My recipe for productivity

I found an 8 year old draft about how I maintain focus and productivity. It’s still relevant and I still use it today. There’s nothing revolutionary here. A handful of well known small practices.

The process follows a typical roadmap process, but on a microscopic level. Think of it as my internal process within the larger organizational process.

Survey and record the work

Write out the steps to accomplish the work. Get fairly granular. This will be a treasure map guiding to the coveted Business Value.

Here are some sample questions to ask while decomposing work:

  • Are there any known unknowns that need to resolved up front?
  • What systems need to be modified?
  • Do those systems have dependencies or stakeholders that need to be made aware?
  • Are there breakpoints at which to demo progress amongst peers or stakeholders?
  • What is the definition of done?
  • Where do we start?
  • How do we reach the end?
  • Are there time constraints to be aware of?
  • Do we have access to all necessary components?
  • How do we build value as early as possible in the process?
  • What steps should be time boxed and re-evaluated after the time box?

The goal isn’t to document every step, but to have a rough guide to refer to and build upon.

Communicate the plan

When working closely with others on the project, build the plan together. Get on the same page.

Share relevant pieces of the plan with your team. Maybe someone has a shortcut or knows of some hidden code you can re-use? Maybe there’s another way to solve it in a fraction of the time?

Track progress

The format doesn’t matter, just make sure it’s something you’ll use.

It’s tempting to use JIRA, Trello, or some other work tracking tool, but I find those are too cumbersome for the churn and granularity of an internal process. When working as a pair, I gravitate towards TODO checklist files. When working solo, I often use 3×5 cards on my desk. It’s satisfying to finish a physical 3×5, crumple it up, and toss recycle it.

At a minimum, I triage and reorder tasks daily. For broader visibility, I record progress made to the team’s work tracking tool on a daily-ish basis.

Write down side quests and keep moving

As an engineer who cares about quality, distractions will arise. Code that gets in the way will sing a siren song. Potential re-factorings left behind from a previous feature will try to beach you on a desert island.

By all means, follow the boy scout rule. Strive to leave things cleaner than found, but if it’s more than a handful of minutes to complete, write it down and come back to it. Consider time boxing any side quest. Judgment and experience are key here.

Always know the next step

To prevent being painted into a corner, keep at lease N+1 step(s) in the back of your mind.

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