Not 80% complete

An important point about the Pareto Principle (80-20 rule) is that it is not about being 80% complete. The 20% you focus on, needs to get to 100% complete.

In fact that’s why you focus on the important 20%, so you can actually get something to “done” rather than having a lot of unfinished work which happens when you don’t concentrate your efforts.

It’s far more productive to finish something than to start it (starting is the easy part).

Time Management Training

The concept of corporate time management training for employees amuses me. The idea of sending employees off to time management training to make them more efficient is just bizarre. Why would an employee want to learn ways to work harder for the 8 or so hours they are at work and still get paid the same to do so?

Don’t get me wrong, making the most of your time is vitally important (its the one resource you can’t get more of). But, I don’t think shipping people off to time training management training is the solution. Fact is, you first need some motivation to make better use of your time. What exactly is it that you are trying to accomplish by being more efficient. Is it to handle an ever increasing work load? If so, that could be a losing battle.

In fact, I find time management training seems to fall into the trap of “paving the cow paths”. You tend to find ways to be more efficient in what you are doing, rather than assessing how important those things really are. Case in point, being more efficient in all your meetings …

Use one system for capturing notes

Regardless of how you do it, email archive, text files, word documents, Evernote, sticky notes that put around your monitor, it doesn’t matter, as long as you use that one system primarily for capturing and tracking your information.

Why? Because there’s nothing worse than having to search multiple systems to find something because you have been chopping and changing systems. So pick one that works for you and keep using it.

TextMate Tasks Bundle

I came across a pretty cool “Tasks Bundle” for Textmate the other day, which I’ve started using for development and work and really like.

Here’s a screenshot (it has a layout that is similar to what TaskPaper does):

Tasks Bundle

A few things you may want to change through the TextMate bundle editor (Bundles > Bundle Editor) are the key assigned to completing the task (I changed this to CTRL + X) and perhaps them theme colors to your liking. 

Pareto Principle (80-20 rule)

Most people have heard of the Pareto Principle and its applications to productivity.

80% of the value comes from 20% of the effort.

The principle is a mindset. It is about optimising and making sure you are sticking to that 20% of the effort that creates the majority of the value.

I think it helps if you also consider the inverse when working:

The other 80% of the effort only results in the remaining 20% of the value

This is where “busywork” comes into the picture. You know those days where it feels like you were busy the whole time and did a lot, but when you reflect the next day you can hardly see any progress? That was a day spent on the wrong side of the equation. You were only adding a few extra percent of value, and yet spending a large percentage of effort getting there.

So make sure, 80% of your time is going to that 20% of effort which will result in 80% of the value – its a simple formula 🙂

Clipboard Managers

A clipboard manager is a lot like a fridge (or a big screen TV). Until you have one, you’ll wonder how you ever managed.

The one I liked the most on Windows (although not maintained) was ClipX (free). I’m sure there are some better alternatives now.

On the Mac, there are two that I’ve tried (both free)

Just made the switch to FlyCut, which I’m liking so far with the nice “paste” preview interface.

Pomodoro Technique

The pomodoro technique is starting to catch on in a lot of productivity circles. It is a very simple time-box system – work on something for 25 minutes straight then have a 5 minute break (totalling 30 minutes). Rinse and repeat, with a longer 10 minute break every 4th iteration. There’s a bit more to it, so I suggest checking out the book.

I’ve known about it for quite a while, but have been on and off with using it. I’ve finally decided I like it and it helps to have a good timer – like the Promodoro iPhone app. The key benefit I’ve found is that it gets me started on things. I say, ok, I’ll look at this bit of a project for 1 pomodoro (25/5 session) and see what happens. 

Here are a few other suggestions from my experiences so far:

  • Pomodoros work particularly well for tackling larger projects in big chunks. For smaller tasks (<25 minutes), batch similar things together to make up your 25 minutes (e.g. replying to a bunch of emails).
  • I’m fairly laid back about the break. If I’m going well, I just keep going. No point breaking concentration and pulling yourself out of the zone. Ideally, if you are on a roll, do everything you can to stay there. The rules aren’t hard and fast.
  • Having said that, follow the plan to start with. Don’t go playing with the 25 minute work time or 5 min rest window until you are used to how you work.
  • Pomodoros are a great unit of measurement for a task. You can use them to say things like, I’m going to dedicate 4 pomodoros to project X today. This makes it easier to then measure how you go. Use an app to automate recording progress – or do it by hand as per the book if you really want to 🙂

I find the technique is really great for breaking procrastination. If you are stuck on something, just say, I’m going to spend 1 pomodoro doing what ever I can to make some progress on this, and stick at it for 25 minutes. Most of the time, I find I make at least a minor breakthrough and have some encouragement to keep going.

*And yes, a pomodoro is a tomato, so all of the comments above sound quite funny when you interchange “pomodoro” with “tomato”.

RescueTime

RescueTime is a web application with a background “collector” that runs on your computer to monitor what you have been up to through the course of the day. It’s great for reviewing how “productive” you are during the day – a nice way to audit your time.

The things I find particularly helpful are:

  • Finding where you are losing time (where did you spend more time than you intended?)
  • Figuring out when you work best. I tend to slow down in the afternoons, after an early morning start (and some lunch). You can use this to focus on the most important things at the right times.
  • Setting goals to see if you are spending enough time on the things you should be doing each day.
  • Identifying which applications you spend most of your time in. Great for knowing if you email or instant message more than you should.

It does a fairly good job of recognising productive/unproductive tasks, but as you would expect, it needs tweaking. For example, depending on the video, watching YouTube may either be highly unproductive or somewhat productive (e.g. watching a tutorial). However the biggest tweaks required are for classifying unrecognised activities. You need to spend a few weeks getting these in order before you get fairly accurate results.

Since it simply collects data, is is possible to cheat the system, if you so choose, but I figure if you are going to the trouble of collecting data about your time, you want to be as honest as possible.

All in all, very informative, with one caveat. It obviously can’t capture what you do off your computer through the day (e.g. meetings) so keep that in mind.

Productivity Tools

After many years of searching for a good productivity tool, here’s a summary of what I’ve learned:

In the past few years, I have found 5 major contenders (yes there are many, many more options).-

At this point, I’ve settled on Wunderlist based on the following:

  • It’s simple to use (Wunderkit and Asana are fine, but they are more complicated, and do more things than I need or want).
  • It works on multiple platforms. In particular both Mac and iPhone. It is also usable on the iPhone – easy to view and add tasks as required.
  • It can schedule tasks. This is hugely beneficial as I have lists of tasks, and filter down what I need to do by scheduling things to do “today”.
  • It syncs to the cloud. Mostly important so every device you use it up to date.
  • It categorises tasks into lists. Actually, sub-lists would be nice, but this is good enough for now. A lot of people don’t like Wunderlist as they feel they have to have sub-lists. But do you really? They could be coming soon anyway, but I just hope the people at Wunderlist keep the product as simple as possible.

Really I find the following to be the key elements to using a productivity tool well:

  • It is your sole method of task capture and it eliminates all other ways through convenience and ease of use.
  • It is easy to access where ever and whenever required (largely helped by having it available on an iPhone or smartphone).
  • It is reviewed regularly (daily checks and weekly reviews). This takes discipline and has little to do with the productivity tool. However any tool that can make this process simpler is always going to better.

So there you have. Of course, you need to find your own productivity system and tool. Results will vary, but these may be some options to consider. As always, time is better spent “doing” than “planning” with such systems. Once you have something in place, give it a decent go (months) before chopping and changing. Otherwise you’ll find yourself in an infinite productivity tool loop.