On Sunday March 11th, I had the pleasure of attending CloudCamp in downtown Austin during SXSW. If you aren’t familiar with it, CloudCamp is an “unconference where early adopters of Cloud Computing technologies exchange ideas.” It was hosted by Dave Nielsen (@davenielsen), and was attended by a variety of vendors, cloud computing administrators, and folks like me who wanted to learn more about OpenStack and the complementary tool chains & use cases.
CloudCamp started off with a series of lightning talks – which are typically 5-7 minute mini-presentations. The goal is to quickly impart information and ideas to the audience without drowning them in PowerPoint or vendor jibber-jabber. I took a good deal of notes, and present one of the lightning talks below.
Elmer Thomas: Personal Productivity for Developers
Elmer presentation was about applying programming frameworks, tools, and techniques in every day life in order to get things done. Breaking complex tasks or even a bunch of simple tasks down into easily completed pieces accomplishes a couple of things. First, you’re more productive. Second, getting those tasks *out* of your head and onto a piece of physical or electronic paper is a great way to reduce stress. (I can personally attest to this — having 50 different things bouncing around in my head can stress me out; combining that stress along with additional stresses can be mentally crippling.)
GTD (Getting Things Done): consists of breaking projects down into their actions and contexts. Instead of a big list of TODOs, break them down into specific actions that are contextual to where you are or what you need to do. It’s also helpful to pretend that you’re delegating the task to someone else. Write out what you need to get accomplished, not in shorthand but in a way you’ll remember what it was about later.
After you’ve formed a habit of doing this on a regular basis, start adding in a weekly review of captured but unprocessed items, future goals, etc. For an even higher level of GTD, use it when making 1-2 or 3-5 year plans. Do you want to be employed doing Role X or working for Company Y in 3-5 years? What are the steps that you need to accomplish it, and what are the contexts? Just like quitting smoking or losing weight, reaching your mid to long-term goals requires regular execution and review. Elmer’s suggestion on learning more was simple: Simply Google for GTD. 🙂
Agile: Another great idea is to use Agile programming techniques.
- Adopt the Rule of Three: write down 3 outcomes you want for the day, 3 for the week, and 3 for the year
- Use the Monday Vision, Daily Outcomes, Friday Review: On Monday, identify 3 outcomes for the week. Each day you identify the three outcomes you want to accomplish. On Friday, identify 3 things that went well and 3 ways to improve.
- Set boundaries in your Hot Spots to get a better work/life balance. Personally, I think of Hot Spots as a quasi time budget. Decide how much time you want to spend on certain “hot spots”. For example: no more than 50 hours a week on career, 4 hours a week on fun, 6 hours a week on personal or career development, etc. Once you know where and how you want to spend your time, you might find it easier to push back on tasks that try to interfere in other areas.
Techniques: Elmer also had a few great suggestions to help manage time better. The first one is to create what he called a “digital truth dashboard”, or a central point for all of your stuff. It should be simple, easy, and allow you to link to resources or describe where they are. It should be easy to use and available anywhere. If possible, automate it using RSS & APIs.
Another great technique is one that I started doing without realizing what I was doing. I call it “the zone”; it’s usually reached while in a quiet place, and while listening to music with noise cancelling headphones. (Personally I prefer electronica such as dubstep or trance. The beats get my brain going, and the vocals don’t distract me.) However you do it, make sure that it’s effective in removing distractions while encouraging focus on the task at hand.
You can also use mindmaps to help with planning a task or a project. Once you’ve mapped it out, prioritize it, then break it into easily accomplished bite sized chunks. You’ll be done before you know it. 🙂
Personally, I thought Elmer’s presentation was highly informative, and it deserved more than 5 minutes due to the amount of content & references. Fortunately, he made it available on SlideShare. You should take a look at it when you have a chance.
Follow Elmer Thomas at @thinkingserious or check out his blog at ThinkingSerious.com.