I almost finished reading a book written by John Sonmez (popular blogger, software developer and author of many pluralsight courses) “Soft Skills: The software developer’s life manual”. I should say that this book is extremely easy to read, it’s full of valuable advices and it’s extremely practical. And from time to time it’s fun. There are many interesting sections in the book, but today I’d like to squeeze the most important thoughts from the section dedicated to Productivity.
I tried to set my own time-management system up several times, but I failed. Not to say I really failed, but I eventually started to neglect the rules which I had to follow. Neglecting the rules you set up for your own leads to unproductive time consuming. There are two main reasons we finally end up this way, in my opinion. First of all there are not so many general end-to-end time-management systems that are proved by someone. Mostly, books about time-management tells about fundamental stuff about managing time and practical advices. But no one shares with you a complete end-to-end system. Because of that you have to come up with your own. John gives a system which can be used by anyone, with, maybe, little tweaks you’ll want to apply to the system. The second reason is that we don’t understand or accept the truth about necessity of working hard. This is very important. No pain – no gain. This is the first statement which should always circulate in our brains. So, let’s dive a little bit deeper into what John suggests.
Divide a year into four parts. Each part consists of three months. Then think of big projects you want to finish this year and assign to each quarter one big project. For this task John uses Evernote. I prefer old faithful Microsoft Excel where I make a table, write down my big goals and I can see them divided by years. Actually, I have a plan for my entire life. This plan is supple, of course. You can shift your goals, because it’s impossible to predict the results of your work in a very long term. But the fact that predicting is difficult doesn’t mean you shouldn’t have a sketch of what you want to achieve in your life. John also assigns a couple of smaller goals to quarters. Quarter plan will help you to stay focused on the current project. Here is an example of how the life plan in excel may looks like:
If you don’t know how much time you can spend on your personal work (not your work for your boss) then you have to estimate it. It’s very important to know how much time you can dedicate to your projects per week. To make this estimation you have to just work when you have some free time and write down time estimations. After that you’ll get a pretty accurate understanding of how much time you can really work for your projects per week and per month. Now you can plan the first month of the quarter. Divide your big quarter goal into the small tasks and put to the current month the pieces you think you can get done in a month.
For weekly planning John uses a Kanban board. Nowadays he uses kanbanflow.com. I tried it and I liked it. So now I use it too, it’s very convenient and simple. And, yes, it has a pomodoro timer! If you haven’t heard about pomodoro technique, then go and read about it. I will not dive deeper into the technique John uses for himself to manage his weekly plans. For this you can listen to John on youtube or buy his book. I’ll just say that John strives to make from 9 to 14 pomodori per day. Though, I think 14 pomodori is hard to achieve. Personally, I can do 10 pomodori per day and I consider that as a pretty high productivity. Plan out entire week in small tasks that take no more than two hours. Doing pomodori you have to get rid of interruptions: turn off email-notifications, turn-off chat programs, log out from social networks. As John states: “Focus is the magic pill for productivity”. When you start your day, in order to dive into the working process you have to try to get focused on the first task at least for 5 or 10 minutes. Then it will be simpler to proceed. You have to catch the “momentum” and after you catch it, it will be hard to interrupt you. Pomodoro technique also helps to not feel yourself guilty that you are not doing more. Using pomodoro you can track amount of effective time you spend on your projects. This will help you not to feel guilty, because you will know that you were enough “good” (if you really were).
Quota system is a very important part of John’s system. If you concentrate on a single important project it could happen that you will spend all the time on that project. In this case your progress in other important things like learning a foreign language will degrade over time. That’s why you need to allocate some quotas for your activities. You can formulate them like this: “each day I need to learn 5 new words”, “every 3 days I should go to the gym”, “each day I have to read 25 pages of a certain book”, “each month I want loose 2 pounds in weight”.
Self-accountability is an interesting topic as well as a vague one. The overall idea here is that you should trust yourself in what you are doing. And in order to trust yourself (to be self-accountable) you have to introduce some general rules for your entire life which you should follow.
Generally speaking, multitasking is a bad practice. This is because of context-switching costs. And also this is because it’s almost impossible to stay focused on two or more tasks in the same time. That’s why multitasking is bad. Though, there is a case when you actually can do multitasking. This is possible when one of the tasks doesn’t involve your brain. For example, you can cook and listen to an audio book.
John says that when you feel yourself dejectedly, then you’re likely hitting a wall. That means you are tired of doing the same things, you don’t enjoy what you do. And the cure for that is to break through the wall, because out there is a huge reward. Most people give up. Wall wins. The only thing which can help you in this situation is… working hard. I’m unable to say about hard working better than John, so the following section consists of a couple of citations.
Great words about Working Hard
- Everyone who promises greater results with less work is trying to sell you something, or they have forgotten how hard they had to work to get to where they are.
- The problem is that your peers who are willing to stick with a single thing over time will eventually surpass you.
- You get out what you out in. In one season you plant, in another season you reap. You never reap what you didn’t plant.
- You have to realize that the only way you’re going to accomplish your goals, the only way you’re going to reach your full potential is if you’re willing to grit your teeth, bite the bullet, and get to work.
There is no a silver bullet or some kind of magic which can help you to move forward. By the way, don’t forget that productivity != effectiveness. Do the right things to be effective. It’s a very brief description of the system John is talking about in his book. So, if you became curious you can buy a book or study the blog of John Sonmez. As a bonus I’ll put here the example of “Ass-kicker calendar” (not from the book).
How to use it and what it is about
You fill your birthday and get the date when you will be 40, 50 and 60 years old. You can see how many days are already in the past, how many days remain until you become 40, 50, 60 years old. Each day you have to open the table and fill the current day by green color. In the end of the day you have to fill it by red color. This exercise is not for weak-nerved. The goal of this table is to force the understanding of the fact that our lives are very limited by time. You can download the xls by the following link AssKicker.