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Productivity Thoughts Weekly

Weekly: Organizing to chaotic information

The title sounds grander than this really is. It was one of those work days where I felt like I didn’t get much done. I checked my calendar and there wasn’t many meetings, only the one in the morning. It felt like a really busy day but I couldn’t think of a concrete task that I have accomplished that day.

As I lay in my bed, tossing and turning, being unable to sleep, I figured out why I couldn’t get my tasks done for the day, and came up with a simple workflow that would solve this.

Why I wasn’t able to work on my tasks

A day in the life of a software/devops engineer is pretty chaotic. You have various information requiring different context streaming in from multiple sources throughout the day. For example, I was working on updating some configuration mapping on Kubernetes for our new SES SMTP Relay credentials. Then I get a message clarifying about a story that I completed yesterday, about a backend API written in GO. Then I had to join a meeting about decoupling our entire platform from an external service that many of our logic is intertwined with.

The commonality that I found among all these, is that I need to switch context, and the cost of switching is much higher than expected. There also happen to be a lot of adhoc tasks that I need to complete from time to time. Most of the times, replying to people’s questions.

This reminded me of the difference between manager’s and maker’s time. I realized that I have spent a lot of my time on reactive events instead of being able to focus on long periods of time to get my “actual” work done.

Workflow to fix this

Treat every single request for my attention as a task and file it into my todo list. Like an actual list, not just a mental note. Then the important bit is this, look at this new task, compare it to my list and prioritize it immediately. Is it more important than what I’m doing currently? Is it something that can wait till the end of day, or tomorrow even?

I’ve tried this for the past week, and it has helped me claw back the maker’s time that I desperately need. It could be the most insignificant thing, because sometimes those take up to 5, 10 minutes when you think that it’s just going to take 1 minute. Things like, “oh, I need to get approval from my manager for XYZ”. Unless it’s something urgent and I need to do right now, I file it into the list and prioritize accordingly.

What’s next?

I’m going to continue this system and unless I write about it again, we can all assume that it works well. The other thing that I’ve noticed is that I seem to spend quite a bit of time in meetings these days, a lot of times it’s inevitable because of COVID and everyone is working remotely, but I feel like there are some meetings that I’ve joined where I have not contributed or gained anything.

One of my colleagues drew bar graphs to illustrate the amount of hours spent in meetings in a day. It’s surprising how little time she had left in a day for herself. I am tempted to replicate that method just to have a sensing of how much time I spend in meetings.

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