photo: Nathan Borror
The one thing I do not do is check my email. I loath email and find it irritating to use. One day I’m going to find the time to write a gateway program that will convert email to something using XML… When I do check my email it can kill half a day. Often there will be people that I should reply to and sometimes a spark for a post idea but mostly there will be sixty million system messages, along with the spam, marketing junk and general **** that email is full of. I maintain a lot of in-boxes which helps to segregate the mail and some boxes have a higher priority than others. For example the mailing lists box is just archived via POP3 into thunderbird unless I need to ask a question and then I’ll check the box for a few days before ignoring it again. Email is your worst enemy. You can spend hours corresponding with people and writing short post length replies when the same basic information can be contained in a PM, tweet, Stumble or wall note. IM is sometimes useful although I am rarely on-line these days because I love to gossip and get no work done if I do not watch it. As I said my wife chuckled when I told her I was writing about productivity and time management. (As I said I start at the top and stop at the bottom and I’d got this far before she asked me what I was doing).
The trick behind the trick
I am not very organised and probably will never be. However, I apply patterns of behaviour that are productive along with systematised methods that provide short cuts to getting things made or done quickly. I also stack up my resources ready to use and make sure I have a rich collection of “things to use later maybe”. The result is that when I combine this with social media and interaction with other people is that I make for myself an unending and unstoppable avalanche of ideas and potential. Each morning I step into this fast moving current and “go with the flow”. This works because I find every last part of it interesting and I love to write. In this way I do not manage my time so much as set my surroundings up to rush me from one task to the next in a constant run of enjoyable and interesting things to do. The blogs simply act as strategic placed landing pads for the results. If I do not find the topic interesting enough it dies away and “lesson learned” I move on (the current buzz42 is an example of this). In all that I have big projects on the “slow burner” that I go back to time and again. Eventually they get completed but along the way I produce interesting code or learn new geeky things and this again pushes me back to blogging. It might even be true to say that blogging is a way of not killing myself with an utter overload of interesting things to react to.
Segmenting the day
More by necessity than by intention my day is segmented into parts. 7am until 9am is the morning shift where I try to remember to eat breakfast. At 9am the boys go to nursery (pre-school) and some days I have to take them and some days my wife takes them. So I may or may not work until 10am when the rest of the day is often mine. This does not always work and I have commitments to the local Community Mutual that bite into my afternoons and sometimes the entire daytime period. This acts as a good forced time away from the computer even if I am often thinking about some computer related project. These things called clients also happen to need attention and in solving their problems I often find inspiration for geeky blog posts too. This also pays the bills more efficiently than blogging does. The final phase is the evening which starts around 5pm and although I sometimes work during tea, story time and getting changed time I am working in the same room and the activities and can stop to join in. Once the kiddies are in bed I will often try to bring the day’s activities to an end. However, it is not unusual to see 12 notepad2 files and a firefox with 10 or more tabs open (I had 55 open one time) but this acts as a to-do list for the next day.
A free-form “to do list”
By the end of the week I will have a to-do list that is too long and I start the culling process. Closing tabs, bookmarking pages and saving notes. Often this leads to more ideas and more posts (mostly of the quick type). Recently I wrote a post asking “Does Rich Schefren eat his own dog food?” I had been meaning to write that for almost two weeks before I got around to it. It lead, as I thought it would, to interesting conversation with the likes of and will probably draw a little traffic for a long time to come. Maybe even Rich Schefren will pop by and say something – stranger things have happened. Likewise, I have interviews and reviews that I still mean to get done and will get to one day. This list is always there at the back of my mind and is supplemented by the tabs I leave open for myself and the notes I have yet to do something with. I can do this easily as I have plenty of system resources to waste on browser tabs but it is not something that will work for everyone.
Getting more done
However, not everything I do is an end result. Much of what I do is about automating and simplifying my tasks so that I can do more with the same amount of time. This can mean taking the time to write code libraries that I can reuse or systematically cleaning up my bookmarks. The one thing that is not used are lists. If I made lists of things “to do” I would spend hours making them but start with one item on the list and then free fall from there. This does not work for me so I create a matrix of “stuff” and place myself in the centre. That does not mean I am disorganised but it is just the way that works well for me. What makes me more productive today than yesterday is (a) experience and (b) better tools. Some of these tools I made but others I have found (open source projects are great). For example, I use an ad server to manage my on site adverts and this allows me to see what works and where so that affiliate banner ads that are getting low clicks can be deactivated in favour of more productive stuff. It is a tool that allows me to do more with less time. I use what used to be called phpAdsNew but was renamed to OpenAds and then to OpenX. It’s free to use (Open Source) and for any blogger with more than one blog and some reasonable hosting (or a server) it is worth thinking about.
Other tricks are things like getting a bottle of tap water and putting it in the freezer over night. In the morning you take your frozen bottle and put it on your desk. It will defrost over the day so that you have cold water with a big ice cube in it to keep it cold and it is available all day. For php I have the Orbit42 Base Class which was written for a project that was never made. However, it does a few neat things not least of which is that it stops me needing to write safe SQL by stopping me needing to write SQL at all. I hand the function an array and table name and it figures the rest out for me. That alone can save me up to an hour a day in code I never have to write. It also contains an extensive debug system and a plugin system that allows me to create generic plugins that work on most things I create. All that by default – doing more with less time.
Conclusions and thoughts
I work full-time and own my own business. Not everyone has that freedom but everyone does have an optimal way of working. My trick has always been to make sure that what I do I enjoy totally so it’s not so much a case of trying to get motivated as finding a point where I’m willing to stop and remember to eat. My system is not perfect. For example, I have been meaning to re-do my main blog’s theme to a design that I completed almost 7 months ago and upgrade the code base that runs it. The problem is that there are so many interesting things to be doing that I don’t find the time. I may be the only person for whom writing so many blogs is a time saving device (or I may be mad). Who knows.
That’s my fresh perspective on productivity and time management – what’s yours?
Matt has been running many blogs very successfully and has written great content that we can all learn from. You can follow Matt on some of the popular social media sites: twitter.com/lordmatt, lordmatt.stumbleupon.com and a number of forums, blogs and communities.