Posted in Strategy, Techniques

Overclocking your tasks

As a continuation of the active time management thought experiment (makes it sound fancier than time tracking) there is a piece that requires consideration: overclocking. Since most professional productivity experts (myself included) have written off the concept of multitasking as a faulty idea, there is still something to be said for the productive use of time when more than one thing can accomplished. This isn’t true to the concept of “multitasking” where more than one thing is accomplished with equal levels of success and quality. The idea of overclocking for my purposes is pushing a system or process to result in a greater output than it would normally achieve. Let me set an example and then we’ll deconstruct it. 

Commuting. It’s the bane of existence for many people, especially those who have extended commutes (I consider extended any commute of more than 30 minutes.) When working within a time budget, commuting is one of those high cost / low value activities that are part of life. To raise the value of that time expenditure there are only so many things you can do. One of them is to find other high cost / low value activities that can be bundled together. Take a look at this formula: 

(X + Y) / 2 = Z 

Where X is your first activity, Y is your second, and Z is the amount of productive results. In this case we are mirroring the classic model of multitasking, and finding that both tasks are diminished due to their nature and combining their efforts.  The result requires Z to be doubled for X and Y to reach full completion. 

Now let’s look at high cost / low value (HCLV) tasks where X is commuting for an hour and Y is listening to a podcast while driving: 

(X * .8) + (Y * .8) = Z 

You’ll notice that rather than each task being reduced by half they’re only reduced by 20%.  You could even make the argument that X would not be reduced at all (though I’d disagree – 10% may be more realistic but there’s always a cost when you overclock, in technology it’s heat and power consumption, here it’s focus and quality.) So the test of this becomes can you find activities that when combined can result in an “overclocked” state? 

Let’s look at another example.  In this case we’re going to take the common situation of waiting at a sports practice for a kid. If we are going to evaluate this as an overclocking opportunity (something I highly recommend) look for considerations that will impact the success of the effort, for example: 

Does the location provide you access to the infrastructure you need? If you’re planning on working on a computer, do you have access to Wifi? If you’re going to be reading and taking notes is there a place you can focus? 

Do you have to plan in advance to take materials with you to work or are you looking at working on information you have with you already (such as catching up reading?) 

When planning your overclocking remember you can never 100% overclock your time.  In best circumstances I’ve seen people get to about 75% (45 minutes out of an hour window) but realistically if you’re able to achieve 60% on a consistent basis (36 minutes out of an hour) you’ll be doing well. The question comes to mind though how is this helping? 

Think about the situation in time budget terms.  Out of 168 hours you have available, you have to commute to and from work for 30 minutes each way, each day.  That’s five hours per 168 you are spending on a zero-return investment. If you’re able to recoup 15 minutes out of each drive, that’s 2.5 hours you have not had to budget separately for and are still able to accomplish the required tasks. 

Keep in mind that overclocking results in a lowering of the focus and quality of at least one of the overclocked tasks.  If you’re commuting and listening to podcasts, you can’t easily take notes and likely may miss content due to focusing on your driving (which is what you should be focusing on Mr. Text-and-Drive.) You have to decide if the lowered return on the time investment is worth the recouping of the time. 


Comments, thoughts, feedback, questions? Come join the Productive Professionals community to participate in the discussion around this article and more like it. 

Posted in Coaching, Techniques

The most productive option on Facebook

Productivity and Facebook don’t go hand in hand and for good reason.  Facebook can be a rabbit hole of immeasurable depth drawing you further and further away from accomplishing things. How do you deal with this? What’s the secret to staying on track and concentrating on things that will help you be productive?

Unfollow

Now many people are hesitant to use the unfollow option in their news feeds because of FOMO (fear of missing out). I’m going to challenge that notion right now. Unfollow is NOT the same as unfriend. Unfollow is basically saying you don’t want to talk about that topic now. Doesn’t mean you’ll never want to do it in the future, you just don’t want to do it as much.

Think about it this way.  We all have friends or relatives we like to be around and interact with, but we also know there are certain topics to not bring up with them for fear of them going off on a tirade or devolving into the verbal battles of last Thanksgiving.  In person how do you deal with this?  You walk away.  Unfollow is the same principle.  It’s not a matter of telling someone to shut up but rather just turning your back on the conversation for your own mental well-being.  The other person can rant, rave, scream, yell, and advocate for the flat-earth theory of alien visitations all they’d like…just not to you.

Being productive on Facebook is less about ticking checkboxes and more about using your most valuable resource (time) to get what you want from the experience. Allowing others to hijack that resource for their own wants and needs devalues your time and empowers them. It’s your time, use it as you want, not as someone else has decided you should.

It’s not me, it’s you

I use the unfollow option liberally. My newsfeed is just that…mine. I don’t have the interest to spend my time reading content that does not positively contribute to my daily life, my family, or my overall well-being (including entertainment). I recommend you do the same. Control your information, manage your time, and be productive (and judicious) about the world as it comes to you.

Posted in Coaching, Strategy

Can you be productive in 40 hours?

Our modern work culture has trained us to think the only way we can be successful is by working extraordinary numbers of hours each week. People working their “hustle” (honestly I don’t care for that term) will all but brag about the 70, 80, 90 hours each week they put in. I have to wonder, are they being as productive as they can be, or are they compensating for poor productivity with increased hours.
Many people in the technology field work as contractors, obligated by said contract to a 40-hour billable period each week. However, as is often the case, they are limited to not “over-bill” a client if they need to work more hours.  How do you balance a hard limit of hours with milestones and deliverables set in conjunction with staff personnel who do not have that hard limit?

Learn how to estimate

One of the best tools in a consultant / contractor’s toolbox is the ability to estimate work accurately and consistently. Building this skill takes experience and effort but there are some hacks you can use to help this along. First, write down how long it takes you to do each task no matter how long or short.  What you’re building is a historical record for you to use for reference in estimating your workload and what can be done within a fixed amount of time.

Let’s say for example you’re working on a spreadsheet and one of the requirements is to create a Pivot Table and accompanying chart for analysis. When finished you found it took you about an hour to create the table and chart to a level of completion suitable for submission. That hour number becomes a reference measure for your future estimates. Now when asked to create three Pivot Tables and accompanying charts, you could comfortably respond it will take four hours.

Wait, your math is off

If you’re paying attention you’ll notice I added an extra hour to the estimate.  There’s three reasons for this. First, there is start and stop time to be included when transitioning from one objective to the next. Second, you need to provide a buffer to allow for unknown problems that will likely creep into your work. Third, any task longer than an hour is likely to get interrupted, so you need to allow for the loss and regaining of focus.

Things start to add up

Working from a fixed pool of 40 hours, you start to subtract from that number rather than adding up task estimates to get there. So at this point we’re at 36 hours after estimating our three table project. Factor in meetings (1.5 hours for a 1 hour meeting – including prep and recap), recurring administrative tasks, and known scheduled activities such as SCRUM sessions to get to a realistic number of hours you have available to work that week.

It’s important you keep those estimates recorded as the week progresses so you can be sure not only are you not overextending yourself, but that you’re also not overbilling your client AND you’re getting done the work you’ve committed to.

But I’m not restricted to 40 hours

If you’re in a position where there is an expectation you will keep working until the job is done regardless of the number of hours you have to put in (whether that comes from management or yourself is a different article) using the 40-hour measure can be just as useful. By tracking your time, refining your estimates, and projecting your workload you can balance your effort against your periods of peak productive flow.

How do I get started?

Begin by recording the time you’re spending on the work you’re doing. Keep notes and at the end of the week do some analysis around creating the building blocks for your estimating system. If you can get your time under control, you’ll be able to use it more effectively and treat it like the non-renewable resource it is.