In this issue:
Several Pragmatic Manager subscribers have asked me about how to build and maintain their productivity. They say they have these problems:
- The longer they work apart from other people, the less they have the “peer pressure” of a collaborative schedule.
- They find it hard to maintain focus for a long time.
- There's too much to do!!
You might have other problems, too.
Let me start with the too much to do problem.
Visualize All Your Work, Preferably on Paper
I get all my work out of my head and onto paper. If you have children and they are learning remotely, make sure you add all the work you do to monitor or teach them.
I use paper because paper helps me know if I'm trying to do too much. I often start with a pad of paper to list everything. I sometimes move to stickies if I have the physical space. (See Why I Use a Paper Kanban Board for more information.) If you run out of lines on your pad of paper or you don't have enough room to put everything on your board, you're trying to do too much.
Stop there, and ask yourself which three things you must do every day. Here's why I recommend three things: I have a chunk of time in the morning and two chunks of time in the afternoon. I can often finish three things. I sometimes finish more. I rarely finish fewer than three things. That's because I consciously limit my WIP (Work in Progress).
When I consider my work and start to compare the work to the time I have, I'm more likely to succeed.
Okay, so you've written everything down. You might not have taken my suggestion for pruning your work right now. (That's okay. I'm not offended.)
Ask this question: Which work do you need other people to accomplish?
Plan the Collaboration-Work-With-Other-People First
You can finish some work alone. And, you need other people for some of your work. Assuming your collaboration work is the most important work, plan that work first.
Don't plan for an entire day on that collaboration work, especially if you're feeling pressure to deliver/finish your other work. Instead, plan to timebox your work with the other person. I limit my collaboration work to between 45-60 minutes at at time. (I'll explain more about that timing later.)
Now, using the principles in Hours of Overlap, the First Principle of Successful Distributed Teams, make sure your team discovers its hours of overlap. Choose a time where all of you can spend up to an hour working on that problem. If you don't all have hours of overlap, reconfigure the team. Make sure the people working on this problem can collaborate. Or, reconfigure the problem so you don't need collaboration.
If you need collaboration, create a time to work together. I don't recommend handoffs if you need to collaborate—the work takes too long. If you don't need collaboration, work alone.
If you think you do need to collaborate all day, make sure you take breaks and move.
You've now scheduled the big pieces with other people. You can arrange your work now.
Use Timeboxes for the Remaining Work
I arrange my work with a variety timeboxes:
- The Pomodoro Technique, where I work for 25 minutes and take a physical break for 5 minutes. (I don't track the number of completed sessions.)
- 15 minutes to focus for a short time on one task and finish it. I often write nonfiction in 15-minute timeboxes.
- 7 minutes to clean my office or write fiction. I hate cleaning my office and don't want to “waste” time doing it. I get stuck in the fiction—where do I take this story next? A shorter timebox helps me stay fresh for the work.
I also take a 5-minute break every hour. I might get more water, take a short walk, or stretch. I step away from the computer and take a break.
Since I rarely add more than three items to my daily list, I can make progress on each of them during the day.
Why all these timeboxes that are less than an hour? We have data that we need to move around every 45 minutes or so to maintain mental acuity. (That's one of the reasons hour-long video meetings are so tiring. We don't have a chance to even walk between meetings to the next location.)
The common theme for productivity is to build and maintain focus.
Find Your Focus
All of these ideas are about finding and then using your focus to complete work. When you take all the work out of your head and write it down, you don't have to think about it. You don't have to remember it.
Idea: Limit your Work in Progress, both with what you plan for a given day and with timeboxes.
When you make time to collaborate with others, you focus together on one thing. As a side benefit, you might find the work takes less time than you originally thought.
Idea: Choose time(s) to finish your collaboration work.
When you work in shorter timeboxes, you can maintain your personal focus. You know you're not working forever. You can take a break pretty soon, so you can maintain your focus for now. Every so often, take a longer break and do something that doesn't require the same part of your brain. And, when you finish your daily work, stop working.
Idea: Work in focused high-energy bursts, and then stop. Refresh yourself and continue until you're done for the day.
If you try these ideas, let me know what happened.
I have reorganized my writing workshops (finally!) I just opened the Q4 Writing Workshop 1. If you want to write nonfiction, check it out and join us.
See Distributed Agile Success for all of my self-study classes with Mark Kilby based on our book, From Chaos to Successful Distributed Agile Teams: Collaborate to Deliver.
If you liked this Pragmatic Manager, you might like the Modern Management Made Easy books. The books are still in editing, so wait if you prefer to read finished books.
Are you new to the Pragmatic Manager newsletter? See previous issues.
Here are links you might find useful:
- My Books. (BTW, if you enjoyed one of my books and you have not yet left a review, please do. Thanks.)
- Online Workshops
- Managing Product Development Blog
- Create an Adaptable Life
- Johanna's Fiction
Till next time,
© 2020 Johanna Rothman
Tags: geographically distributed teams, Manage Your Project Portfolio, multitasking, project portfolio management, tips, value, WIP