After a very long time without any new time management tips (I didn’t have time to write about time) I’ve finally added a new tip. This tip is about improving your time estimation skills and it’s on the time management tips section of the site.
2010 was an eventful year for me, it's a little strange looking at my plans for 2010 blog post and see how much things turned out different then I planned them. Here is a quick look at all of my products, what happened to them in 2010 and what's planned for 2011 (disclaimer: you can expect the same accuracy in the plans for 2011 as there was in the plans for 2010 - that is, things will change) yaTimer time tracking software There were two major updates planned for 2010, version 2.6 and version 3.0. Version 2.6...
The productivity tips series on this blog has been inactive for a while – and I have written before that I’m working on a whole new productivity tips section of the site that will replace it. So now, finally, the new productivity tips section is working and ready for visitors. The web site layout has changed a bit to make room for the new link on the header, if the site doesn’t look right just refresh your browser.
A newer version of this post is at Improve Your Estimation Skills in the Time Management Tips section
Most of us are really bad at estimating how much time something is going to take and without good estimates things take longer then planed, we spend all our time fighting to save our schedule and productivity goes down the drain – But there is a solution, just follow those easy steps to become better estimators:
Step 1 - Break down projects into small tasks
The biggest problem with estimation is that people are really bad at estimating big things, ask a carpenter how much...
Sometimes you have writers block, it happen even if you need to write an e-mail, a blog post or some software, not just if you are writing books, you are sitting on your chair, your hands are on the keyboard but nothing comes out, one way to get past that is to find a simpler easier version of what you have to do and do that first, for example:
Writing a good long blog post about technical subject that requires research is difficult, writing a short rant about some minor computing annoyance is easy.
Designing a new web site is difficult, tweaking...
It’s easy to work hard and create something nobody wants - I don’t consider this a productive use of your time, while technically you are producing something you can get nearly the same effect by doing nothing, that is why it’s important to talk with your clients or customers. You have to talk to your customers directly, don’t settle for documents (requests, specification and such) or experts that explain what the customer wants – and you have to ask questions and find the motivation behind what the customer is asking for. The customer doesn’t know what you can...
Yes, it’s ok to fail, it’s ok to make mistakes and it’s ok to throw away hard work because of your mistakes – it can even make you more productive. We all learn from an early are that failure is bad and that avoiding failure is good – but that’s not always true, the hard truth is that avoiding failure isn’t productive work. It’s easy to spend more time preventing failure than it would have taken to fail in the first place, when you are going to start a new project you can plan, analyze and research all...
Most people go through life without really thinking about what they are doing, they do things because that’s the way it’s always done without really stopping to think about the reasons behind what they are doing. You can be much more effective if once in a while you will just stop and think – ask yourself is there a more efficient way to complete what I’m doing right now? Is what I’m doing important enough to do it in the first place? You’ll be surprised how much work you can save by just thinking about what you are...
This productivity tip is really simple - people who exercise regularly are healthier and have more energy, people who are healthier and have more energy are more productive, it’s that simple.
Exercising for just two or three hour every week (spread out over the entire week - not all at once) can have a huge positive effect on your life.
It takes about 20 minutes to concentrate, that means that every time you ask a coworker a quick one minute question you are causing him or her about 20 minutes of reduced productivity.
That also means that if you are interrupted just once every 10 or 15 minutes you are always not as productive as you can be.
Take control of your work environment, find a quiet place to work (or a good set of noise cancellation headphones), close your e-mail and instant messaging programs, let everyone understand you are not available for just a quick question and just concentrate on...
Some things are both urgent and important, for example paying you taxes on time, getting your product ready or getting a client out of trouble, however, most urgent tasks are not important and most important tasks aren’t that urgent.
Improving your products or your profitability is important, but most of the time it’s not urgent, there isn’t any real clear deadline – on the other hand, some clients always have deadlines, making working for them urgent, but often working for them (right know) isn’t that important and there’s better things you can do to improve your business.
That is why you should...
The Pareto principle, also known as the 80/20 rule, states that, for many events, roughly 80% of the effects come from 20% of the causes, what does that mean for you?
That most of the time 80% of the profit comes from 20% of the customers, 80% of software crushes are caused by 20% of the bugs, 80% of the technical support cost goes to supporting 20% of the customers, 80% of the people use only 20% of the software features and so on.
In almost every part of life (or business) whatever you look at is divided disproportionally – and you...
Setting goals, real measurable goal with a deadline is a huge motivator, when you can objectively tell if you succeeded or failed and you have a deadline to achieve that goal you have no choice but to work toward that goal.
When you have subjective goals or you don’t set a deadline the motivation isn’t there because you can’t fail.
Set a goal, make sure you can objectively decide if you succeeded or failed – “release second product by 1/1/2010” is a good goal, “work more on second product during 2009” is all but useless.
Doing something important requires focus, it requires concentration and it requires you to dedicate some time to the actual work.
Humans are bad at multi-tasking, we feel that we are extremely productive by doing several things at once, but in fact we are accomplishing less, and doing lower quality work then if we were just doing the same things one after the other.
If you’re having problem focusing try to remove things that distract you – take your phone off the hook, turn off your cell phone, close your e-mail and instant messaging applications even disconnect from the internet if you can...
It’s common to have so much urgent work that you can’t actually get any of the not-so-urgent tasks done, you are so busy with the urgent staff that you don’t do anything important.
This is a common pitfall, but one that isn’t as serious as it looks, the truth is that almost nothing is really urgent (unless you work in a hospital, fire department or a police force).
Something is truly urgent only if there is some real tangible advantage in completing it quickly, in a business environment something should be urgent only if doing it now rather than later makes you...
This is the last week of 2008 and according to our web traffic almost nobody cares about productivity right now, so this looks like a good time to pick the five best tips of the year.
This list was selected by me, the web traffic statistics of all the productivity tips are too close to use them to select the best posts.
Productivity Tips: Filling timesheets manually is a great way to under charge - and it’s also a waste of time
Productivity Tip: Don’t Panic
Productivity Tip – Why...
Most people can’t work all the time, you need some downtime to “recharge” – so take a vacation and enjoy yourself.
A vacation can actually boost your productivity in two ways, the first is the obvious, a nice change of pace and some rest will help you come back mentally recharged and ready to take on new challenges.
The second and even more important impact of a vacation is less obvious.
When you work on something every day you are too close, you are focused on the details and you can’t see the big picture – by leaving for a while you can...
We all think we can do more than one thing at the same time – and we are wrong, we have just one brain and we can concentrate only on one thing at a time.
We can do multiple things at the same time – but not well, when we spread our attention between multiple things they all suffer.
Do one thing at a time and you’ll get more done – because it’s quicker to do two things one after the other then to do them in parallel, that is, if you have to do a good job, it’s quicker to do...
There are a lot of productivity tips out there, some of them contradictory, try to follow them all and you’ll waste so much time arranging, prioritizing, filing and tracking that you won’t have any time left to work.
We are all different, our jobs are different and our psychology is different, so it should be a surprise that we have different whys to be more productive.
Whenever you read productivity advice (including on this blog), you should read it critically, you should ask yourself “how does this make me more productive?”, you should think about the problem the method you are reading...
Noting hurts productivity more than sleep deprivation.
There is an awful lot of conclusive research on the effects of sleep deprivation on productivity (usually done by armies), the sleep deprived teams are always much slower, less focused and make substantially more mistakes, also the sleep deprived individuals don’t notice they are performing so badly.
So, remember, you are not super human, you need your sleep – by working instead of sleeping you are likely just making a lot costly mistakes and setting yourself back more then you are advancing with your work.
A big part of improving your productivity is manipulating yourself into working when you rather not work, one of the more effective tricks is setting a deadline.
For example, the weekly productivity tip blog post has to be published every Monday – no excuses.
If we think about it for a moment we can see that nothing bad will happen if this post will be published later in the week, there is absolutely nothing time critical about this post.
But, if I allow myself to post a little bit late then before I notice the week has passed and I haven’t written the...
The most effective way to decrease your productivity is work in an interruption filled environment – and yet most of us work in just this environment.
Writers, programmers, designers and most other creative jobs require concentration, you are most productive only when you are in a deep concentration mode (sometimes referred to as “the flow”), in this mode you can get huge amount of work done in a short time.
Whenever you are interrupted, no matter how short the interruption is, you are kicked right out of this deep concentration mode and research has shown it usually takes between 15 and 30...
The world’s economy is in a crisis, things are bad and they are going to get worse, civilization is coming to an end and we are all doomed.
Are you scared yet?
Your shouldn’t be, the world is not ending, a small but very greedy group of people managed to collapse the world’s financial markets and make some real damage to the economy, the resulting wide spread panic caused even more damage and is continuing to ruin the economy even as you read this.
The result is that lot of people lost an awful lot of money.
That’s it, a lot of people lost...
A long long time ago, when I was a young programmer, in a company I once worked for, the management decided they wanted to know how the employees spend their time.
It was a product company so this information was not needed for billing, management just wanted to knows what’s going on and have better information when they plan for the future.
The development team manager quickly built a small application that lets employees fill in what they worked on, this application was equivalent to filling a timesheet, you started the application, selected one of the company’s projects filled in how much...
Don’t worry, this is not a philosophical post, my productivity tips series is still all about tips and techniques you can use to improve your productivity (and you life).
If you are reading this you probably care about your productivity and you want to be as productive as possible, but why? Do you want to make more money? To improve your life style? To have more free time? To spend more time with your family and friends? It’s important to know.
Being more productive can help you achieve all those and more, but only if you concentrate on your goals and not...
To-do lists are a great way to get organized, you can write them down on a piece of paper, an handheld computer or software on your PC (I obviously use yaTimer).
The reason they are so great is that you can immediately find a task that needs to be done, do it and cross it off, this have 3 different and important parts:
Immediately find the next task that needs to be done.
Do one thing.
Cross it off and get that feeling that you accomplished something.
If you have tasks on your to-do list that you cannot do right now you can’t immediately find...
The easiest thing you can do to improve productivity is to organize your tasks in a to-do list, if you haven’t done so already stop reading and write a to-do list (I use yaTimer, my excellent time tracking application to handle my to-do list).
Your to-do list should contain only items that are “doable” and can be finished and crossed off the list in a reasonable time (as a general guideline, anything that takes more than one day should be broken into smaller tasks).
Now normally I like to prioritize my to-do list and try to pick the best task to do...
Time spent reading about productivity is not itself productive, long books about becoming more productive and productivity systems that are overly complex are rarely worth it even when the system work because of the time investment needed to learn and maintain the system.
I’ll try to keep post in my productivity tip series as short as possible so they are worth the (short) time it takes to read them.
Humans are most productive when working for 8 hours a day, 5 days a week.
If you work more than that you actually getting less done, not only you could spend the extra time with your family or doing something fun – you actually get less work done by working more.
Since the beginning of the industrial revolution researchers have been studying worker’s productivity, a lot of this research went into finding the optimal length for the work day, studies were done all over the world and for different industries from factory work to information technology and they all came up with...
Let’s say you are trying to get organized, you made a task list and prioritized it by importance, now what? You have several projects you have to work on, none of them is more impotent then the others, how can you make progress on all of them?
One way I already talked about is to track how much time we spend on each project and take corrective action when some work is left behind.
Another way is to plan ahead, decide before you start working how much time you are going to spend on each project, prepare a weekly time budget:
Our long term goal in becoming more productive is rarely to just get more done, it may be to finish a project quickly so we can work on other things or it may be to have more free time, the important thing to remember is that being more productive is not our goal – it’s a means to an end.
Remembering that productivity or efficiency is a tool and not a goal is important, productivity methodologies almost always concentrate on doing things quickly, they almost never talk about considering if things are worth doing at all.
For example, let’s say we have...
We all have those days, we have something we need to do but we just can't get ourselves to do it.
We start working and find ourselves surfing the net, reading blogs, visiting discussion boards, having an instant messenger chat or cleaning our office, anything except the actual job we have to do.
It happens to all of us and there are ways to beat this and regain our productivity.
The first and easiest is to do something else, if you have different types of work to do maybe you can do something different right now and return to the original task later,...
The first step in turning meetings from huge time wasters into something even approaching productivity is having an agenda for every meeting.
Just writing the agenda is an improvement, you can't write an agenda for a meeting about nothing and sometimes, it may be obvious from the agenda that the meeting is unnecessary.
There are just four simple rules to follow:
Every meeting MUST have an agenda.
To say that it's ok for some meeting to not have an agenda is the same as saying it's ok for some meeting to be a giant waste of...
For most of us meetings are not our actual productive work, at best meetings are more like talking about actual work – and at worst a complete waste of time.
Sometimes meetings are important, sometimes there is no substitute to getting everyone in one room and just talking things out – but most of the time this is not the case.
In most situations just skipping unnecessary meetings will save you an enormous amount of time.
In the next few productivity tips I'm going to talk about how to create an environment where there are fewer meetings and those meetings are shorter.
This is the last post in this mini-series of e-mail productivity tips, the post in the series are: check e-mail only twice a day, at the same time each day and turn off IM and social network site.
First, Time Ferriss, author of the four hours work week, who is way better than me in this productivity staff posted e-mail handling tips on his blog today, I suggest you read it.
I feel a little guilty about this series of e-mail related productivity tips – because I only follow them partially myself.
My personal e-mail box is checked just once a day, some...
My last two productivity tips were about e-mail, specifically I claimed that e-mail can be devastating to your productivity and that the way to find against this is to only check e-mail only several times a day at fixed times.
But e-mail is nowhere near as bad instant messengers and social network sites.
If you want to get any work done you should never have instant messenger applications or social web sites open.
If you need to have an IM conversation, open the application and have your conversation but when the conversation is over close the application.
If you want to use social network...
This is a follow-up to my previous productivity tip – check your e-mail twice a day.
I hope I already convinced you in the previous tip that answering every e-mail when it arrives is a productivity drain and it's better to handle e-mail in batches – but there are two small details I left out:
You have to check your e-mail at the same times every day (approximately, when coming back from lunch is as good as 2:43PM).
And you have to completely forget about e-mails between e-mail checks.
Checking your e-mail at the...
Check your e-mail only twice a day, if you're interested in productivity you've probably already seen this advice before, but if you don't already do this you should really try it.
Every time you switch between your work and your e-mail you spend a little bit of time re-orienting yourself and then a bit more until you get up to speed with the new task, this is not a lot of wasted time – mostly you don't even notice it, just a few seconds wasted here and there, but a few seconds here and there quickly add up.
You don't really have...
Most time management systems are designed to let you do more, to get more done, to do things faster, this is all good and nice but they tend to forget something very important – productivity is not only about how much you get done, it's also about what you do.
I suggest that you can be more productive by doing less – by focusing only on the important tasks you can maximize the value of your time.
Let me explain, everyone has one or two things he does really well, things that are his core business, when doing those things he is...
Managing your time is not productive work, its overhead – the only reason tracking and managing your time is worthwhile is that it saves you so much time later.
Now if you accept that time management is overhead and not productive work we need to see how we can minimize it.
The worst way to manage your time is to manually fill timesheets once a week, it takes too much time to try and remember what you did every hour of the previous week – and you are sure to miss quite a few hours and either bill one client for time...
Keeping track of how much time you spend on your tasks has many obvious advantages:
The first and most obvious - you know how much to bill your clients.
You can find out what parts of your process you need to improve.
You can make sure your time is not being monopolized by just one of the things you should do
You can improve you estimation skills
Your time management becomes streamlined and more efficient.
But there is one more advantage...
The first and most important thing to do in order to organize your time better is to start tracking how you spend it.
After you have some solid information about how you spend your time there is a lot you can do to improve.
I publish a series of blog posts about productivity and time management, in this series I write about one aspect of time management – and one way to improve your productivity - every week, you can see all productivity tips here, and subscribe via RSS to the series here.
You can download yaTimer - my easy to use time...
We all have a lot of things that we have to do, if you are a freelancer or consultant you probably have more than one customer, and even if you have just one customer (or employer) there always several things that have to get done.
The standard technique for choosing what to work on next is to just pick the task that looks most urgent and do it, a task often gets to this "most urgent" status just by belonging to the most annoying client or the most stressful project – or sometimes, if you know how to prioritize, than to...
In this blog post I'm going to tell you how to work less and get more done at the same time.
The first thing you need is a complete and accurate record of how you spend your time, yaTimer, my time tracking tool is (obviously) perfect for that, you just have to make sure you time everything, don't cheat and time tasks, not projects.
After you have those complete and accurate records – I assume you need at least a week to get started, the more information you have the more you can improve.
Now it's time to increase you're productivity.
In future posts I'm going to show you how valuable is your past time tracking information, but it's only valuable if you break down your tasks correctly.
If you track your entire day, project or everything you do for a client as a single tasks you're going to know how much to bill them but you're not going to be able to use that information to improve your productivity.
In order to have the information to improve you have to track your time at the tasks level, but what is a task? A task is the smallest thing worth tracking:
Time tracking is not just for billing, in future productivity tips I'll talk about how you can use time tracking to increase your efficiency and take control over your time – but all that only works if the data in your time tracking tool is correct.
If you boss or client has direct access to your time tracking you are out of luck, when your pay (or reputation) is directly dependent on the information in your time tracking it's just too tempting to change the data, to modify the estimate just a bit so people won't see how wrong you were...
The biggest mistake you can do with time logging is to log only your billable time.
Logging billable time is a must, and is the number one reason to track your time in the first place, but once you start time tracking if you only track your billable time you are giving up on some of the big advantages of time tracking.
How much time do you spend reading blogs? Maybe you need to read fewer blogs or to use tools that aggregate data from multiple blogs.
How much time do you spend dealing with spam? Maybe you need a new spam filter.
The most productive way to work to just concentrate on one thing and do it, Multi-tasking makes you fill efficient (look at how many things I'm doing in the same time) but it's a productivity killer – you spend a little bit of time re-orienting yourself every time you switch tasks, and that time adds up - you could get things done faster if you did them sequentially.
Also, in today’s connected world, when you’re flooded with e-mail, phone calls and instant messages in addition to the traditional co-worker or boss stopping by and breaking your concentration it’s a wonder anyone...
The biggest productivity problem in procrastination, you have things to do but you just can’t get yourself to do them.
You may try to delay your next task because you suspect (or know) it will be unpleasant, you may have more interesting things to do or you just have too much e-mail (or blogs) to read.
The solution is to just do it and get it over with, this is a technique I found useful:
Write down what you have to do, break down large tasks into smaller ones so all tasks take less than 2 hours (or whatever...
I'm starting a new series of posts on my blog and this time it's not a technical topic that is only interesting to developers.
This series in about improving your productivity, or specifically your time management - most people know that if you actively manage your finances you can get more out of your money, the same way if you actively manage your time you can get more done.
Getting more done is not only about work, if you can do the same amount of work in less time you can spend the extra time having fun with your family, reading good...