I love learning about organizational methodologies. There’s a lot out there too – TedTalks, 99u.com, Steven Covey and Brian Tracey audiobooks, the pomodoro technique. I’ve started to filter through conflicting statements (successful people stay up late vs. get enough sleep or risk brain damage) to distill some simple ideas that have worked for me throughout my professional and academic career.
The Case for Hard Work
The most important aspect to consider is hard work. No organizational strategy can get around this one. I can plan my project to the 10 minute iteration, and timebox like Father Christmas, but unexpected issues will arise. So, I’m going to put aside my lower priority tasks in favour of my most important ones. I may even have to stay up a bit past my bedtime! (I schedule a rest day after important deadlines for this very reason.) This same rule applies to my coding career as much as it did in my music career. How do you get to Carnegie Hall?
The Case for Mono-Tasking
I used to be a big fan of the insane multi-tasking. I would code, write emails, text, listen to a Coursera lecture, chat with colleagues, update my portfolio, memorize French vocab…all at once. I felt like a super productive person but in reality my main task suffered from a lack of focused attention. There are two reasons why I don’t do this anymore; 1) I want my estimates to be somewhat predictable, and 2) I want to make time for downtime. All that my multi-tasking achieved was to stretch the main task until it took over everything else, leading to an imbalance.
The Case for Balance
Everything you’re currently doing is important to you. This realization hit me in the gut. It’s to say that browsing imgur with breakfast is important to me, really?
For 3 months, I diligently tracked my activities, then I examined the distribution of categories based on my high level goals. (What can I say, I’m really into data!) No fancy app here – a scrap of paper was all I needed. Our most important goals are memorized, aren’t they?
Try logging your hours by category – time spent on Facebook, imgur, honing your yogi skills, perfecting that recipe, finishing a course – all real and imagined tasks. Then, track the actual hours spent on these categories. Broad strokes are enough. Colour code the categories (eg. Health, Work, Learning, Friends and Family). If these things are balanced, you’ll end up with a nice rainbow!