Here’s a pretty impressive TEDx talk by Jason Fried (37signals.com) – it’s about being effective and getting work done. His point is that our best work rarely (if ever) happens AT WORK (the office). I find that I can get stuff done at work – but I can’t get quality work done. In my last business I think he has nailed the issue. He asks a key question:
Where do I get my work done? I’ll use Jason’s three places to explain this:
- Spots – Home Office (main floor or basement – depends on what I am doing) or at the kitchen counter or dining room table. And in coffee shops – I have a virtual office system that I use – I call it Starbucks. If I can get a half hour or more in at a coffee shop I am very, very productive. However, my productivity starts to wane after about 2 hours due to excessive caffeine intake and poor seating. It seems Starbucks likes the idea of its customers sitting down for a while – just not a long while.
- In Motion – On planes and trains. I have 2 multi-million dollar “vomit” bags where I doodled out the winning architecture and business strategy for project wins. Both were technically good and resulted from being locked away in a plane for 4+ hrs of undisturbed time. I can’t pull out a laptop on a plane generally so I’m stuck with paper (or a good ole puke bag) and a pen to doodle with. I don’t even pull out my Moleskines on the plane usually. I’ll add Hotel Rooms to the “in motion” category – I usually stay at boring but consistent places (E.g. Courtyard Marriott) – I end up getting a ton done when I have downtime on road-trips.
- Times – In early morning or late-night bursts when there is nobody to interrupt me (early morning at office, late-night when the family is asleep). I am naturally nocturnal, but I managed to get the majority of deep work done in the very early AM if I have to be “at work.”
and Jason throws out a key problem – the M&Ms – Managers & Meetings
Managers and Meetings – The M&Ms to avoid
- Managers – As a manager I try to do my best to remember the days of being a software coder – long and uninterrupted stretches of time are worth an amazing amount. It stuns me how many high-tech folk don’t get this. Management “by walking around” seems to be the preferred way to make sure people are “working” – stopping by, asking questions (interrupting), looking over shoulders (freaking the worker out), etc. I suppose some of them have never worked in a creative manner, and they don’t get the value of focused effort and the time investment it takes. The funny thing for me is that they are doing exactly what they shouldn’t be doing – they are breaking the flow that is so valuable.
- Meetings – I’m in a senior position in most gigs that I am working on. By nature there is a need for a lot of meetings. I do my best to keep them as short and focused as possible, and generally speaking they work out OK. However, I do my utmost to protect the developers and designers from unnecessary/unwarranted meetings. Meeting to solve a problem quickly in a small group for a short amount of time is empowering – attending a multi-hour/day meeting to get minutes of value out is just expensive. I admit that at times this is unavoidable. My goal is to minimize the duration and attendees for meetings. Having a bunch of smaller meetings that are short is immensely more effective than a long and large meeting.
As for my creative side, I do tend to hunker down in my various caves to do hard thinking. What do I need for my architecture, technology vision, and development efforts – not a lot:
- Good music – headphones are best in public – big speakers when I can (rare).
- Whiteboard or Big Paper – If I can’t get at a big whiteboard (I have a 4’x8′ and 3’x4′ in my office) big paper (A3 or 11″x17″) will do in a pinch. There is something about writing things down.
- Camera – snagging pics of the whiteboard or paper is key to maintaining a record. An iPhone with Evernote on it is one heck of a work machine.
- Computer – ideally with a big monitor.
- NO INTERRUPTIONS (see M&Ms above).
- Good keyboard and mouse – if I’m doing development I tend to forget that the world exists and I’ll contort myself around a bad keyboard and not realize I’ve hurt myself until my back and arms go into spasms.
Well, I’ve rambled on enough for now – time to hunker down and get some deeper thinking done…