Productivity and time management advice

First of all it is very important to not confuse movement with progress. That again is why measuring and keeping track is so important to achieving your goals.
Related to this concept is the idea that there are two kinds of laziness:
1 The first is simply doing nothing. We all know this one. Doing nothing is important as mentioned in the section before, but should be scheduled leisure time and not in time if you need to do other things.
2 The other one is doing something that is not important to achieve your goal. This one is is way more severe to your progress in my opinion. This is because it still gives a sense of accomplishment, although you are not really progressing. So if what you are doing is not important and urgent to achieve your goal, in my world view it counts as laziness (and yes I am obviously guilty of this, as we probably all are)

So how to identify if you are moving in the right direction? You need to prioritize. This can be done with the following matrix

So you have four categories:

  1. Important and urgent – this has to be done asap
  2. Important and not urgent – you need to do this, but not if there is something more urgent
  3. Not important but urgent – this can be done if there is nothing more urgent or more important
  4. Not important and not urgent – this must not be done at all to achieve your goal

All of this four categories are obviously relative to your goal. If you have no leisure time and do nothing you enjoy besides working you cannot endure it and simply will quit someday or worse have a burnout or what not. So the not important and not urgent things to your goal (like meeting friends, going to the gym and things like this) are in the context of your personal and social health at the top of this list…I think you’ll get the idea.

This matrix is part of the everyday goal achieving process. So you have to do this each day (or whenever often you scheduled your habitual tasks to achieve the defined goal) and apply it to each task. Again think of it as relative, If you have for example 8 hours of regular work a day, 4 hours for goal achievieng and 6 hours for all other stuff (rest is sleep time). In each of this allotted time slots you have a different relative perspective on this matrix to think about what matters.

As another aspect, I cannot stress enough how important deadlines are (timed and measurable). Only those things that are getting scheduled are the things that are getting done. This is true for your goal as a whole, and especially true for partial goals you have defined.
This deadlines create some pressure on you that will make you do the things necessary. Else we all are easily distracted and shift the goal a day or two. And that sort of behavior is the beginning of the end of the goal achieving. This is something a lot of enterprenuers will meet in their journey, because as an employee you get the deadlines and pressure from managment, but as a self employeed person you ought to create your own deadlines etc.

As a next advice you should block out things that distract you. This can be finely combined with the partitioned work tip from the section before.
In the age of the smart phone and constant news feed and stuff we are getting distracted way to easy. You might think, those short interval breaks do not matter. But in reality you loose your focus and in the end you loose way more than the minutes you are on social media or whatever, because after the context switch from work to some distraction and back you need something between 5 – 15min to reach your former level of focus.
So do not do this 😉 there are a lot of apps that help you to stop looking on your phone. Also communicate this to colleagues, friends and family so they are not pushed away.

This brings me to my next advice. In software engineering there is the idea: “If you have to do it more than once, you ought to automate it”. So what I mean by this in a more general concept is: embrace technology where it makes sense. Like spell checking for example, IDEs, cloud technologies, etc.

Also with the above issue of distraction, also do avoid multi tasking at all costs (and yes I am aware that this can in some situations not  be avoided completely). There are numerous studies on why multi tasking leads to lower quality output and it actually slows down your progress. This can somewhat be explained by the context switch and the time one needs to concentrate again after this switching.

You can also watch inspirational videos, read inspirational books or talk to people you admire, or already achieved the goal you want to achieve for yourself to stay motivated or at least get your motivation back.

The next bigger advice is to write it down. And with it I mean write down pretty much everything. What you are doing, how long it took you, what you did accomplish and so on and so forth. Also make a ToDo list for each day you are working on your goals. Then prioritize, focus on result oriented tasks and trim the list to 1-3 time consuming tasks a day, as well as 3-5 less time consuming tasks. In my example this would be something like this:

A Todo list in this way for python could look like this:

  • Time consuming tasks:
    • Research, setup environment
    • learn basic concept of data structures
  • Less time consuming
    • measure progress
    • write down next application to be build
    • create list of steps and things the data structures can be used for
    • REPL data structures to get used to it.

Besides writing down your tasks and your progress you should organize your working space! This helps to avoid distractions, makes you feel more comfortable and everything feels more clean and doable. Also you simply improve your workflow if you do not have to look for everything for some minutes. There are some interesting calculations, on how much time is spent a year with looking for a pen or some folders in offices. It goes something like this:
5 min / day looking for pencil
* 20 work days/ month
* 12 months/ year
= 1200 min/year which is equal to 20 hours or half a work week (in Germany at least)

This should also be the case for source code, files and repositories on your local machine and on remote machines.

Another idea is connected to our daily willpower. There are some studies out there that suggest that our willpower diminishes over the course of a day with each decision and task we make that day. This phenomenon is called ego depletion . To avoid this problem, start with the hard and more demanding tasks first, so you have enough willpower left to get all tasks done.

Most important tip of them all: Do not apply all of these tips at once, make one or two a habit, then proceed with a third one and so on. Also some of them might work for you, but others won’t.

With all this tips, I hope you get closer to achieving your goals in a timely and satisfactory manner. Let me know what you think of this approach and how you go about achieving your goals.

Summary

In this post we looked at how one can define goals one can actually achieve. We looked at how to structure the definition of your goal,  how you can measure, track and evaluate your progress towards your goal. Also we looked shortly at possibilities to stay motivated and how one can improve the productivity in general and towards your goal achieving process.

All this we viewed from an example on how I personally want to achieve the goal of learning python for data science applications.


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