One can fill their days by completing many mindless tasks and consider themselves as productive, but in the end hardly any of those tasks really matters.
On the other hand, another person may only complete one or two tasks in a very short time during their day but these were critical tasks that could generate much higher values. This subsequently makes the person more effective than their peers.
The output values must be weight in determining if one is really productive. Effectiveness triumphs mindless productivity.
This is quite similar to the cognitive and decision fatigue principle which indicates that each of us only has a limited pool of cognitive resources and so we must be very selective in choosing what activities we engage in.
To remain highly effective, not just being productive, particularly for a project manager, it's imperative to spend time only on tasks that require critical decisions to be made, and to delegate the rest. When you take on more tasks than you can handle, like some are misunderstanding this may help them appear as productive, it will undoubtedly affect the quality of each of your decisions and the project will suffer.
Watch out — many of the studies which displayed “cognitive fatigue” (I assume you actually mean ego depletion) have not been replicated successfully.
The specifics are disputed, but we needn't be so specific for the advise to hold.
> But that story is about to change. A paper now in press, and due to publish next month in the journal Perspectives on Psychological Science, describes a massive effort to reproduce the main effect that underlies this work. Comprising more than 2,000 subjects tested at two-dozen different labs on several continents, the study found exactly nothing. A zero-effect for ego depletion: No sign that the human will works as it’s been described, or that these hundreds of studies amount to very much at all.
I am asking because either I do not understand the ego depletion concept or something that seemed really obvious to me is disputed, which would surprise me.
The mind is a wacky thing, I think we know a lot less about it than we believe. One idea I like which seems to have some real world support is that your mental models make all the difference -- if you believe that something's hard and unpleasant, your belief becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy and you'll experience distress when you do it. If you're able to somehow reshape your beliefs, that distress may diminish. Cognitive behavioral therapy is based on this model and has a strong clinical track record.
> If ego depletion does turn out to be wrong, it’s striking how seemingly well-established it became before more rigorous investigations dispelled the assumptions it rests on. The story of its rise and fall also shows how faulty assumptions about willpower are not just misleading, but can be harmful. Related studies have shown that beliefs about willpower strongly influence self-control: Research subjects who believe in ego depletion (that willpower is a limited resource) show diminishing self-control over the course of an experiment, while people who don’t believe in ego depletion are steady throughout. What’s more, when subjects are manipulated into believing in ego depletion through subtly biased questionnaires at the outset of a study, their performance suffers as well.
EDIT: It appears the studies are cited at the bottom of the article.
If a group of teenagers were taught that every time they exercise their willpower it becomes stronger, in a very immediate sense, would we see their self control actual improve over the course of day.
IMO that matter is extremely fluid and dependent on many factors. Just consider the fact that lots of the experiments are done with available volunteers which at Harvard or Stanford or Yale are white uber rich privileged young adults. And that’s only one of the many factors.
Another one is the pressure to constantly publish research in order to move forward or be anybody in academia.
When we were kids, my cousin figured out a way to make Fallout 2 playthrough much easier. From the starting location, he would immediately head down to a particular late-game location in which you could acquire a Power Armor (the second-best armor in the game). He avoided getting killed by high-level random encounters by discovering that you could escape almost any of them if you mashed "A" key during loading screen - this would guarantee you started the turn-based combat before the random enemy could spot you, and 99% of the times would let you escape. After reaching the target location he'd acquire the Power Armor, and start a quest chain that let you acquire Advanced Power Armor (the very best armor in the game). After that, the game was much easier.
Ah, videogames were so much more fun when we were kids, and didn't have that much time pressure.
 - I'm fuzzy on the details here; it probably involved attempting to steal it from the shop and reloading game on failure. I later improved this step by just buying it for money, after exploiting a "repeatedly steal merchandise from a guy and sell it back to him" infinite money generator bug that was available near the starting location.
Not sure how you could get power armor early.
In San Francisco. It was (AFAIR) in the lower left corner of the map. Like I described, you could get there easily straight from starting location, if your "A" mashing skill was good enough.
Nobody ever points out the privilege in this statement. Someone has to be the unfortunate grunt getting delegated to, instead of delegating. If a delegator depends on the grunt, can we really attribute super high productivity to the delegator but not to the grunt? That certainly seems to be implicit when CEOs receive 100x more than the average worker. Perhaps they would be equally competent as delegators given the same opportunities some x years back.
"The important work is the work that I, specifically, am good at. Other work that I do not find compelling is unimportant, and should therefore be delegated to less important people."
The routine work done by "grunts" is critical to keep any organization running, whether it's a Fortune 500 company or a family of four. Lots of jobs (customer support, widget assembly, laundry, dishes) are unglamorous but vitally important.
Alao no one ever completes all the tasks they have. So deciding which are the most necessary to do is crucial.
The people who delegate and eliminate well at these low stages are more likely to progress to more delegation. Yes, some people still have no ability to do any of that, but I doubt it applies to most people on this forum.
Indeed: "There is nothing so useless as doing efficiently that which should not be done at all." -- Peter Drucker
> I’m pretty sure there’s an eighth habit of highly effective people. They don’t spend all their time reading about the seven habits of highly effective people.
Turns out, Covey came up with an 8th habit years ago: 'The 8th Habit: From Effectiveness to Greatness ... The 8th habit essentially urges: "Find your voice and inspire others to find theirs."'  I need to read both, but it seems like Covey's 8th might cover not being obsessed about the first 7.
BTW, my kids' elementary charter school has actually incorporated the 7 habits into its curriculum. It will be interesting to see how the graduates do over the course of their careers.
Surviving and thriving over time requires constant reevaluation.
No, they don't. There is only one task in your job, to make your boss happy. Strangely, this is rarely achieved by good job performance but often by social skills or idiotic metrics. "How to manage your boss" is worth a read.
There are various strategies one can "manage" their boss in return so that their expectation always remains at an optimal level, allowing them to easily satisfy their boss or even exceed all their expectations.
Everything can be manipulated, hacked, or "managed" as we professionally call it, as long as things continue to be operated by human. Even the largest corporations are susceptible and WILL succumb to this. Facebook and fake news are real evidences.
Their weaknesses just need to be identified so it can be exploited. External forces can even join together with more resources combined to execute their plans. It's not very difficult to identify weaknesses for many targets today, GREED and PROFIT.
Many corporations today only focus on their quarterly growth reports and would do absolutely anything to satisfy their investors. They don't even pay attention to their own customers, let alone those external forces.
I have a manager, but I don't have a boss.
A good manager will identify the optimal point for each of his team members. This optimal point will serve as a target performance ceiling for managers to motivate and encourage their staffs to work toward to. If we try and push them over this point then we will begin trading output quality for needless productivity.
For someone at the top, it’s important to determine the optimal point for your organization’s current equilibrium state as well. The goal is to always operate within this state, but slowly and incrementally move the equilibrium point up over time as your organization develops and increases its capacity.
Depending on each industry, the degree to which this principle will affect organizations will vary. For example, it would be more decisive to those who produce creative content as their main output since the negative impacts can be very noticeable and highly detrimental, whereas a manufacturing business relying on human labor can be quite flexible in re-adjusting their capacity.
Put another way: Focus / attention doesn't help if you're putting such energy into the wrong things.
It starts with problem identification.
The Five Why is always a great tool. Here's a tongue in cheek site it threw together a couple years ago to help :)
I guess those form the category of selfish-effective and selfish-productive people.
"complete one or two tasks in a very short time during their day" these are the people that ruin teams.
Also, the difference between a startup succeeds and one that fails is very simple - execution and productivity. Grand ideas don't solve customer problems. Yes, attention management is important obviously, but that's a part of time management. You also have to grind to solve all the problems that come up.
The whole thing is nonsense wishful thinking that you can just make the hard work disappear.
I'm only through the first chapter. Might be a good read, but harder to implement. So far it's, you gotta say no to things that aren't important. How often has your boss asked you to do unimportant things, and would you be able to say no to any of them? Maybe try to push it off to someone else... But to say no would be harder.
This mirrors Andy Grove's practice (detailed in his book High Output Management) of focusing on "high-leverage" activities, where "leverage" he defines as the ratio of output/impact versus time spent.
- Remember that you are going to die. Time flies, have you noticed? Is that status symbol that you are pursuing really that important? Is it ever going to make you happy?
- There is more wisdom in one of your cells than in all self-help and management books combined. Maybe you can't focus for a good reason? What could that reason be?
- Remember the last time you felt glad to be alive? Was it related to being productive?
No need to thank me.
In either case, nothing was produced, and often no one witnessed it.¹
The fact that the pleasure you get from sex or exercise feels artificial in comparison to writing a piece of code might be something worth thinking about. Is this really how you feel, or is it how you were programmed to feel?
No citizen has a right to be an amateur in the matter of physical training…what a disgrace it is for a man to grow old without ever seeing the beauty and strength of which his body is capable. - Socrates
Actually, yes. Is that weird? I can't be the only one here who loves their job.
I love creating things. Software, metal models, lego models, house improvements... I just love creating things, big and small.
Sure, there are parts of all of those things that suck and I work to get through them and on to the good parts, but there's nothing else in life that gives me a high like creating something.
Sure, even the stuff we are the most passionate about entails tasks that we would rather not do. We all get that.
For example, right now I want to work on a research project, but I have to fill some forms first so that I can keep having medical insurance. I would rather not fill the forms, but I will just do it so I can go back to the magical stuff.
If most of what I do requires a Pomodoro-hell-clock, 3 lists and a process that takes 10 chapters to explain, just to discipline myself into doing it, then maybe I made some bad choices along the way. But hey, maybe it's just me. I am just inviting people to take a pause and reflect. :)
What do you do for a living if you don't mind me asking?
This means lots of API design and I love to do API design. I get a deep sense of flow and purpose when dreaming up a tool (an SDK, a library, a language, a set functions or data types; whatever) that lets other programmers do a wide variety of things.
Admittedly the other half of my job is business & marketing related. I like it too, especially since "sales" in our case mostly means talking to other programmers, and so does "management". But not as deeply as the code work.
It also helps that since we're a remote-first company I can choose from where I work and I stop when I notice I'm too stuck or "my brain is full". We don't really do the typical startup-burnout-marathon.
Greatest "productivity" hack for me: having a door that I can close.
My point is that "productivity" is a shallow value, and that turning yourself into a robot will not make you or the world any better.
Speaking of academia, the "cult of productivity" and obsession with status is damaging science. It's not me who says that, it's Nobel Prize winners. For example:
"For the last few years, I’ve had an idea for a satirical self-help article called, “The Productivity Secrets of Adolf Hitler.” The article would feature all the popular self-help tropes—goals, visualizations, morning routines—except expressed through the exploits of Hitler."
Being productive for the sake of productivity is a fetish here, but not necessarily something fulfilling.
Personally, I do feel the happiest when I am productive. But in my case, the easy part is to focus on things I consider worthwhile, the hard one - being productive. YMMV.
I clicked your link. I don't mean to be argumentative for the sake of it, but let me point out something that goes to the core of where we might disagree (or more, where I might disagree with a majority of people here). The article includes the following statement, in big all caps:
"You are what you value"
No I am not. I am also not my profession, not what I know, not my memories, not the clothes I wear or the music I listen to. I am a human being. If I close my eyes, and calm down, and manage to quiet my mind, all of the former stuff drifts away. "I" remain. I encourage you to try, but FFS don't take this as some "meditation technique to increase productivity" :)
Though, perhaps from a different perspective. I do think I am a sum of my biology and experiences (much in the spirit of Daniel Dennett), rather than "a ghost in the machine". Values are a part of that, nothing more, nothing less.
As a side note, I know you may cringe at "found meaning of my life... and thanks to that I am 23% more efficient" (and in general, people adopting Buddhism Zen into the American cult of Business).
like how the 7 year old Djokovic said "Tennis for me is a duty" https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tdOS0zCsJsg
cites #1 tennis player in the world as an example.
For the vast majority trying to shuffle Jira tickets faster or optimize your vim keybindings for the nth time, they would do better to listen to OP.
Actually, studies show that in the long run, being in flow makes you happier than being free from work. At work, it's usually the "non-work" things that kill it (tedious boring work, people problems, rigid hours, etc).
These days going on a hike in a scenic area makes me glad to be alive. But I enjoy it mostly because my "free" time is heavily constrained due to work. If I did it 3-5 hours a day, I would not use it as an example of being glad to be alive. But for many, working on something of their choice for 3-5 hours a day would make them happy. If you enjoy certain areas of SW, I can guarantee you'll enjoy doing that much more than the hike that made you happy. (You'll still enjoy the hike, but not that much more than you do now). Ditto artist, etc.
Last Friday at work I solved some annoying headaches I had in Emacs using Elisp. It took under an hour, and would impress no one (I'm new to Elisp). That made not just my day but my whole weekend.
Of course, if your work is such that there's no hope of flow (e.g. you neither enjoy nor are challenged by any aspect of the whole industry), then you're screwed.
Else most of the time, the "researching phase" is the most daunting task.
You often see the suggestion to break up big tasks into smaller, baby step chunks to avoid this analysis paralysis. Doesn't help when I'm not even sure what to do yet.
1) Start screen recording software and dictate your thoughts as you go through the research/brainstorming phase. Don't often go back and view the recorded sessions, it's the act of recording and speaking out loud that helps.
2) Comment driven development. Stub out functions just with comments, write deeper comment blocks inside a procedure where you have a rough idea of what needs to happen. I paste in table and API definitions as comments too, to avoid having to flip to a different screen which inevitably leads to distraction. Once the program is completely laid out in comment form, and compile/runs with just "STARTING" and "STOPPING" displaying, then I start implementing what's in the comments outside-in (from highest to lowest level). I run the program frequently while doing this, each successful compile/run is a small dopamine hit. As I'm going through, remove any comments that are duplicated by code - all that should remain are comments explaining "why".
There's probably a few different methods to do this (some of my friends swear by pseudo code, others have personal white boards) so it might be worth trying a few different approaches to get over your writers block more consistently.
I wonder if this "comment driven" strategy has potential for applying NLP+code generation. I'm sure this is a common enough thought but I'm not aware of the research, does anyone here have pointers?
What I mean is: use NLP to extract intent (where feasible), and then offer possible implementations of the intent.
I have replaced 'staring into space thinking' with taking a walk outside my office.
I think our minds evolved to track all these things and, probably in a time sensitive way more than projected future value, to prioritize them. For this reason, I think having multiple projects is the natural state as the mind is optimized for this. So maybe this is the "best way" and explains a lot of the strange ways in which putting a problem aside can help solve it.
Since research for me usually works like traversing a tree or directed graph, I take notes in that style. Usually one concept depends on another, or one problem must be solved before another problem becomes relevant.
At any point, when I'm wondering where I need to look next, I look at the leaf nodes in my graph, rank them by how important or promising they are, and then I have a TODO list with plenty of notes for context to jog my memory.
I've found that by leaving myself those breadcrumbs, I am much more organized and fluid about "executing" on my research, and when anyone asks, I have a good idea of what I know and don't know.
Don't let your boss jump out from behind a bush and hand you a task and run. Corner them and determine together exactly what the deliverable is. Define terms of reference, get specific details and get them to name the standards, otherwise you'll be stuck trying to guess.
If you are stuck at a critical juncture, list all the options and get your boss to choose the best one (let it be the course of action you recommend).
Personally, for work that i love to do, concentration is rewarding.
For mundane, routine work, I usually go on auto pilot, getting work done, but, doing it while my attention is somewhere else.
For mundane work that requires concentration, my output falls off the cliff. Its here that many tips and tricks ought to focus, but dont. And, frankly, its difficult too, to hack this type of work. Its human nature to be bored out and perhaps nothing can change it.
I myself am an introvert and love to sit by myself and think of solutions for problems, be it work / life related. I am very bad at networking and usually go to a very very small set of people to discuss any problems I am facing, that I am unable to solve myself.
I do still think that, in the hyper competitive corporate world today, such kinds of people will get shafted regularly until they realize themselves what their great skills are and build on them.
Anyway it's from some study years ago that the most productive people are 10 times more productive than the least productive people. These are called 10x-ers (assuming they exist).
0.1xer is a play on that to talk to the least productive people in a team.
About 10 years ago I had a period of 6 months filled almost entirely with mundane work that required concentration. My gf at the time had a pretty hefty prescription for Vyvanse and well...
I was shocked at the difference. I could get done in one morning what would normally take an entire week. And I did it about that often, usually a Monday or Tues depending on meeting load and would use my free time to get to other side projects that were important but not my main priority.
I'm too old to have seen the ritalin craze in higher education (I used it a handful of times during all-nighters but it was fairly rare/hard to get), and I don't believe I've touched these types of drugs since, but I do understand their pull when one needs to grind.
It's a problem if everyone does it, but that hasn't really stopped me. It's unclear if I'm a rational actor, a bad person, or both.
The grinding happened for me too but didn't bother me much, I just chewed gum. Could see how doing that on a daily basis would be a drag.
My thoughts slow down without something there to keep them moving.
No known conditions or attention disorders and doubtful of having one. I just work best in a creative or playful mood, not a concentrated one.
I'm surprised it's so alien and uncommon for programmers, it's not uncommon in other more traditionally creative fields.
This is where time management can be very useful. If possible I prefer short but intense bursts of mundane but high concentration tasks. I've been using timers to help train myself to spend a set amount of time fully concentrating on a task and then reward myself with a break (which could involve more engaging work or if might simply be spending time on HN).
I struggle with productivity, and feeling productive. and when I look back on times when I felt productive the attention thing does stand out.
It occurred to me when I thought of myself as a younger programmer that I used to love the time between midnight and 3AM, there was literally nothing on TV to distract me, the house was quiet, the kids and wife were in bed and asleep. I could spend the time thinking through the problem and then mindfully developing an approach to solve it. These days, not so much.
There is always something distracting in a web browser. Too many times I find I go to check something and poof an hour has vanished as I've followed a bunch of paths that I wasn't intending to follow. As a result my current efforts focus on not leaving a bunch of tabs open on my browser and being mindful about getting done what I came to do for the task at hand and going back to the task. No extra checking of mail or twitter or HN or what ever ...
It really works, and in a couple of days you'll likely have your focus back.
I started doing this "how long can I concentrate for" game in grad school in the 80s, and tried it again a few years ago when I was struggling. My concentration span started at a super-embarrassing couple of minutes at a time. In a couple of days I was back in the hour range, and before long it was as long as I needed. These days I, like you, seldom have tremendously long blocks like 4 hours available. But I effectively use what I can.
(Disclosure: I work at Mozilla and Mozilla owns Pocket.)
Do good things. 1 small action can have massive consequences. Creating something good and useful to others, it does not matter if it took 20 minutes, for sufficiently good actions, if you did 1 a decade, nobody cares how busy you are or if you were "productive".
This is called being constructive. Rather than productive or rather than optimizing busyness (a fake appearance of doing work or "good") instead we just do things that are good. This takes cultures of trust and requires belief products actually benefit people create viability & wealth.
We can define a good action as one that has good consequnces.
Busyness makes nobody happy... it doesn't even make your boss happy. It's just... something you're meant to be, I guess. It's stupid and dumb.
Do good things. "make something other people want"... is a good description of viability, only problem is people also want crack and being a crack dealer is pretty stessful (I imagine) so if you don't want stress or to be to busy and still manage to do great stuff... let's narrow this down. Make something other people want... people want good stuff, don't they? :)
Do good. Don't do not good.
There, simplified everything.
Funny, I've never heart anyone state it so succinctly. I ought to print that phrase out and paste it on the wall at my desk. (I work remote so it'd just be for me and not for management to judge)
Could it be connected with vizualization? Do you visualize your characters, setting, predict what's going to happen, etc? Usually my eyes just skim over the descriptions of characters and scenery.
However, forced concentration completely blocks off my ability to think fluidly, and I memorize very little from reading topics that aren't of interest to me (I am looking at you GCP docs), even if I don't allow my attention to wander at all for more than a second. (Rote memorization still works, but it's very impractical for many topics).
I have lately found that if I force myself to read something I hate for 3+ hours straight, my brain involuntarily starts wanting to know more. But I rarely have 3 hours to just get in the mood.
* Research has shown that people who think they have strong willpower test the worst on willpower, but I am a special objective snowflake.
It seems like folks have their own way of learning how to concentrate effectively on things that may not immediately catch their attention. For me personally, it has been note-taking. Note taking seems to trigger a part of my brain that makes it think that the subject matter is worth paying attention too. Often my notes won’t be points but some doodles/diagrams to visualize what things look like.
Others have pointed out that certain kinds of prescription drugs are useful too, which... tbh I’m a little wary of trying. If they turn out to be too effective my internal logic system might have me using them all the time.
I am way of trying Adderall and such as well, for exactly the same reason as you.
Things like trying to paraphrase in my own words help me way more than standard notes, but doing this is also very time consuming, and it's not necessary when I am into the subject.
I think your strat of "doodles/diagrams to visualize what things look like" likely works on the exact same principle which forces the brain to pay attention since it now has to work with the information.
It's Emacs' Org-mode in combination with Org-pomodoro
- First, using org-capture I would create an org heading with a description of the problem. If there's a Jira ticket I would attach the ticket number (I have a trivial elisp function that converts a regular number into a complete jira-ticket link)
- Then I would start a Pomodoro cycle. If I'm on a Mac - it would create an OSX menubar item with the title of the heading (using Hammerspoon). Org will "clock" me in for the task for the next 25 minutes
- I just realized that I can probably even programmatically switch Slack to "do not disturb" mode while Pomodoro is active
- Activated Pomodoro cycle is like a sacred ritual for me. I do not pick up my phone or check email or (if possible) even talk to anyone. After Pomodoro is done I would take a break, check email, get some water, etc. If I can get done 5-7 pomodoros during a day - I consider it a very productive day.
- Org records everything. At the end of the day I know: exactly how long I worked on every single story, the number of pomodoros I did, notes that I took while working on each story. Whenever I changed the status of the story from "todo" to "in progress" and back to "to do" or when I flipped it to "done" or "canceled", reasons why the story was canceled, etc.
And this is all done with a minimal context switching.
>A better option is attention management: Prioritize the people and projects that matter, and it won’t matter how long anything takes.
Progress is persistence + time. Nonzero values of both will lead to results. If you spend 1% of your time on a project which requires a hundred hours of work, it'll be complete in a little over a year. I don't shy away from projects which I know will take years to complete, and as a result they eventually get completed :)
Maybe the best takeaway is that there isn't really a single coherent ruleset for productivity...
- don't care about time management so much
- care about motivation (think about what can be done with the result)
- choose the right time to have the mental state you require to focus on the task at hand
For me it's the opposite. I often play videos in the background when I'm performing monotonous tasks and it seems to help me from getting completely distracted and abandon the task altogether.
For me, it was fantastically depressing: basically it says: “OK, so you have ADHD. Sucks to be you. Go through this huge laundry list of these and those things to do, don’t forget to take your medication, find a mentor — assuming anybody would want to deal with you, and who could blame them? — and if you are extremely lucky, and with heavy effort, maybe you can become half a normal man or woman who runs through all of this effortlessly, which you’ll never be. What a burden to society!”
All of this is true perhaps, but now I just want to die.
It's a cliché, but comparing yourself to others is a bad idea in this domain. I have yet to meet an ADHDer who makes these sorts of "upward comparisons" and derives anything useful from them; they typically just exacerbate feelings of inadequacy and hopelessness.
Personally, I know I might never be as effective or productive as a person without ADHD is capable of being, but I can be the best version of myself — it's fruitless and unhealthy to ask more of yourself than this, right?
For me, even the most fulfilling projects without constant collaboration and dense deadline don't work.
Though, I learned a bit from the How To ADHD channel: https://howtoadhd.com/
I think this is often overlooked. What works for other people might not work for you and the time spent looking for the right way is better spend on doing the tasks.
On my job I have to research complex problems, that you can't simply google them and find an answer. It takes time to design a possible solution, trial and error, a lot of thinking and observing and in the end you feel that you have hit a wall. In such cases I simply need a break and to think for something else for a while. It is also very hard to put an estimate and set a deadline for a such thing, so productivity is the least of my problems.
I wish more people realized the value of human attention. I would even go as far as to say that the reason that the tech industry is so profitable is because of it's ability to provide shortcuts for the attention required to complete a given task.
I think keeping a few key concepts like Parkinson's law and Pareto's law as well as thinking about what is actually going to move the needle helps.
He got it.
I am going to add a calendar reminder for a year from now to follow him again on Twitter for a while.
An ad is an ad. He pays lip service to the thread but somehow, all roads lead to Pony.
Clearly not a genuine attempt to contribute, right?