The basic idea of my productivity plan is to plan out my entire week in small tasks that take no more than two hours. I use what is called a Kanban board to organize my week. The Kanban board is a simple board that has different columns that you can move tasks between. In the Agile world, Kanban boards usually contain columns for the various states like “todo”, “in progress” and “done”. But my Kanban board has columns for each day of the week. I utilize the Pomodoro Technique to stay focused when I am working on my tasks and to estimate and measure how long they will take. We’ll talk more about how that technique works in the next article.
My planning starts at the quarter level/ I divide my year up into four quarters of three months each. When I plan out my quarter, I will try to come up with one big project that I want to get done during that quarter and I will also plan out some smaller goals. I will also think about what things I will do on a weekly or daily basis. The planning is usually done in a list in an application like Evernote. I will create a hive-level outline of what I want to accomplish during the quarter. This gives me a good idea of what my one major goal is and how I will achieve it. It also keeps me focused.
Some of my quarterly roads have been things like writing this article, creating my How to Market Yourself as a Software Developer package, and sometimes even just taking a high track.
Every month, on the first day of the month, I print out the calendar for that month and try to plan out where I think work will fall on the days of the month. I can’t be very exact here, but I can estimate roughly how much work I can get done that month based on how many days are available and any previous commitments I made. I will simply take items from my quarterly outline and see what I can fit on the calendar.
I will also plan out anything that I want to do on a monthly basis. For example, I create all the required developer docs for my selling software.
Every Monday morning, I will start my day by planning my week. I was using a tool called ClickUp board I use to organize my week, but lately, I have been using Kanbanflow on my Kanban board, because it has a built-in Pomodoro time. My Kanban board has a column for each day of the week and also has a column for each day of the week and also has columns for today, for what I am going to be doing that day, and ‘done’ for any tasks that I have already completed. I also have a column called ‘next week’ where I move any tasks that I couldn’t get done this week or anything I know I need to do next week and don’t want to forget.
I start off by going through the list of things that I need to do every week. I have a checklist I created in Evernote that lists everything I need to do each week. For me, it includes
- Review pending pull requests
- Arrange meeting agenda and team summary
- Work on my running project
- Deal with few technical support
I schedule all of these tasks by creating cards in ClickUp. For each card, I estimate how long it will take in Pomodoro (which is each 25 minutes of focused work). I assume that I can get about 10 pomodori done each day. I make sure to add these tasks first because I know they need to get done each week.
Once I have added the mandatory tasks for the week, I go through my calendar and see if there are any fixed appointments that will take up time during the day. For those days, I will either create cards to represent those appointments -if they are work-related –on I will reduce the number of pomodori I expect to complete that day.
Finally, I will slot in whatever work I plan to get done that week. I will add cards for each task I would like to get done that week, filling in all the available slots. I usually leave myself a small amount of slack by only scheduling nine pomodori worth of work each day.
At this point, I will have a pretty good idea of what I can accomplish during that week. I find this prediction to be very accurate. I have the power to shift around cards to prioritize certain tasks that I think are more important and I want to be sure get done. I am also able to see where I spend that time ahead of time instead of looking back at where I actually spent the time in retrospect.
Daily planning and execution
Each day I will start off by getting my workout done before I sit down to work. I do this so that I won’t have an interruption during my day that might break my focus. Once I am ready to sit down and actually work, the first thing I do is plan my day.
To plan my day, I move the cards from the corresponding day into the ‘today’ column and put them in the order of importance. I make sure that I work on the most important things first each day. I will also adjust the task for that day and give them a bit more detail if what the task entails wasn’t clear enough from the card. I want to make sure that I know exactly what I am doing and what criteria I will use to determine that a task is done before I start it. Doing this prevents me from procrastinating and wasting time during the day with tasks that aren’t clearly defined.
Once I have slotted everything I plan to do for the day, I will go back and make small changes to the schedule for the rest of the week. Sometimes, I will get more done than I expected, so I will need to move cards forward or add new cards to the board. Other times, I will be behind, so I will need to make adjustments and possibly more cards for the next week.
Finally, I am ready to work. I will go over the Pomodoro Technique in more detail in the next chapter, but I basically use the Pomodoro Technique throughout the day to focus on a single task at a time and to work through my list.
Dealing with interruptions
There are many interruptions that can come at you during the day. As soon as you sit down, the phone rings. Your email notification pops up on your screen. Someone has liked your post on Facebook. On no, the world is coming to an end again, better check CNN and find out why. Some interruptions are unavoidable, but I have found that you can actually get rid of most of them if you are willing to put forth the effort.
I try to avoid interruptions as much as possible during the day because I know they are the biggest productivity killers. I work at home in my home office, so this is a bit easier than in a cubicle environment, but it is still a challenge. My phone is never set to ring. It is always silent during the day. My wife and daughter also know not to disturb me while I am working on a Pomodoro. If they need my attention, they will either send me an email or pop their head in the door so that I know when I am on break to come and see them –unless, of course, there’s an emergency.
Another big thing I do to avoid interruptions is to basically ignore email during the day. During breaks, I’ll often check email just to make sure there isn’t something urgent that has to be dealt with immediately, but unless there’s something truly urgent, I will only reply to emails at one set time in the evening. By batching up all my email correspondence at one time, I’m able to get through my email much more efficiently. (I’d probably be more productive if I could kick the habit of checking email, but I’m only human.)
I also either log out of or make myself unavailable on all the chat programs which can be a source of constant destruction. I find chat programs to be a complete waste of time. In most cases, an email works better, because I can respond at my leisure instead of being interrupted while I’m trying to focus.
Breaks and vacations
Working like a machine on a tight schedule every single day isn’t something that can be maintained in the long run, so I make sure that I have some time off and some weeks I’ll do what I call “free work,” which is basically a week where I don’t use pomodori and I don’t plan the whole week out. I just work on what I feel like working on during that week. Those weeks are usually pretty unproductive and I’m eager to get back to my system, but they give me a break from the monotony and help me to remember how important having a system is to be productive.
I also take a day off every once in a while to recharge or do something with my family. I just schedule my week around it accorgingly. Tomorrow I am taking my daughter to a park, so I will be just doing three pomodori worth of work when we get home. I take a longer break every few months for a couple of weeks or a month at a time. During that long break, I either queue up things like development or testing or do the minimum I need to get done to keep up with my weekly commitments. I find that this kind of break is needed after working hard and being productive for an extended period of time. (After I finish this article, I will be taking one of those breaks.)
- You don’t have to use my exact productivity system, but you should have some kind of system in place to ensure you get consistent results. Make a note of what you are doing right now each week. See if there’s some way you can develop a system that you can repeat on a monthly, weekly, and daily basis.