15 Productive Hours

I’ve instituted various time management and task management “systems” for myself over the years. I’ve almost always had a daily task list with automated reminders for routine things like “remember to check on backups”. I’ve grown into being very strict with how often I check and answer my email. Those things are pretty steady.

But how I go about accomplishing the bigger projects changes based upon all sorts of variables, like how busy we are and what types of things I’m working on. During the holiday season I have to be very flexible and (gasp) leave my email open more often. It’s hard to plan what my day will look like, and if I try to do so I generally get frustrated by the million little things that get thrown my way and take me off course. So I tend to just “go with the flow” and look at any free time to advance on long-term projects as “bonus time”.

January and February, however, are much different. We’re having a good month, up from last year. But obviously this time of year is down compared to the Spring, Summer, and holidays.

In 2010 so far I’ve instituted a really simple system that has resulted in me being very productive without feeling overwhelmed. I have a document with goals for every week and every weekend listed out for the next month. The goals for this week are much more “definite” than the ones for three weekends from now, which are subject to quite a bit of change.

I’ve found it really helpful to have weekly goals instead of daily goals. Weekly is still short enough that it keeps me accountable, but not so short that I’m reviewing my plan every day or getting frustrated if a day doesn’t go as planned. I really only open up that document to plan once a week. Otherwise I just open it to add a quick note about a project or to cross something off the list.

The other thing that I’ve found super helpful is to only plan for an average of 3 productive hours per day. That might not sound like a lot, but it is. Think about it – in most offices, do employees ever get 3 uninterrupted hours of work done? No. They’re constantly jumping from one task to another. When they do get some time to work, someone calls/IMs/emails/visits and throws the whole thing off. Most large companies should be thrilled to get 3 good hours out of their employees every day.

I find that 3 is the perfect number for me. 3 is very realistic, and there’s nothing worse than an unrealistic set of goals. That 3 factors out my emails, phone calls, time in the warehouse, and any unplanned programming maintenance (i.e. bugs). Some days I get 5 hours to work without interruption, while on other days I only get an hour or two. I try to always get at least one hour even on the busiest of days. You can get a lot done in one distraction free hour.

This makes my planning a lot easier too. I come up with tasks that should take 15 hours for the week, and then a small 2-4 hour project for the weekend. If something happens to take up more or less, I adjust on the fly. But for the most part I’ve been pretty accurate and in turn have just been banging out work left and right. It’s been one of my better stretches in a while. I’ve been getting a lot done while still having plenty of time for myself.

Sure it helps having some employees, and it helps that we’re slow now, but this new structure has worked well for me given how overwhelming it can be to look at the daunting list that we’re trying to get through this year. Last year I just couldn’t find any time to get things accomplished in January and February. It’s nice to get off to a good start this year. Nothing quite feels as good as crossing things off of a list.

3 comments on 15 Productive Hours

  1. Dale Ting says:

    Adam, interesting you should mention the 3 hour work day… During my sabbatical, I found 2 hours of work was no problem. 3 hours was a good goal to shoot for. 4 hours was a stretch goal. I made the same argument about how at work you only get that much work done too (http://corporatepreneur.blogspot.com/2009/08/1-week-in-to-sabbatical.html).

    I thought you’d be interested to note, I’ve been reading some of your archives and man, I could almost cut and paste your postings into Corporatepreneur and no one would know the difference. One of your postings you mention how your company is #2 in its category, but far behind #1. I actually think I work for the company that’s #1 🙂

    • Adam McFarland says:

      Dale –

      I remember that post now that you linked to it. I think it’s true, especially when you’re doing work that requires a ton of consistent focus. For me, answering emails is far different from programming. The mental effort to juggle variables and constantly be debugging things in my head is tiresome.

      Ironically, this week we had a few issues that threw me off this schedule (I actually wrote this post last Sunday). Tuesday I probably spent 8-10 hours after getting back from the warehouse on something. It was stressful enough that it’s thrown the rest of my week off and made me less productive. Hopefully next week will be better 🙂

      That’s also crazy if you work for who I think you do. I’m shooting you an email right now. When I first started the blog I didn’t want to divulge my employer in fear of losing my job (plus, you can talk more about things if you keep it anonymous).

      Now, I really don’t care, but also don’t care enough to do a post and mention it or anything…unless there’s a point. Anyone can just look at my LinkedIn if they really care.

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