Permission to say no

This was very productive for me at the office. At the beginning of the week, my boss gave us some pretty strict instructions that we needed to focus on getting some projects done. Basically, if it didn’t come directly from him, we were to tell whichever person was requesting our time that they needed to talk to our manager and we couldn’t help them. Simply put, we were getting too distracted by others pulling us into customer support issues.

I know what you’re thinking…don’t you need to be in those customer support issues?

For the most part, the answer is no, we don’t. We have several layers of support at our company and I’m on the last line of defense on several products. There are plenty of people that can help you out before you get to me, you just might have to wait a little bit to get their attention.

So what did I do, I basically tripled my time spent on my project this week alone. TRIPLED!!!! Last week I spent roughly 10 hours programming. This week, close to 30. That’s a HUGE increase in time spent slinging code.

What’s the magic sauce?
If you’re not supposed to be bothered at the office, make it so you can’t be bothered at the office. Its a simple formula that I think more people should try out. Here’s what I did.

  • Turn off Email. Only check it at certain intervals during the day. I choose the beginning of the day, lunch time and the end of the day.
  • Turn off your IM. Or at least set it to busy. I eventually had to set mine to Do Not Disturb with a note of “If its important enough, call me” I was set to only a “busy” status when a guy tried IM’ing me which I ignored and he tried calling me twice. If you can’t read your email and follow instructions, I can’t help you. Explaining the same thing over the phone isn’t going to teach you anything other than I can yell more than you.
  • Next week I’m going to spend a few more days working from home or working from somewhere not in the office. I think that will help even more by avoiding the “hey, you got a second” drive by consulting engagements.

So there you have it, by being able to tell pretty much everyone no, you have to talk to my manager…I was able to really kick ass this week.

Ask your manager for that level of cover fire and see what you can knock out next week.

Interruptions

How often are you interrupted during the day? Do you have the new email notifier turned on? How often is that thing going off? How often are you seeing IMs coming in, both personal and professional? Twitter? facebook? Yup, those too are major enemies to productivity.

You may not have it that bad. Your company may lock down some of the social media services which eliminates a lot of the distractions. For many of us out there we are getting bombarded by interruptions. And as a programmer, it is horrible for productivity.

I think Jason Fried from 37Signals has summed it up best in this snippet from his BigThink interview.

So do yourself a favor, turn off your IM, your email etc. Avoid tapping your co-worker on the shoulder when an email will work out just as well. And get back to getting stuff done!

My Inbox is out of control!

I’ll admit it, I’m an email pack rat. I don’t like being this way, I just am. I’m terrible about deleting emails. I send myself links to read at a later point in time. I often use my inbox as a todo list by sending myself messages of things I need to do. There is a freaking todo list in my email client (Entourage) for goodness sake. I have a backpack account with 37 signals. Good lord, why am I using my inbox as my todo list. This is nuts.

Its time to stop. In the past I had heard of people having zero messages in their inbox. Merlin Mann is most noteable for quoting the term ‘Inbox Zero’ and you can read more about it at 43 Folders and there are some great videos of the inbox zero concept given by Merlin Mann himself.

To start off, my work inbox had 3770 items in it. Freaking ridiculous! There are messages in there from 2006! 2-0-0-freaking-6!!! So, here is what I did to solve this issue.

First, I created 3 folders.

  • Archive – This folder is for everything that I don’t have a specific folder for concerning a project, but may need to access this email at some point in the next few days. Now, in order to keep the size of this folder from getting out of control, I setup a rule that will check the messages in this folder on a regular basis. If messages in this folder are over 30 days old, they are automatically moved to a local archive off of the Exchange server.
  • To Respond – This folder is simply for messages that I need to respond to, but I need to either research something or more thought on my part is needed so I put messages in this folder to respond to by the end of the day. I do not let this fill up. It is always empty before I leave for the end of the day.
  • DMZ – technically, I’m cheating a bit here. I’m taking everything that was in my inbox and moved it to the DMZ folder. What this did was allow me to start having an inbox zero box now. I didn’t have to go through all 3,770 messages and get it down to zero. I started now. Refreshing, quick, and I’m off to a good start.

Its only been a 1/2 a day with this new habit, but good habits have to start somewhere. So I’m going to set a small goal of keeping my inbox clean for the rest of the week. If I’m still on track, the next goal is the rest of December. Small steps, small steps.