Tag Archives: Productivity

Inbox Zero

My IT class was staring at me in shock and I couldn’t figure out why. Then I noticed their eyes sliding between me and the projector on the wall behind me. I turned and noticed that the projector was now showing my Gmail account, because I had just used Gmail to send a code sample to the class.

“What?” I asked.

“You have twenty-three thousand unread emails,” stammered a participant.

Getting to Zero

My Gmail account serves as a backup – I forward all the mail from my various accounts to it as an archive. So I don’t read the mails in my Gmail account, leading to a build-up of many thousands that seemed unread to Google.

My real email inbox is empty at the end of the day. Yours should be, too.

The reason your inbox should be empty is that any kind of unfinished business occupies part of your attention. If your inbox is full of new things you haven’t read, things you haven’t decided what to do about, and things you are just keeping because you’ll work on them later, your brain will keep thinking about your inbox, and you will be compulsively checking it several times an hour to make sure you’re not missing anything.

There is more about Inbox Zero in this week’s Spiritual Programmer newsletter. Sign up here: http://eepurl.com/3z_0v

Escaping Notification Hell

How many electronic devices are you carrying? Surveys show that most professionals carry two or three, and with the rise in smart watches, increasingly four devices.

The problem with this plethora of devices apart from the need to keep them charged is that all of them have notification features. And most people are not nearly diligent enough about disabling notifications, landing them in what I call Notification Hell.

Notification Hell

Most users leave notifications at the default settings, giving them way too many notifications on all devices. You need to turn down the notification level and vary your notifications by device. You pay more attention to very personal devices that you always carry, so they should notify you very rarely. You watch should hardly ever notify you, and your phone only rarely.

You can allow your tablet and laptop more notifications because the usage situation is different; you have decided to sit down with your tablet or laptop for a longer session. Additionally, they have more screen area and better input capabilities to handle a larger list of items.

Escape notification hell – it’s totally within your power.

 

I help people and organizations use appropriate information technology to achieve their goals. For more tips, sign up for the Technology That Fits newsletter at http://eepurl.com/0fpvT and follow @techthatfits. 

Notifications are Evil

I just received yet another promotional email from Apple, touting a new, improved watchOS2 as well as new colors and wristbands. And I’m not buying.

Wearable devices have two reasons to exist:

  • To gather data more conveniently
  • To present data more conveniently

Interrupting you by beeping, buzzing or tapping you on the wrist with clever haptic alerts are not reasons to buy yet another device.

A large part of all wearable devices are various health activity trackers. If you want or need this data, fine, get a device that gathers those.

Some wearable devices present data more conveniently. For a number of specific jobs and situations, devices like Google Glass will be the right tool for the job. For other use cases, having information available on your wrist might be useful. I don’t mind my watch knowing that I’m in the airport and automatically placing my boarding card on my wrist display.

Most people leave their devices at the default notification settings, which allows way too many notifications and alerts to disturb them. Adding another device will lead to more notifications, and notifications are evil. Turn them off!

Is Your Office Bad for You? Measure!

The other day, I was working at a customer site and had forgotten my noise canceling headphones (BTW, if you still don’t have a pair, I recommend Parrot Zik 2.0  – they’re awesome).

I could feel my productivity plummet each time other people in the large open office started discussing things, and it’s not just me. There is a lot of research showing that open offices are bad for many people, and since I track my subjective happiness (the “Life Score”), I notice that I’m one of the people not meant for open offices. My coping strategy is avoiding on-site work in open plan offices and failing that, headphones.

Does your office environment negatively affect you? To find out, start regularly writing down how happy you are with your life on a scale from 0 to 10. This gives you data to find out what work environment is best for you.

 

I’m writing about the Life Score in my upcoming book. For more tips on leading a happy, healthy and meaningful life in IT (and to be notified when the book is out), sign up for The Spiritual Programmer newsletter at http://eepurl.com/3z_0v and follow me on twitter @spiritualprog

 

The Value of Your Time

Do you know what your time is worth? This is important, because you should use this information to guide your life. Let me tell you how.

First, you need to estimate what you make per hour.

  • If you are an employee, divide your yearly salary by the number of hours you work per week x the number of weeks. If you are haunted by the specter of unpaid overtime, remember to use actual worked hours, not what your contract says.
  • If you are a freelance consultant billing by the hour, your time is worth whatever your average billing rate is.
  • If you are a freelance consultant working on fixed price projects, you need to register your time to calculate in order to calculate what you make per hour.

This number is what an hour is worth to you right now – it is the exchange rate between minutes and dollars. You can use this to guide decisions about how to spend your time and money.

Some decisions are simple math: If it takes you half an hour extra to drive to a cheaper shop, are you saving more than the cost of the 30 minutes? If you save $200 by taking a flight with a connection instead of direct, is it worth the extra travel time?

Other decisions cannot be calculated as easily, but the value of your time can still guide you. Do you think knowing another programming language or technology would get you a better job? How much more would you make, and how many hours would it take to acquire the necessary skill?

Figure out what your time is worth – and act accordingly.

 

For more tips on leading a happy, healthy and meaningful life in IT, sign up for The Spiritual Programmer newsletter at http://eepurl.com/3z_0v and follow me on twitter @spiritualprog

You Have Too Many Meetings

At this time of year, many people here in Denmark are returning from their holidays. And like office workers the world over, they come back to a calendar full of meetings.

Many of these are regularly recurring meetings. Interestingly, the world did not end while you were on vacation and did not participate in these. So maybe you don’t need to go at all? Or maybe nobody needs that meeting at all?

The people behind the web-based project management tool Basecamp  have written a free book about how to build web software, and it contains many tips that are generally applicable even if you don’t build web software. It turns out they hate useless meetings as much as I do. In the chapter “Meetings are Toxic,”  they propose that the few absolutely necessary meetings adhere to the following rules:

  • Set a 30 minute timer. When it rings, meeting’s over. Period.
  • Invite as few people as possible.
  • Never have a meeting without a clear agenda.

I encourage you to try it and see how it works for your organization.

And by the way, all regularly scheduled meetings (apart from the Daily Scrum  if you are doing Agile) should be cancelled.

 

For more tips like this, sign up for The Spiritual Programmer newsletter and follow @spiritualprog on Twitter. 

Too Productive? Try a Smartwatch

I love gadgets at least as much as the next tech guy (or girl), but I have a hard time finding a use case for smart watches like the Apple Watch. If you have spent any time at all investigating productivity, you will have found that interruptions are the bane of efficient work. It’s bad enough that we have laptop, tablet and phone to constantly beep interruptions – why would I want a fourth device to do this?

I’ve carefully disabled notifications on my mobile devices and run my Mac in “Do Not Disturbmode. I can’t see any reason to strap a device to my wrist whose only purpose is to disturb me.

Fortunately, it seems that many people are wising up to the fact that the Apple watch is a solution in search of a problem:

Apple-Watch-Sales-Slice-Apr-to-Jun-2015

I challenge you to come up with a reasonable use case for wearing a smart watch all day.

Useful vs Useless Meetings

As I wrote about in my last post, some meetings are incredibly useful and productive. But, as the Wall Street Journal just pointed out, many meetings are a complete waste of time.

Meeting Contribution

The difference lies in whether the meeting has a clear purpose that is articulated in advance. By making the purpose clear up front, you can also make an informed decision about which people are likely to be able to contribute meaningfully, and which people will just be eating donuts and checking Facebook. Don’t invite the latter group.

The above graph is from this week’s issue of the Technology That Fits newsletter, where I discuss the issue further. Sign up here.