Getting things done daily

For over a decade now, except for one year, I’ve been working from home. Home is kind of metaphorical considering the amount of travelling I do. However, to all effects, it means working alone, physically isolated and with no real 9-5 schedule.

Personally, I love it. I find it much more productive than working in an office, since I rarely am able to concentrate when surrounded by other people or noise. Sure, it’s probably out of  habit. I know when I first started, I missed the office buzz,  so it’s all just a matter of getting used to things. But having worked in both an office and at home, I’d stick to what I have now.

One of the greatest struggles of working from home, is adhering to a schedule. You need to have discipline in order to be productive. It’s far too tempting to get out of bed a bit late, watch a bit too much TV while making a coffee, or chat on the phone a bit too long. Today of course, we don’t need any of that, as Twitter and Facebook are here for our procrastination pleasures.

On top of sticking to a schedule, if you’re somewhat responsible for defining your own, the feeling can be overwhelming. Often you feel lost. You feel you’ve got way too many things going on and certain days can end up resembling the most unproductive days of your life. It happens. Even if you run a tight shift. Sometimes there are just those days. The best thing to do is just get over and, well, call it a day.

Organizing your daily tasks

What I have found fundamental is organizing a list of tasks you need to do on a daily basis. Now over the years, I have tried everything. I’ve gone through all the ToDo list applications that were available on downloads.com. I’ve tried different flavors of Outlook, The Bat! (great mail client, really bad PIM), to the more recent Remember the Milk and a bunch of other apps. And of course, none of them worked just right. And being a developer, what did I do? Write my own, which of course also failed miserably.

The problems I encountered with them all were always similar, but you know what? I could never pinpoint it. Some where to simple, others too complex, ultimately having me spending more time on managing the tasks than getting them done. My last resort was just an empty text file with a list of tasks. That didn’t work either. So what did work?

This:

image

Yep. A piece of paper and a pencil (or pen as Dino rightly mentioned). It seems silly doesn’t it? Having all this technology at the tip of our hands and yet the best thing I’ve found that allows me to concentrate on getting the job done and knowing what I have to do each day would be a piece of paper and a pencil.

Some of the reasons for this I think can be attributed to:

  • It can’t go wrong (well it can but you have an eraser).
  • It’s simple. It won’t distract you in trying to re-organize or finding a better way to handle the tool.
  • It allows you to focus. It removes the overwhelming lists of tasks you have pending.
  • It’s staring you in the face.
  • You know exactly what you need to get done. It’s the list.
  • As you cross things off of the list, you see that you’re getting things done. It somehow entices you to even be more productive. It gives you a good feeling.

Now I’m not an expert in human psychology but I do believe that many of the previous points are actually psychological effects at play.

This is a daily Workflow

This works well on a daily basis. I still manage tasks using software. I use YouTrack for certain things, Thunderbird /Google Calendar for appointments and Checkvist for managing list that I collaborate on with others. However, when it comes down to what I need to do on a daily basis, I select items from all these sources and write them out on the sheet of paper, and I try and adhere to what’s on the paper, not deviating. So it’s important to realize that this is something I do on a daily basis. It doesn’t scale well for multiple days, weeks, months or even across teams. It’s a personal tracker for my daily routine.

It all boils down to one thing…a goal

There have been many techniques, tips and tricks that try and allow people to concentrate on a task. There’s even been certification programs for some, which I’ll refrain from making any comments on. Some tips which I’m sure you’re well aware of are things like closing down Email, Twitter, Facebook and other tools that decrease potential productivity (unless of course you’re a “Social Media Expert”). On the whole however, I think the main root of the problem here is not having a clear objective, not having a goal to reach. If we have that, you won’t procrastinate. This technique, I find, helps focus and reach that goal, daily.

If you’re having issues with getting things done, I recommend you try this simple approach ,which is by far my invention and I’m sure many already use.

7 thoughts on “Getting things done daily

  1. Guilherme Cardoso

    Hey Hadi,

    “I find it much more productive than working in an office” – I totally agree with you.
    I’m currently working in a office where we’re 6 persons on a real small room (about 3 meters – 5 meters) and we don’t have any window!

    Unfortunately the most costumers want us (consultant developers) working on their offices instead of home or even our company. I don’t understand why. I think it would be more productive if we just work 1 or 2 days for week in the office to talk as a team and share ideas (or we could use some voip software instead, but whatever) and the others days we could work out of office. I personally know that my productivity as developer would increase something like 200% and the project would not be affected just because we’re not in the same room.

    But i guess more costumers cares more about the image of their company instead of the welfare of their workers.

    Reply
  2. Dave Hawes

    If you don’t have a goal, how can you score!

    Personally I use post-it notes on the wall. I find having something physical / tactile to move around and view is much better than using an electronic todo list.

    Reply
  3. Britt King

    Nice post, Hadi.

    I’m very low-fi when it comes to task lists too.

    I use index cards, adding one task to each, held together by a binder clip. That way I can walk around with it in my pocket and add to it as ideas come. Another benefit is that I can physically toss each one as I finish it.

    Reply
  4. Luis G. Cañas

    Hola Hadi!
    I am glad someone I really admire as a developer uses the same method as me 🙂
    Well, in fact I have a to-do list per VS solution, but I don’t update it daily. What I do everyday is writing down a compendium of tasks on paper and try to mark as many as possible. Unfortunately some of them are left for the next day (I try to be a bit over-optimistic), so they form the starting point of the next list.
    Cheers

    Reply
  5. Pingback: 7 Simple Tips to Stay on Task | Create Your Life By Design

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