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.

 

 


Posted 05-04-2011 11:15 AM by Hadi Hariri

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Comments

Robert wrote re: Getting things done daily
on 05-04-2011 9:29 AM

Man, I tell you what.  I've been in the same boat as you.  I have tried every blasted thing in the world for managing tasks for both work and home use.  And, there is absolutely no substitute for writing things down on paper.

I typically take a single sheet of printer paper, fold it in half (hamburger style, of course) and just use that until it is full.  This makes things really easy to recall and you only know about your tasks for as long as you have the paper (which is sometimes too long.)

I'm glad to hear I'm not the only one who has obsessed this much about todo lists.

Dmitri wrote re: Getting things done daily
on 05-04-2011 2:33 PM

Well, Hadi, I totally agree with you - I think offices are way back there in the past, completely irrelevant, time wasting, and hazardous to one's health, as I found out! (After working from home for several years.)

What's most annoying however, is that company offices typically have very sub-standard equipment. One fairly weak machine (4Gb, no SSD), just one screen... a lot of productivity goes down the drain. Not to mention the noise, light pollution, and whatnot.

Then again, I have a fairly easygoing attitude towards it. If someone is prepared for me being less productive than I normally am, there really is no problem, right?

David Clarke wrote re: Getting things done daily
on 05-04-2011 4:52 PM

I find working from home tough, particularly with kids getting ready for school and other early distractions. I find I need to get started early to get a good day of work done. To manage my work I use Scrumy.com which is a simple and cheap task management web app based loosely on the Scrum process. I complement Scrumy with a Mac application called Pomodoro which is open source and keeps me on target.

Mike Murray wrote re: Getting things done daily
on 05-05-2011 12:07 AM

This post just made me realize that I utilize my dry erase whiteboard at the office in much the same way that you present here. I love whiteboards; it a must-have in my workspace!

Also, this fancy captcha is literally impossible to do on my Droid. Had to go over to the PC to submit my comment.

Bob wrote re: Getting things done daily
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Wow, I was trying to stop using the pencil and paper. I thought I am getting too old and pencil and paper was an old technology in hitech era ... :)

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