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Being Better Organised

Something I read either on this forum or on Wiki last week struck a chord with me.

The statement was that developers are partly responsible for the long hours they put in because the are poorly organised. If you organise your time better you are probably less likely to find yourself staying back late.

I'll admit to being somewhat disorganised and too easily distracted and it's something I'd like to rectify. Your thoughts on how to be more organised and focused please!

I'll start with one I think Joel has mentioned: disable "you got mail" messages; and I'll add only go to JOS outside of working hours.

Walter Rumsby
Sunday, July 28, 2002

My best strategy is to figure out the highest priorities and focus on them. There are lots of lower-priority issues that I'd like to address, but I avoid working overtime to deal with them. Of course, when things slow down I tackle the priority 2 and priority 3 tasks.

Sunday, July 28, 2002

I think most important, is having your boss aware of your tasks and how much time they are taking (Joel's spreadsheet works well for me).  I update it almost every night before going home.  It is checked into version control and provides an ongoing trail of tasks taken and completed.  This is very useful for me when performance review time comes around.

He and I get agreement on what is highest priority and he gets to know if tasks are taking longer than (or sometimes shorter than) expected.  Other than that, he lets me do my job without distraction.  He's a good guy and our team recognizes it.  The work gets done.

Perhaps most important is working for someone you just downright respect.  It leads to very efficient work environments.

Nat Ersoz
Monday, July 29, 2002

I agree with this 100%. It's very easy to lost a couple of hours on tasks which aren't productive. I have to admit this is an area I personally need to improve on a lot.

One way I try to prioratize tasks is to take a sheet of paper and divide it into four boxes (in a 2x2 grid). I label the columns "Important" and and "Unimportant", and I label the rows "Urgent" and "Not Urgent" (this could also be done with tabs in a spreadsheet).

Once this is done, tackle important/urgent tasks first, then important/not urgent. Only then should tasks in the unimportant column be attempted. Often we spend all our time on urgent tasks, and never get to the important ones. And while it may be common for tasks to move up from the "not urgent" box to the "urgent" box, it should be rare for them to move across from "not important" to "important".

And when your tasks are organised this way, it's a lot easier to say "Sorry" when a collegue calls to ask a favour.

James Shields
Monday, July 29, 2002

Does anyone have any recommendations for books about organizing yourself/life?

I've read 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. I've had some trouble trying to implement the "first things first" idea, but overall I think it the theme of the book seems good. What do other people think?

One of the thems of 7 habits (I think) is that you need a balanced life in order to be "well organized".

The idea of quadrants mentioned by James Shields sounds good. I use a similar system where I rate things A,B,C. A items are mainly my important and urgents. B items are things I think of as important that I want to do soon. C items are my sort of non-important and not really urgent things that I think are still worth doing (eventually) - sometimes I change my mind and just cross off a C item without doing it.

Monday, July 29, 2002

NathanJ - if thats the 1st you've heard of quadrants, you need to go reread 7 habits.

the cluetrain
Monday, July 29, 2002

The method described by James above is one of the pilars of Franklin Covey's "What Matters Most" seminar.  Basically, it says (among other things) that you can't just organize your work - you need to organize your life and your work (as a large portion of most people's lives) will be organized as a result of that.

My current company sends all their new employees to Franklin Covey's time management seminars & I was able to get a lot from it (I think it costs around $200 US out-of-pocket).  Some of the people I work with thought the seminar was too much of a sales pitch (selling planners & planner stuff - don't get me wrong, they do that too) and some felt it was a bit too "touchy feely" for them, but I personally got a lot out of it and it really made a difference in a relatively short time.  But it's like dieting or quiting smoking or whatever - If you don't put anything into it or don't have any discipline, you'll get nothing out of it....

Look, when you're 80 years old are you (or your family) really going to care that you pissed away years of your life to ship product X or to get to Level Y in Everquest?  Hell no!!  Most of us really enjoy (if not love) what we do for a living, whatever that may be.  It is, however, only a means to an end.

Go home, hug your wife, kiss your kid.  They miss you.

Jeff MacDonald
Tuesday, July 30, 2002

I have to be honest and disagree. For me it is mostly having the strength to say "No. I'm going home now." I know damn well that I work better when I am fresh, so what is the point in putting in stupid hours? Yes, I've been there at 4am (and then back again at 9am), but I will never do it again.

Not falling asleep at his keyboard
Tuesday, July 30, 2002

The book that I have read about 'Personal Software Process' (PSP that is) has helped me a lot. The author could be Humphrey, Watts S. but I have left the book at home. PSP is part of the Capability Maturity Model (CMM)  [ ] and focuses on measurement, planning, evaluation and so on.

The book gives tips, tricks and tools for every part of the process. You can pick whatever you need and change it to fit your specific needs. The stuff is simple but have been an eye-opener for me.

Tuesday, July 30, 2002

How can something be urgent and yet unimportant?  Is the point of the quadrants exercise merely to realize that most of what you THINK is urgent and important at the moment is ACTUALLY trivial in nature?

Organization = prioritization = knowing which task to accomplish first, sticking to it until you accomplish it, and then moving on to the next task.  It's that simple.

Tuesday, July 30, 2002

Alyosha - "How can something be urgent and yet unimportant? "

How about "The customer has requested that we customize the header text on the form printout for the conference they're attending next week. No big deal if they have to use the standard header."

Steve Wheeler
Tuesday, July 30, 2002

"How can something be urgent and yet unimportant? "

Urgent to others, not to you or your project.

"Quadrant III : Urgent but not important. This quadrant contains those activities which appear to be urgent (or at least seem to demand our attention as such) but are really not that important. Examples include : needless interruptions, many phone calls, other people's minor issues (which they invariably seek to make major ones because they like to live in this quadrant!), among others. A good example is that of phone call's during your study time. Most of us are "Phone Addicted" and find ourselves unable to resist a ringing phone. If you really take notice, you will find that most phone calls are not important. If it is important the person will call you back! I find it invaluable to have a phone answering system and I use it to screen my calls. My friends all understand that I do this and leave messages. I get about 10-20 calls a day at my home. Only about 2-4 are truly important. The rest are usually sales people, or wrong numbers. Once in a while there are people I really don't want to talk to (obnoxious "ex" friends that refuse to realize they are "ex"!), and this prevents me from having to be polite and endure a conversation I really don't want to have. This is a quadrant we tend to fall into when we become "urgently addicted". We get a nice rush from the pressures of Quadrant I and the success we have in solving these issues. Unfortunately, we then begin to fall into the habit of mistaking urgent matters in Quadrant III which are not important as being important. Hence our precious time tends to drift into Quadrant III (since there are more of these items hitting in on our daily lives than any other) and we end up dealing with not very important matters most of the time. As a result our PC abilities begin to erode and hence our productivity rapidly falls off as well. This is the sure path to personal failure. The message is clear. Our First Things First planning should aim at spending less time in Quadrant II and moving that time to Quadrant III activities. "

the cluetrain
Tuesday, July 30, 2002

I think the best example of "Urgent but not Important" is when your boss/manager/etc. calls you into a meeting that's been in progress for an hour "just in case" you might be able to contribute.....Invariably, your time is flushed.

Jeff MacDonald
Wednesday, July 31, 2002

what's with this phobia of overtime??

I beleive in working until I feel like going home. No pressures. I have put in Stupid hours .... 90+ per week. But then again, sometimes I take it really easy, and catch up on my slashdot reading.

I would hate to be in a job where I clockwatch! Given that you are at work for about half your waking life, at least find a job you enjoy.

Thursday, August 1, 2002

Think of the Urgency-axis as meaning 'time critical'.

"Hey!  My 2-for-1 Big Mac coupon expires tomorrow!"

Urgent, not important.

(Mmmmm...Big Macs.)

Dunno Wair
Thursday, August 1, 2002

>> "My best strategy is to figure out the highest priorities >> and focus on them. There are lots of lower-priority
>> issues that I'd like to address, but I avoid working
>> overtime to deal with them. Of course, when things
>> slow down I tackle the priority 2 and priority 3 tasks. "

Here's a question: while prioritizing one's todo list is a common sense t.m. strategy, why do some (myself included) often fail to do so? Could it be..

- it takes time to write down each item's priority, so you keep track of it in your head?

- it takes time to write down each todo item, so some you track in your head? (Some tasks seem too obvious to write down?)

- you become very absorbed in a particular task, failing to move on to other important tasks after a reasonable amount of time?

Anyone else?

Saturday, August 10, 2002

Well, sf-fish... let me get the negative out of the way first.  I see most time management giving an appearance of organization.  The theory of course is that by being organized you can be more effective - with organization defined as pre-planning and then following the plan with dogma.  As one poster mentioned... it gives you an excuse to not help someone out (meaning I assume, that you can safely keep the real reason hidden).

I don't do time management in any formal or written fashion myself, but I do follow a strategy. 

I don't focus on tasks and try to prioritize them... I prefer thinking in terms of goals and objectives.  Tasks are just too much detail and I believe that trying to prioritize my work at that tree level effectively hides the forest.  By approaching it from the goal level, I can often spot several tasks across goals where I can be most effective.

When I do get down to the task level, I look for established priorities.  By that I mean "natural" and rather obvious things, such as PGM-A not being ready is holding up 10 other programs.  This is pretty much a no-brainer.  I don't take into account priorities determined by the "squeaky wheel" syndrome... and I normally find that most tasks are pretty much equal in priority, meaning it really doesn't make much difference which one is done first.  In this situation, I have a rule that says pick the one that I believe will be the most difficult first.

Priorities for me change all over the place, and by being more flexible I manage to get more done.

Joe AA
Sunday, August 11, 2002

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