Time Minimalism

We are constantly being bombarded with notifications, alerts, feeds, and messages. I have 43 apps installed on my phone. Each one of them has the ability to send a push notification. The average iPhone owner in the United States has 32 apps installed. South Koreans have 40!

I am exhausted (and so are you)

This past Friday (4/7/2017) I received 256 emails. If I spend an average of 1 minute per email I spent around 4 hours of focus on email.

We use Slack at Voray. We have 14 active users, and a handful of helpful bots. On Friday (4/7/2017) we (as a team of humans) sent 684 messages. Over the same time our bots sent 121 messages. A very high percentage of our messages are important, and need some attention. If I spent an average of 15 seconds of focus on each message I spent 3.5 hours of focus on Slack.

I spent 7.5 hours of focus on email and Slack!

Focus is finite (so is time)

On average my brain works a 7.5 hour day before even having a chance to do my actual job. Assuming you aren’t in Limitless you have a finite amount of focus per day. Tim Ferriss says it is 4 hours a week. I think I can do 6 hours of deep work per day.

Just email and Slack cause me to start my workday with a negative balance on focus. I have to generate an extra 1.5 hours of focus (coffee?) per day!

How am I supposed to focus on the hard problems?

Engagement is a naughty word

Ironically we have a metric that we use to track how much focus we are stealing from something else: engagement. Every day something new will come along to take your focus! Read the Snap S-1…

Here are thoughts on breaking the cycle:

  • Turn off email push. Do you really need email to be real-time? Check your email on your own schedule
  • Setup VIPs! This allows me to be notified when my boss (hi David!) emails me and when my family messages me
  • Unsubscribe from all emails that aren’t transactional. All of those marketing emails are designed to take your focus away from whatever you should be doing. Make your email work for you
  • Turn off push notifications for iMessage / Slack / Messenger / Hangouts / VRBO / WhatsApp. Check them when you want to give it your focus not when it wants it
  • Do you need a notification for every Slack message? Can you leverage the “Unread Messages” functionality on your own schedule? Slack is an important communication tool when it is working for you
  • Leverage “Do Not Disturb”-modes. Set boundaries on when and how you want to be notified
  • Use RSS/Atom to ingest information when you want to spend the time on it
  • Read Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less and apply it to your time. Remember that there are only so many hours a day, days a week, weeks a year, and years in a life
  • Always remember that we are designing software to keep people engaged. I am hoping you focus on this blog post instead of on something else

This is life… in Trello

I used to be just like you. I used to have a mass of notecards, Post-It notes, and Evernote checklists. While I used to be unorganized, and lost I am now focused and organized. How did I do that? How did I manage to know everything, and travel through space-and-time with minimal effort? Let me take you on a journey of self-discovery and self-awareness. Let me tell you about…


A five-bin kanban system

Kanban is a well known tool for dependency management. Just ask Google about how you use it on software development! I’ve modified this three-bin system into a five-bin system. My bins are time-based instead of dependency-based. They are as follows: inbox, later, this week, today, and done.

Inbox

This is a dumping ground for all of the little tasks that need to be prioritized. Quick notes can also end up in here like “you should write a blog post about how you manage your life.” This is a tool to make your e-mail less of a todo list, and more of a communication tool — I believe in no e-mail in your inbox but am not an Inbox Zero zealot. Did someone ask you to do something while you were focused elsewhere? Add a card to the inbox bin.

Later

Do you have a list of tasks you need to eventually to take care of? The later bin is for tasks that don’t have a deadline, but need to be tracked or are going to take a big more work than you can support right now. An example card in this bin might be ‘re-architect pgbouncer infrasctructure to run on Mesos.’

This Week

There are tasks you know you need to get done this week because of a deadline. Do you have a presentation to prepare for on Friday, and it is Monday? The this week bin is perfect for that card. The work in this queue is generally prioritized by being moved into the today bin on the day I will have time to handle it.

Today

The today bin is the prioritized queue of work you will complete between 00:00:00 and 23:59:59 of the current day. This queue is prioritized when your day begins, and is empty when your day ends. This is the meat and potatoes of getting things done.

Done

Cards for tasks that have been completed are moved into the done bin. If Trello is your tool of choice at the end of the week you can ‘Archive All Cards In This List’ to start the following week fresh.


Tracking multiple focuses

I have a very basic labeling system to be able to quickly glance at what needs focusing, as well as what needs filtering. I have three labels in Trello. ShopKeep, Family, and Personal. While your labels may differ you must be able to deterministically label cards.


Prioritizing

Don’t be afraid of cross-prioritizing. There are only so many hours in the day to focus on and you need to find balance. Spend 15 minutes in the morning making sure things are properly labeled, and bined. Finding time to re-prioritize is key here. Things come up! Nothing is a “stop what you are doing and refocus” event so a lot of these are dropped into the inbox bin. Trello has mobile apps, and you can use those to quickly add cards to your inbox on the go.


Evernote vs. Trello vs. Notes vs. Paper

Any tool can be used to keep track of your cards, and bins. Find a tool that works for you and use it to power your life.


In conclusion

Quickly, and efficiently viewing your day as a work queue will help you be more organized, and more focused on what you need to do. You will find yourself having more clarity into your efficiencies and inefficiencies. Be retrospective on what you did, and didn’t do. Be retrospective on what you can do and you find yourself accomplishing more towards your goals.

Speculation

Direct quote:

It’s speculation, but I’d look for the re-enable event when creating a new user in our DB rather than un-deleting the existing one.

Please stop speculating when talking about an issue. Please take ten minutes of time to track down the source, and see what it could be.

Ready? You can find the actual, non-speculative answer in this many keystrokes in Textmate on a pretty large project:

  • Cmd + T → sche.rb → Return
  • Cmd + T → alreg.rb → Return
  • Cmd + F → unreg → Return

Twelve keystrokes and you are looking at the literal source of the issue.

Speculation is not to be confused with educated guessing. Educated guessing is when, after looking at the source, the developer says that it could have to do with this instance method. Huzzah! Let us dive in and see if that is the issue.

Adding to the confusion of the hunt by speculating only makes me wonder why you are on the team, let alone being trusted to debug issues timely in the future.

Technical Leadership Is Not Hard

I will outline what you can do to successfully be a technical lead:

  1. Buy a notepad
  2. Write it down
  3. Do it
  4. Cross it out
  5. Goto 2

Knowing what needs to be done is your most important job. Do I need to talk to Steve about the commit he made? Write it down. Did John ask me to make sure that the team knows about the upcoming changes? Write it down. Just spoke with Steve, cross it out.

Being the barrier against stupidity for your team is job number one. Job number 1.01 is to make sure that what is asked of you is taken care of. Simply remembering what a manager or developer asks you is impossible. As a developer, if I ask my technical lead to handle something and it isn’t handled, trust will be lost. Just like management, gaining your managers trust takes effort. It is hard to gain, and very easy to lose. This works both ways. Managers trust their employees, and employees trust their managers. If the developer asks the status of said request, and the technical lead can say, “Here is my list of 20 things to do and your request is next.” The developer will feel much better about the task actually being handled.

An example situation (including a task list):

  1. Developer asks Technical Lead about length of caching of a domain object
  2. Technical Lead adds it to his list of things to follow up on
  3. Developer asks Technical Lead about length of caching of a domain object
  4. Technical Lead looks at his list and tells the developer that he is tracking down the answer.
  5. Technical Lead finds out about cache expiration of said domain object, crosses off the task, and let’s the developer know
  6. Technical Lead gains developers trust that said technical lead will follow through when given a task

An example situation (without a task list):

  1. Developer asks Technical Lead about length of caching of a domain object
  2. Time passes
  3. Developer asks Technical Lead about length of caching of a domain object
  4. Goto 2