I have a somewhat similar stance on software architecture. Sure, I’m TOGAF certified but if you actually expect me to work with notation correct Archimare/UML/whatever and not just draw boxes on a napkin you’re either insane or sell a product with no competition.
This is anecdotal of course, but after 30 years of working with hundreds of companies to supply our municipality with software, we have yet to see a correlation between quality and “best practices”. It doesn’t matter if companies do this or that testing and use the full confluence suite or if they just pull spaghetti out of their asses and support is a phone call… the quality is the same over time, hell, often we get more from the spaghetti companies than the “best practice” ones. You might think that it’s a short term thing and that the spaghetti and no testing catches up, but it doesn’t. Maybe because we don’t have to fund those 8 people, that you never really learn the role off but it sure isn’t technical, that sit in on every meeting as opposed to talking directly with the spaghetti slinger and a sales person? I’m not sure, and I’d love to tell people that following this or that “best practice” is the way to go, but that’s just not what our data shows.
You need to focus on the real problem at hand, and devise/adapt a correct solution in context. Systems and frameworks provide helpful tools and templates, but they all require contextual adaptation.
FWIW this is what I like about the foundations of Agile for project management. The manifesto points all direct you away from your tools and processes and towards the actual problem. eg "People over process," "working code over documentation," etc. Basically the people on the team should focus on working software, communicating with the customer, and adapting to change. Their processes, documentation, contracts, and plans should all be aligned to that solution, not the other way around.
And out of that... we got millions or scrum certificate weilding alcolytes who will tell you that if your project failed, it's because you didn't do their system religiously enough. God certainly has a sense of irony.
It's more like ticking boxes and pretending to know what they're doing than actual agile project management.
So now we're stuck with a lot of overhead crap and even more workload. And the system actually slows us down when we try to adapt to a changing environment.
Problem is mainly that this happened because the director of project management really liked the reports from Jira and thus the main reason for it all is to get as much data as possible in there (notice how 'accurate data' does not seem to be a focus :) )
When you’re doing something for the sole purpose of keeping someone off your back about it then you inevitably half-arse it, so in reality we’re paying Atlassian a small fortune for nothing more than a wall of fairly bullshit estimates. Don’t even get me started on how slow and flakey the UI is on the cloud version, it’s such an intolerably poor quality bit of software to actually use as a dev. I’d be very surprised if Atlassian actually dogfooded the cloud version because it really is an abysmal effort.
And yeah it's slow but not super slow. Pretty sure we have onprem though. Because I can only access it on VPN. Unless they fiddled with some port forwarder which I wouldn't put past them.
So as long as you define what "leadership" or "customer satisfaction" (and the rest) mean to you, and you have a vaguely plausible but not necessarily effective process that ticks each of the boxes, you have a quality management process. And you can apply for - and will probably get - formal quality management certification.
In reality you can have zero actual leadership or customer satisfaction. But you have a process - so OK.
This isn't to say that we should just do away with all process. There are good, even life-saving reasons why processes exist, but a process alone is no cure-all, and an overdose will paralyze us.
- Abstractions/models tend to completely replace reality. We, software engineers, are very prone to that sort of thinking. Another prominent category are accountants: leaders drive their businesses only looking at the "map" of accounts; governments do the same with their constituents.
- "Paralyze" is exactly the right term. Excessive bureaucracy actively discourages any creative action, for the sake of illusion-of-control.
Cannot upvote this post high enough, you made my day. Maybe humanity is not completely hopeless yet.
It was the first time I'd read ISO 9001 documentation end to end, and it was eye opening.
It ensured there was a paper trail documenting the total bullshit, of course, but it nevertheless was total bullshit that said a lot about describing what was done, but nothing about ensuring it actually worked as it should.
This same place had locked doors to the interior stairwell so consultants like me could not even get into areas we were not assigned to because of work done for clients like the police, but had confidential documents about police infrastructure sitting unprotected on the machine I was assigned.
To me that was a good indication they ran everything including security how they handled quality management: it was just a box ticking exercise. Document things and track deviations rather than care about actually getting things right.
I recently read this about it:
I've taken to using tools that most closely mimic notepad+pen or whiteboard+marker. Increasingly I am finding that a physical whiteboard, markers, and post-its are good enough. And if you need to create backups, the image quality on any smartphone is very, very good these days.
The more time spent working on the thing that manages your work, the less you are working!
Often questionably necessary, middle management has a hard time doing something when engineers understand the product and upper management has the right balance of setting direction and entrusting decisions to the makers. So they start asking the engineers to do things and get upper management on the train of wanting reporting. Doing that with pen-and-paper engineering and people with context is HARD... so all of these tools exist to make this middle layer of doing work better.
And arguably unnecessary people earn a lot of money by convincing themselves and others that they are necessary, so companies get to be organized to have these high overhead tools to support this high overhead style of organization.
Now to be honest some level of organization is necessary, and becomes necessary as the enterprise and product grows in complexity, but very very few people work long enough or with a diverse enough set of organizations to be able to see what is necessary and when and what is not.
If you hire people and put them in a position and tell them they have to work a certain number of hours they will find or create work to do. Oftentimes this work is not better than doing nothing but the WASP work-ethic and general cultural norms really can't handle the idea that smart, important, useful people can provide the most value sometimes by not doing anything until they are needed.
Thank you for this comment. I have had this is mind for quite some time but I never could phrase it in such a clear, articulate, phrasing.
Hardware on the other hand, needs an organization layer on top of the production layer. Removing barriers, creating traceability, improving processes, and trying to get multiple different teams to work together efficiently.
But that would require a lot less gatekeepng and other artificial moats around them, and possibly a rather more open organisation model which wouldn't fly with middle management (even if your specific adjacent middle managers would like to, they don't operate in vacuum). And that's before you hit cost reasons. Or cost of training, especially since companies really, really don't like training people.
Take away is that just because they're not using an off-the-shelf project management / WIP management tool, doesn't mean they're not organized.
Of course, that’s not feasible but hey, a guy can dream.
The whiteboard was good to move forward a discussion, explain concept and other niceties. To organize work ? Hell no.
> Leaders operate at all levels, stay connected to the details, audit frequently, and are skeptical when metrics and anecdote differ. No task is beneath them.
IMO this particular trait correlates well with a need for less process / project management software. I really believe if more people did this companies would be better off.
Note: this isn’t the same thing as micromanaging but I understand why some people think it is.
Also the dev stack was horrifyingly opaque. Every time an Amazon recruiter contacts me I have to push down the urge to explain how awful it is to work there and no thank you.
It’s something that has frustrated me, as a manager, when fellow managers said it to me. I feel like it gives permission to managers to detach themselves from the reality of their organization.
The trick is to know WHEN to dive deep, because you are right that managers also have to maintain a broad perspective.
But being able to sniff out problems and then dive into them has always been the hallmark of a great manager/executive, at least in my own experiences.
You seem to imply that UML or other project management software are considered best practices. I have never heard that. Or rather the opposite. Not using UML is currently considered as best practice.
But maybe it depends who you ask.
However it's way too laborious using it for everything and it becomes a burden when things get complicated. For simple things it just doesn't really help because they're simple anyway.
As a learning tool I think it was great. In production? Well I use it every day. The book props up my keyboard on my desk which happens to be 2cm too low :)
Having a shared vocabulary is great.
Modelling everything out with it, on the other hand, is a nightmare.
When such a rant actually feels sensible and pragmatic, there must be something seriously wrong.
I don't mean actual engineers wringing bug free code for a space telescope attitude control system. Seemingly they have it figured out - their code does not seem to fall down at a higher rate than bridges or office buildings. They have a method.
But this method, whatever they implement, is surely too costly for us regular chumps, at least provided your employer, as you put it, has competitors.
Also, most best practices peddled are supported only be flimsy data and anecdotes - only very few areas that are different. I have seen some examples in medicine that had a lot data behind them (not all of medicine by a long shot, though).
Agile was invented by consultants who's agenda was to maximize their profits first, not just to improve SDLC.
Also, there is no silver bullet, and everything is a trade-off, so each best practice has to be adapted to a particular project.
Last thing: sometimes any process, even as bad as "Agile", is better than no process at all. Especially for the dead-on-arrival cases like government-related projects.
1. SDLC - https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Systems_development_life_cycle
And I've seen it done well.
> This brings back memories from the days of my early career (an ex-PM survivor here). I would be curious to see some data, even anecdotal, on the success of this approach. Here's some interesting statistics from the industry (not specific to software, but you can extrapolate): http://apepm.co.uk/project-management-statistics/
> In my view, traditional software project management is ineffective. I would put it somewhere between the Myers-Briggs personality test and modern day astrology.
Commendable amount of spaghetti's mentioned though.
There's a high correlation for me between bad managers and managers that think they can get you to use a tracking tool that provides zero benefit to yourself and gets used to do their job for them and also occasionally to pick favorites, lay people off, or deny raises/promotions. You're dealing with smart creatives, nobody is volunteering for that shitshow.
You got a tool that helps me keep track of my day or be prepared for meetings? Maybe. But if I have to stop what I'm doing to use it, then no fucking way.
Really, it’s the same sort of problem that is described in The Goal and The Phoenix Project, but on a personal level. Calendar timeboxing feels like a solution that actually addresses the real problem, although it is challenging to implement for people who are low in conscientiousness (or have ADHD).
In particular, the fact that we do it automatically seems to be the thing they appreciate.
Edit: First time I’ve ever been downvoted into negative territory. Clearly I’ve embarrassed myself ;P
Is it because of self promotion? I guess… seems weird though I/my company are literally part of the article, I replied to a specific comment around issues with time blocking for ADHD people, and how automation seems to be a solve to the problem highlighted by the parent.
Yes, I see this helping with the over commitment factor. But it doesn't help with doing the thing you need to do.
You need other strategies, such as actually scheduling time to get stimulated prior to tackling that big gnarly task. Or breaking it into just a 5 minute "do the first step" task, so that it's not 1hr of doom scrolling - that maybe a 5 minute chunk of it gets done.
This is my anecdata, though.
I know there are some who probably insist that I’m trying to have my cake and eat it too…
One way we (somewhat) solve for your desire today is that we schedule out all the stuff but then make it fairly easy to decide what to do just-in-time without wrecking the whole schedule. It’s not perfect but it’s been working for some of us.
I just tried the service and my immediate reaction was similar to above. I can't just context switch on a whim. It feels super strange to have a list of similar priority things just given hard times in my calendar, even for things like exercise. I do want something much more just-in-time where I am constantly picking from a set of boxes, and urgent tasks and deadlines are managed.
Time blocking is difficult to stick to and having automation could be the solution. Sorted for iOS does automation as well, but lacks a weekly agenda view.
I’m also trying out Akiflow and have been impressed so far, but their decision to launch without syncing across devices makes me question their long term product vision.
That's how I found out my product, which was targeted mainly at younger people, was really popular amongst the older crowd.
There is no technique or strategy to have infinite productivity.
Can you say more about this?
The Phoenix Project extends this same methodology to IT processes, which is challenging because unlike physical production processes the workflow (and piles of WIP) are often hidden in databases and ticketing systems (which have an infinite capacity!). Furthermore, the process steps are often not even systematically documented, which makes it impossible to pin down your capacity in the first place.
Personal productivity is definitely more like the latter, since we are capable of holding quite a bit of invisible WIP in our brains.
Maybe the point of writing them down is mostly reflective; to contextualize them as much as possible and do the ones that we find most important by some unconscious heuristic. That means there will always be uncompleted things.
Also we have to see when we itemize things to do, we also objectify ourselves as a doer of those things. Which is OK for making things graspable, but ultimately we are not mere doer of things, we are humans in an existential context.
Maybe it is a good thing that we left todo items unchecked, maybe that is our protest against being reduced too much, maybe that procrastination is an attempt at gaining our humanity back, maybe that resistive Netflix binge has some unconscious meaning that needs to be honored.
No it doesn't? It means we died before we captured the entirety of our desires and goals, whether or not they all featured on the list.
What I see time and time again with teams and people prelaunch is a lack of a catalyst to ship their MVP. I've met many people who have an idea and their MVP is 95% complete. Then things stall and feature creep sets in for three reasons:
1) Your MVP will, by design, have technical debt. No one likes debt.
2) Releasing means a shift from being a dev/engineer to being a marketer and building the company that builds the product. And you do this while also working on your technical debt. If your sales stall, then you are stuck in "should I spend more money on time on marketing" hell.
3) Anyone who can build something people want and create an MVP has numerous alternatives for certain income.
So as much as I'd like to ship my MVP next month I procrastinate since I am also a consultant who bills at good hourly rate and I can just do that instead. Good isn't just the enemy of great. Good is also a great hedge against the time waste of building a business that is no fun to operate and isn't profitable which is why many MVPs never ship.
Edit: typos, clarity
I launch my MVP last month. I can't agree more with you.
1. Tech debts. The coder inside my just to write better code. And writing better code is satisfying.
2. After launch, I become more of a marketer than an engineer. Being a marketer is less enjoyable than being an engineer. I secretly know this before launch.
3. Alternative for income. Yes, I have another side project, whose users calling for more features. I can't help spending time on that project.
Thanks so much for clarifying this.
edit: what truly prompt me to launch is the death of my mom, which reminded me I have waited too long to do important things.
What's a done list? Think of it as an anti-TODO list: your DONE list is where you write down everything that you've, well, done. You know that little dopamine kick you get from filing a neatly-tagged TODO or marking off something that you've finished? A done list is just that, and the only way to use it is to train yourself to stop organising and just...get stuff done.
I love it so much I built my own done list app: https://donel.ist . It's 100% free, and there's even an API to play around with if that's your thing.
TODO lists don't work for me at all. I can't seem to remember to actually check the damn things for what to do next. The overhead of maintaining them also eats up time.
The closest thing I've found that works to motivate and keep me on track is SaveMyTime, which is a time tracking app. I used it in a similar manner to how you describe done lists. I tracked exactly what I've done, every minute of every day. The killer feature of SMT is that it forces you to fill out what you've done prior to unlocking your phone screen. Unlike TODO lists, I have no problem checking my phone frequently :)
This meant that I always had a log of where my time was going, what areas of my life needed more attention, where I was spending my time when procrastinating, etc.
The very action of seeing that "What did you do in the last 15 minutes?" reminder helps kick my brain into "That's a good question, what should I be doing now?" mode.
Unfortunately I've since switched to iOS so SMT isn't an option anymore. I can't seem to find a similar app. Most of the existing time tracking apps expect you to actually set timers, which defeats the purpose. Damn Apple and their OS restrictions mean that no one can make an app that lets you show a screen like that prior to unlocking either.
I've settled for writing my own, private app as a replacement. It shows a widget on the home screen (as in-your-face as you can get on iPhones) with the same features as SMT. "X many minutes since you last logged your time, here is a list of likely things you were working on".
I have so many things I both have to do and want to do that keeping a written list of them is pointless and demotivating. Only time-sensitive things get written down, and that's just so I don't forget them before it's too late.
The beauty of this is that it doesn't need an app, just a notebook or text editor.
Much easier than reading git history, and trying to remember other items that aren't in source control.
Every day at work, I show up and do a minimum of 4 straight hours of concentrated and focused work.
I often get told things like: "I'm killing it", "I'm a high producer", etc.
To me, I feel like I'm cheating the system, and I work too little.
What do other people do?
So no, you're not cheating the system, you are probably running at optimum efficiency. The efficiency of the average employee in terms of productive hours per day spent in chair is ridiculously low.
As a side note: I'm very much wondering whether I should insist on 40 hour work weeks when I get to the point of hiring people. I know there is a movement going for the 4-day workweek, but I personally see more in a 6 hour work day.
At best 2 flow hours before lunch. 2 flow hours after lunch. Sometimes bonus 1.5 flow hours after ‘tea time’ (not sustainable). Sometimes bonus 1 flow hour after dinner (completely unsustainable). Basically 4hrs is sutainable. 5.5 is pushing it.
Also I’ve found if you don’t take at least a whole day off (hobbies that look like work don’t quite count as time off) then daily concentration with quickly deteriorates as well.
edit: I should note that these are high concentration hours, my data isn’t as good for non heads down work.
Productive h/w varies way too much from person to person and by circumstance. I let ppl set their own expected work schedule for the next few weeks by themselves as long as they keep the prediction up to date and their accuracy is reasonable.
I have had ppl get solid 40-60h/w effective time on target, and I have also seen <10h/w. The ppl I bring in are better at predicting their productivity and current life situation than I am. They are competent adults. Let them plan, structure, coordinate by themselves and only interfere if evidently necessary.
One size fits all is nonsense. If in doubt: measure and analyse.
I get stuff done only as long as I'm keeping the chain of motivation from the inside the mind to the thing I'm doing. If I start thinking that I "have" to do something, the chain is broken, as it means that I don't really want to do it.
When my mind is in the "I chose to do it" mode instead, I don't even need Pomodoro - I can consistently do stuff even if there is some aversion.
The most coherent writing about this I know is the Procrastination Monkey series from Waitbutwhy.
I’ve been doing the exact same thing for about a year now. My quality of work is up, and so is my salary. I have more time for family and hobbies.
Whenever I’m stuck on a problem and my four hours are up, I right down my thoughts and the next morning I find the solution quickly.
Either you and I are special, hyperproductive but easily exhausted workers, or everyone else is just pretending to work twice as long.
I am happy I work for a company that doesn't distract me too much as distractions cause me to lose focus. Every Monday we discuss deliverables and bugs issues with last deliverable. I add new features and fixes in the coming days and Thursday evening or Friday morning I send out a new release for testing. Apart from this there isn't too much communication, this approach allows me to focus on my work most of the time.
My daughter has been home for the last month or so, since schools have closed due to COVID. To stay productive, I only work in the night once my daughter is in bed. This way I have no distractions. I sleep in the morning while my girlfriend takes care of our daughter. In the afternoon I wake up and spend plenty of time with our daughter.
As a freelancer I only bill the hours that I feel I really delivered work. Because of this mindset and because I want to make a decent amount of money, I can't afford to slack too much. An hour of slacking is an hour I not bill to my client. I think some freelancers are probably more liberal in what hours they invoice, e.g. always invoice 8 hours every workday regardless if they really worked 8 hours or been slacking half a day. I think most clients wouldn't be able to tell the difference regardless.
Definitely closer to 4-5 now that I’m close to 30.
It's a lot TBH. I'd laugh loudly if I can do that everyday. 4 hours of focused work most likely will deleptes all of my energy and leaves me drained after work.
On my side. I work as a BI developer so a lot of time is spent in meeting. A day with 3 hours of meeting is fairly common but most of the time I don't need to speak so I mute the mic and only turn my focus to them when someone called me for advice.
A lot of time is wasted on things such as waiting for answers from a team in HQ which is located at the other side of the earth. Sometimes someone puts up a shiny new framework with quirky DSL and dumps it on our team with little documentation and you can foresee how much time it takes to "learn" and "unlearn" later. I'd recommend avoiding working in a team that has zero control of the tools and processes.
It was a lot worse when I worked in the analytic team. Pretty much everyday is 3 hours of meeting at least.
In the morning, my mind is fresh and more-or-less distraction free and I feel hyper-focused even without caffeine. Also, by doing a lot in the morning, motivation stacks up and "wins" convert into more "wins" throughout the day
After that long session, I'll usually take an hour break. I try to make sure the last half hour of the break isn't filled with any instantly gratifying content (reddit, yt, etc) so my mind isn't chasing another hit of dopamine when I resume my work. Anecdotally, I feel like this helps me
Whenever I loath doing a task, I tell myself to do it for 5 minutes and if I still don't feel like doing it, then I can do something else. It's a pretty common technique and works wonderfully for me. Something about my pride and not wanting to give up after 5 minutes helps me power through
I work on my own time, starting almost immediately after waking up with the sunrise. I get in 3-4 hours while the world is quiet leading up to lunch time; then I'll cook some lunch and go training. Post-lunch work is autopilot admin or operation tasks. There are days where focus is amped up to 11 and the brain fog doesn't set in—but those days are rare.
I'd say that your feelings of "cheating the system" are ingrained by a culture that doesn't apply to your profession.
Is the "real" world supposed to be different than this experience?
If something captured my imagination, like certain writing assignments or my programming classes, then I could hyperfocus.
With work there is no tempo. However what happens in reality is that for agile teams there is a little bit of a tempo. A Sprint, which is usually two weeks. In my experience there is always more work in a Sprint that can be done.
The only solution I have found is working, and then letting things settle. If a story takes 3 days and you get done in 4 hours, what do you do?
1. Principles - why you do a thing
2. Benchmarks - what defines success and failure at making the thing
3. Mediums - how thing is made
The starting point - the review - is often to-do list like. The to-do list's function is mostly taken care of within five minutes of heading out the door for a walk with out-loud self-talking: "So, yesterday this happened. And I want to do this today." Verbalizing it(while a bit surprising to passerby) makes a huge difference because it does the "getting it out of me" function that all these apps do, and then lets the thought disappear into conversation without a List of Shame forming.
But the thing I say I want to do is usually defined in terms of medium(the specific actions I take or techniques I will be using). If I agree I can drill down to specifics until I've designed an exact step-by-step process. If I disagree with that it's going to happen that I loop around to either the principle(is there a good reason?) or the benchmark(am I measuring the goal correctly?).
Blockage can usually be identified by pointing to one part of the cycle that doesn't work. I have to get all three parts to cohere for an action to matter. So I will have days where I act and then learn that the benchmark is wrong, thus needing to throw away the result but getting a little bit closer to coherent design.
All of this happens outside the formal workplace, mind. The principles and benchmarks of the business, after all, are independent of my own. But it pushes me to find useful perspectives and get away from hours-on-clock production, which I needed to do when I started working for myself. I've ended up with all my income deriving from investment, which could also be seen as "cheating the system". I actually worked backwards from the outcome(hmm, somehow that happened) to what made it happen(identifying and refining how I operate). When I do the analysis it's really clear that the times of my life that were most stressed were the ones where obligations made me act, act, act without being able to go through the loop, so now I'm trying to apply it more consciously.
There are many prioritization and time management strategies out there, but we intro some of the popular ones  and we'll be expanding each of those into detailed posts over the coming weeks. The first one about using the Ivy Lee method to prioritize tasks .
4 hours is A LOT. You can get a lot of stuff done in 4 hours. 4 hours x 5 days a week can be sustained long term as well provided that the remainder butt-in-seat work isn't too draining/demoralizing.
When I'm really in the zone I'll skip the break and keep going. Then I'll take ~15.
1) I need to not forget to do this thing
2) but I can only do one thing right now
3) put the other things on the list, and start working on the one at the top
4) occasionally, the list gets too long, so delete things that you've decided will not get done after all
That's all I expect a todo list to do for me, and that is plenty. The less baroque, the better, and frankly it doesn't merit an "app".
Misaligned expectations. A todo list is an overhead. It is only helpful if it actually helps you remember / plan / coordinate / communicate more than the cost of maintenance.
Common misconception / misuse: a todo list is a hard set plan of things that have to get done.
For most, this is simply not reality.
Reality, for most ppl: it is a wishlist.
It is better to have that realisation from the start and avoid the negative psychological effect of unfinished todo items or miscommunication / malcoordination of mistaking it for future reality.
One startup I was helping a while back had serious todo-itis, with the common negative effects. To help: I bought shitty post-it stickers with very poor glue. They would fall to the floor in random fashion after a week or two . This created a ridiculous exercise where the founder would update the notes that were still important to new stickys. But he would also start throwing things away. Stuff that was no longer that important. Wishlist.
Always work on the most important stuff. Items of lower priority can be allowed to fall off the list. By the time you might get around to them the circumstances have probably changed, rendering the original task irrelevant anyway.
1) occasionally by sabotage
Same with scanning and digitally filing/archiving a bunch of old family paperwork my mom just snail mailed me.
I don't need a better todo list app. I need a personal assistant! :P
I decided to use project management as an example. It's a known field, it's something most everybody can relate to, it looks like something a lot of coders kick around, and it's commonly way, way overdone. So I started with first principles and went at it.
Ended up with a few dozen lines of code and a text file. That's it. That's all you need to manage projects from a single person on up to a large-scale program. I integrated with Trello and Google sheets in order to provide whatever graphics people wanted, but with the same general amount of complexity you could integrate with a bunch of other stuff.
I remain convinced that the greatest learning experiences I've had in software development over the last decade or so have been these little experiments where I take a commonly over-engineered solution area and poke at it to see just how much complexity is actually required. Every time I do it, it astounds me at the amount of counter-productivity we coders bring to many of the things we create in order to increase productivity. A humbling experience, to say the least.
As for this particular exercise from the book, I think I did a video on YT. It probably isn't around, though. As a tech coach, I've had programming, management, and consulting experience in this kind of work from solo developer up to 150-person programs. So there's a lot to cover in a stand-alone piece, at least three in-depth topics. (For instance, I'm willing to bet a lot of other consultants with similar experience would say this result wasn't possible. This is what made the exercise so worthwhile; our intuition about the complexity required and the actual complexity involved in solving problems is commonly off by at least a couple orders of magnitude.)
1) You cant do everything. The more I advance in my career, the more comfortable I become with abandoning things. It is almost the same feeling as deleting dead code. I also realized that there's a better chance that I will do something if I enjoy it (duh) or if it's not menial. Tasks that are completely pointless still have a chance of being done if they are fun to me. Tasks that are neither will likely never be touched unless I might get fired for not doing them.
What's depressing is that it takes some courage to admit defeat and cancel tasks, for some reason. Probably the fomo or something like that. But the psychological overhead of maintaining a pile of stuff is so high.
Look at most backlogs, featuring pages after pages of valueless features that will never be done and bugs that will never get fixed. Yet when you propose a simple rule that we should just delete or close anything that had been lingering for more than 1y, people look at you like you're crazy
2) work is hard, and procrastination is real: we are cabled to minimize our cognitive expenditure. I think I can do a max of 1 to 2h per day of hard work, maybe a bit more if it's something I really enjoy, and there's probably a weekly cap as well. Doing something hard is not something I look forward to (don't put that on your resume). So when I pick the todo list, and have a choice between "add this fun feature to your pet project" or "define goals for next year", guess which will be done, and which will be postponed every single time.. . I think the only way of doing these harder tasks is by making them easier, less ambiguous, time bound, more fun, i.e lower the entry cost of the task. That's where some of the value of GTD and such methods resides - by defining a mechanism that transform "stuff" into actionable items. But even that is hard. I'm almost 20y in, yet I still struggle to abide to a strict process.
Work is hard.
However, it's worth noting that just because you didn't do that one thing on your list, it doesn't mean you're a failure in life. A checklist is just a rough guide. You can always delegate or delay the more trickier tasks too.
Checklists are great at the former.
I could only find this -- with a link to another wired article:
I feel it does help me combat feelings of low productivity and/or worthlessness at least a little when I can look back on all I've completed. Otherwise it's more of this vague impression of 'not enough' and the resulting general malaise which can all too often become a tar pit.
The reality is, many tasks, people simply don't want to do!
(I do this, check out https://donel.ist for a kill-your-todos-get-stuff-done app I built to help myself do it!)
Speak politely, two morning chores, answer all messages from my group, workout, read, tinker with something, no coffee (I'm quitting), no drinks (I'm cutting down), meditate, go outside, update the finances, write in my journal.
Each of those is about a 5 minute task or a daily reminder. Read and Tinker often lead to hours-long focus sessions. The key is to show up every day and remove barriers to getting started.
If you want to call that a todo list, that's ok, but I call it a process-oriented checklist because of the way I use it.
I used to be better about keeping a monthly checklist too, but pandemic has removed most the list.
Here’s one implementation by Nir Eyal, author of “Hooked” and Indistractable”:
If you're serious about getting more done, tracking how you spend your all your time is worth trying as a starting point. It allows you to identify where your time actually goes and what you need to do to prioritize differently (and if that's even possible.)
I try to live a spreadsheet driven life. I have a workbook with a sheet for my todo items with due dates if applicable, a sheet for both prospective and retrospective time tracking, a sheet for things I need to buy, etc. all in one place so I can pull tasks in as part of weekly planning. The week usually doesn't go according to plan but I think I still get more done than if I didn't go through the process. Weekly planning also gives me opportunities to start over fairly frequently if I fall off the wagon.
I suspect that this effect can work for you, without working against you.
For personal (non-work-project) tasks, I've been using a variation of Todo.txt throughout the day, for both "to-do list" task management, and scheduling appointments and reminders.
I suppose this Zeigarnik effect described by the article might be helpful, and not defeated, partly due to the priorities assigned the tasks.
Tasks are assigned priorities A-Z. I usually only end up looking at priorities A-C (occasionally D).
One effect of this might be that prioritizing a task as D or E gets it off my mind (thanks, Zeigarnik)... but another effect is that I keep being reminded of the A-C tasks on days that I could do them, so they don't feel done (take that, Zeigarnik).
(Some notes on my variation on Todo.txt, and a snippet of Emacs Lisp that helps support it, is at: https://www.neilvandyke.org/todotxt/ )
If it went so long without being done, perhaps it wasn't so important after all, and giving yourself permission to quit thinking about it is just what the doctor ordered.
Not sure how optimal this is, but I've managed to stay employed and get most important things done. A plus side is that this has a sort of automatic priorization and pruning: I just forget some of the things or projects or ideas, and probably there's a (negative) correlation between importance and forgetting.
Perhaps people are on average a bit too preoccupied with planning and "tasking up" and managing and measuring things to do. I've found its often more trouble than it's worth. Also in anything more complicated the plan usually collapses quite rapidly, and having a strict task-structure etc may well cause people to keep the wrong course for too long.
The time horizon for my to-do list is a week. Further out than a week is probably a scheduled item which is a different thing than a to-do.
Everything else is an idea among my notes. My backlog is my notes. It's the place where I go to jot something down and then forget about it until something happens to surface that item again. If that happens, then maybe I'll act on it. Maybe I'll just add to the note and forget about it again.
Anything on my to-do list which isn't done a week from being added gets turned into a note, to be forgotten about.
Information dense project task flows aren't to-do items and I manage them in a proper PM app rather than a to-do app.
I think it's important to be constrained with how you use todos. My list is short and easy to manage. Even being memory and attention challenged, it's easy to get a quick grasp on everything I need to do for the next few days.
Todo apps will not help you get things done, they will only help you accumulate much more tasks that you can do.
I mean how can some people think that software will make them do more ? The app will not do the task for you.
Contrary to what the title states, some people get things done. But productivity is the same thing as loosing weight. It is very easy to understand what to do, (eat less/work (real work) more hours). But there a tons of business trying to sell you something to achieve it. If you want to get things done, just do it. I don't know what else I can tell you
This article reads like “reading about how to get better at weightlifting won’t help you, because the only way to lift a heavy weight is to literally lift a heavy weight.”
This succinctly captures something I've thought more about as I've gotten older (now 47). This is especially true around the "Someday/Maybe" category in my system. Some items in there are themselves nearly teenagers! And it is sobering how few of these bigger items actually get done or even thought about in a year. But at least I'm checking off dozens of minutia tasks each week :/
A personal failing of mine, that I'm working on improving, is progress tracking that's as close to understandable-at-a-glance to management as possible.
Historically I've always been focused on progress, moving on to the next thing, keep pressing forward, but this comes at the expense of management understanding when it comes to status updates and awareness around delays.
Progress reporting, from a purely technical viewpoint, is a bunch of bullshit that gets in the way of progress, but from a business viability, profitability, and general good-management, it's essential. I have to keep reminding myself of that.
How this relates to the article: project task time must be allocated to determining and documenting progress. The best way for this to take up a minimal amount of time is to have a methodology determined up front: give management an expectation of what they'll see, and the technical folks an understanding of where progress milestones are, so they'll know what markers are important to progress reporting. It's got to be collaboratively developed.
This, in itself, also takes time.
More directly related to the article, continually trying to find "the perfect to do app" is just a distraction. Any app is fine. If you're not getting to your tasks the problem is you and / or your expectations, not the app(s). Been there, still doing that...
Apt quote from article regarding personal expectations of productivity:
"Present self screws over future self".
I've stuck with tiddlywiki / noteself as my Swiss-army-knife note taking and organizational tool. I'm also messing with it for tracking project "threads".
If your well-being or the well-being of others is at stake, then you got to do what you got to do, and "get things done". But a lot of this sounds like people feeling guilty about not going the extra mile on things they don't actually care about.
EDIT: Wow I guess this struck a nerve.
EDIT 2: And I think "people having priorities imposed on them" would also include people imposing priorities on themselves without sufficient self-reflection.
And my productivity grew anyway! If I value the task, it gets done because it stays on my mind. Reminders help because there’s no giant list to maintain or to make me feel guilty or defeated. Without the TODOs, I have been more spontaneous and naturally more selective about where I focus my attention.
I do think, however, that software for TODO lists sucks, and should support humans better https://blog.frantic.im/all/todo-apps-are-meant-for-robots/
I find it quite interesting but I am definitely guilty of it. Planning some new idea makes me feel a short-lived sense of achievement that I am using my brain but then I realise my Onedrive is full of things that would be great that I never finished (or even started properly in some cases).
I guess one problem is that the tools, processes and online stimulation/information, makes us think that we can be productive without hard work, long hours and risk-taking. Even the highest achievers (Steve Jobs, Bill Gates, Warren Buffett, whoever) didn't get there by tools, processes and planning. They took hard decisions and made mistakes.
The real question is which of our dreams or ideas is worth sacrificing our spare time to pursue? Which would make the world better? Which others would be better consigned to the bin of "some-else could probably do this better than me" or "If I did this, would I even care on my death bed?"
I tried everything else, every tool, every technique - nothing works for me. I can’t even use JIRA at work, I put things in TeuxDeux or on a paper list, otherwise I will forget what I need to do.
I always wondered if other people had similar challenges. Maybe I am too simple for tech productivity tools.
The idea I had was premade To Do lists for various common tasks such as automobile maintenance, planning a trip, organizing an event, etc.
Never did much with it.
Certain tasks that you undertake will have an impact that is 3 or 4 orders of magnitude more than lower-importance tasks, and when the scaling gets that extreme it's a completely valid approximation to bin a "productive" task such as "type polite email response to customer who clearly isn't interested in buying your product" in the "non-productive" category alongside "go for a walk" and "play video games".
I've spent the last year optimising one of my businesses by simply avoiding tasks that I neither enjoy nor bring in a significant amount of value and the results have been stellar. We've grown enough to the point where we've hired our first employee, and the amount of hours my wife and I are putting in since a year ago has halved.
I found that it was usually a way to not think about the different issues/projets I had in mind.
Removing the todo list forced me to remember the list, to think about possible solutions or related task I wanted to do.
I was really, really productive for few weeks...
Unfortunately, I quickly fallback to my old habits of listing todo... Simply because I don't give myself proper time to think about what I want to do.
The purpose of TODO is not to commit to doing something, it is to create a possible plan for accomplishing something.
Whether you ever get to actually doing it, it is good to have a plan, in case you
a) need to do it
b) realize at the time of doing it that there is a better way of doing it, or that in fact you need to do less, or do some different things.
But the reason tasks aren't done frequently usually has nothing to do with how the to-do list is organised, and I'm not sure why the app creators from the beginning of the article were surprised about their checklist not being more effective than any other method. It still doesn't mean it was useless.
Then again, when I'm asked to do something that isn't really my thing or something is off, then I just can fix it with some task manager (!).
Sure, even the most exciting project may feel little bit boring at times but.. as long as it's not all the time I let it be.
It's not healty to be productive all the time.
It did bother me that paper is not very flexible, so I'm experimenting with a digital 'paper to-do' version.
If you're curious, check it out at https://can.do :)
Feedback of course most welcome.
That does not mean they aren't effective. The Japanese corporation for which I worked, lived by them, and they were very effective.
But for me, I seldom need more than a couple of reminders on sticky notes, on my desk.
Really hit home.
While reading, “Wow, a thoughtful piece on to do list software,” after finishing and noticing the byline, “Oh! Clive Thompson! That dude always makes sense.”
Welcome to the FPN Nuthouse: https://www.fountainpennetwork.com/
When i work with a good engineer who wants to get things done like me, we could easily solve all problems and get things done.