical tips that worked for me:
- Put blocks of time on your calendar for creation time. Think of it as booking a meeting with yourself.
- Try starting the day an hour or two before everyone in your team to make sure you get at least one block of creation time without distractions
- Don't keep email or slack open in the background. This is such a simple mistake, but has huge productivity implications. Every time you get a slack notification and decide to spend one minute to reply, you're changing context and losing focus. (Same goes for email, twitter, facebook).
- Check email/slack periodically, every 3 - 4 hours. If something is urgent, people will give you a call or come to your desk.
- If you're invited to a meeting that does not sound useful, ask the host if you are absolutely required. If not, skip it. Promise you will catch up with someone in the meeting for updates.
- Try to keep some time open for meetings, ask your team nicely to schedule meetings during that time (hours after lunch are a good time because you're not going to get any focus work done anyways 😉)
- Push for more written communication: If something can be communicated in an email or on slack, don't call a meeting. This also gives you a chance to absorb the information, think about it and then respond.
- No meeting Thursdays: In your team, ask for one day when there are no meetings, the whole day is focused on doing your own work. Compare this day with the rest, I'm sure it will be productive. Then push for 2 days then 3 days without meetings.
If you try any of these tips (you should!), let me know how it turns out. I'd be happy to share it share it on the next issue of the newsletter.
If you don't control your time, you're allowing someone else to control it.
Working remotely is a great way of escaping the problems of the workplace as well.
I started working remotely about 8 months ago and don't have to use any of the tricks mentioned above because that's the default way of working! Of course, remote comes with a different set of problems. More on that in a future letter 🙂
Time for question of the week,
What tricks and tips do you use to be productive at work?
Hope this was helpful for you on your journey!
You should follow me on twitter 🐦
Maker vs manager schedule
Jason Fried's Ted talk