A day in the life
Finally, I have a clear afternoon!
It’s time to get some actual work done, finally! I’m excited about coding and being productive for a change.
My brain is engaged. I am in the zone and in a state of flow. I can see the matrix.
My phone buzzes in my pocket 30 minutes into my session.
It’s a Slack message.
Immediately my entire train of thought is interrupted, like a record needle scratching across an in-motion record. It feels like an electric bolt of annoyance surging through my whole body.
I’m rapidly ejected from my flow state and hurtled back into reality.
“ARGH, who the fu… why?”
As I switch over to my Slack client, I see a message from a colleague.
No actual message, just a damn “hello.”
I choose to ignore the message. It can wait.
As I flip back to the code, I must re-start my debugger. I am trying to remember where I was, but I need help. I forgot what I was doing. I need to ramp back up again.
In comes an email. A meeting about something just came in. It starts in twenty minutes.
“Why?.. why all these meetings? Do I really need to be in this meeting?”
Annoyed, I flip back to my code.
“OK, let’s focus, go!”
I tell myself as I attempt to run against the clock. My window just got shorter.
Another ten minutes go by, and my phone buzzes again.
“Have you read my architecture documents yet?….”
Thrown back out of my flow again, I give up.
I only have ten minutes left before my meeting. I need more time to do something effectively.
I can’t read the docs. I can’t code or debug anything worthwhile. This ‘real’ work.. will have to wait.
It probably does. Interruptions and disruptions affect us even if we’re not coding and doing something else that requires focus and concentration.
Greed is good
The line spoken by Gordon Gekko in ‘Wall St" refers to the enduring human spirit to always seek more, push us forward, and break new heights as a race.
We all want more money. We all want more time.
When it comes to money, we can always make more.
When it comes to time, however, we cannot make more.
Everyone has the same amount of time each day —precisely 86,400 seconds. If you boil that down to a typical eight working hours, with an hour for lunch, it’s just 25,200 seconds or 420 minutes.
As we become more senior in our roles at work, we get more and more responsibilities pushed on us.
More and more Zoom calls, Slack messages, emails, meetings, and individual 1-1 conversations explode into our day. Our minutes are grabbed and stolen from every angle.
VPs, Managers, Product Managers, Peers, Designers, Operations, and Support, everyone wants our time.
The first technique to learn is that greed is good when it comes to time.
Until you reach the lofty heights of an executive role, you probably have to manage your own calendar, just like me. So to become effective in very senior positions - learning to defend your calendar is a must.
Before the week begins…
Book out blocks of hours on your calendar for doing actual work.
Mark yourself as out-of-office if need be and auto-reject all meetings for that period. Embrace a mindset of being un-available during those times when you have no meetings and no other responsibilities.
Stop people from robbing you of your own time. Be greedy with your own time. It is the only time you have. If it were money, we would all be much more protective of people trying to grab $100 whenever they felt like it.
Time is money. Protect it like you would your physical assets. Protect your time like you would gold coins.
The second technique to productivity is removing interrupts.
Get off the grid
“The only way to be interrupted is to enable interruption.”
I totally made that quote up, but it’s true.
To protect our time means to defend against interrupts, so how do we do that effectively?
Email, Slack, Teams, Zoom, Calendar. Close all of it. Shut it down.
If it’s running, it will distract us. Every ding, bing, bong, and chime will send a zap of electricity through our brain and interrupt any flow state.
When we’re in our specially boxed time, we must treat the space inside that box as sacred. No distractions!
That Slack message can wait, and who reads email anymore anyway?
We should be free to achieve a flow state in our boxed time. Flow comes from immersion, and immersion requires focus.
Have you ever been driving down the road, suddenly realizing you were daydreaming, and don’t remember going the last mile?
Ever been so deeply engrossed in something that time becomes distorted and hours seem to fly past in minutes?
Both are examples of a flow state.
A state of zen, where we can operate with only our subconscious in control (like the driving example), or we’re so interested in something that it becomes a hyper-focus, and everything else fades out.
In a flow state, we unlock our minds and are free to roam and use all the creative potential energy we have locked up. Like meditation, it takes practice, focus, and removing distractions.
The third technique in our toolkit is being brave and saying no.
Do I need to be here?
Look at all those meetings on your calendar. Impressive!
The problem with meetings is that they generally waste time for most participants. Many are ‘group’ meetings, where a few people talk, and everyone else listens.
Every second we sit doing nothing in a meeting is a second we’re wasting being productive. We need to look at all meetings as theft of our time.
Will the project fail?, Will you miss critical data that endangers the product or the company?
The answer is almost always no.
We should all feel empowered to use that logic to resist attending every single meeting that gets planted on our calendars.
Be brave, and hit ‘reject.’
These three techniques allow us to protect our precious hours from time burglars. When combined, it’s how you get shit done.
Block out your time.
Be greedy. Book your own time first before anyone else has a chance to steal it. Protect your time like it’s literal gold. Don’t let anyone steal your gold.
Get off the grid.
Shut down messaging, shut down email, shut it all down except the tools you need to do your work. Put on some music or whatever gets you energized and ready to focus and flow.
Be brave. Say no.
Reject any meetings that cut through your protected time and say no to non-critical meetings. Only show up if you need to be there.