Longer races usually use "bins" to group runners, like classes of service.

Longer races usually use “bins” to group runners, like classes of service.

Without some sort of structure, projects, daily to-dos, ideas and just flat stuff can quickly overwhelm anyone. Many, if not most, of us have spent time taking time management classes of all types in an attempt to find the secret sauce for managing the chaos that is the 21st century. My wife is a sort of adherent of GTD®. Once upon a time I took classes for the Franklin Covey Planner, and I dutifully carried it everywhere. In recent years I have used Scrum and Kanban to manage projects. Many of the lessons in Agile and lean project management coupled with time management concepts are a useful synthesis: a personal Scrumban (Kanban-y Scrumban) approach. The approach begins with deciding on a set of classes of service and then developing an initial backlog. (more…)

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The Software Process and Measurement Cast 398 features our interview with bestselling author Kevin Kruse.  We discussed his new book, 15 Secrets Successful People Know About Time Management.  The ideas Kevin presents on managing time and more accurately managing focus are extremely useful and in some cases just a bit controversial. Surprising findings include:

  •         Most high achievers do NOT use to-do lists.
  •         The Harvard experiment that showed how 3 questions saved 8 hours a week.
  •         Procrastination is cured by time traveling to defeat your future self.
  •         Most high achievers practice a consistent morning ritual.
  •         How high achievers manage their email

If you haven’t bought a copy of 15 Secrets Successful People Know About Time Management, I would recommend that you start your personal program to improve your productivity by using the link in the show notes and buying a copy! (more…)

One finger

Focus on just one thing for a 25 minute interval.

Over the years, I have experimented and tweaked how I manage the laundry list of activities that I want or have to get done. At some point along the way, I learned that the more activities I had in progress the fewer that actually got done. Lean practitioners understand the need to limit work-in-progress in order to get work done effectively. Techniques such as Kanban are often used, in part to control work-in-progress for manufacturing and software development processes. I have recently begun experimenting with Pomodoro as an adjunct to my personal productivity pallet. Pomodoro is a technique that is useful for attacking the productivity killers: procrastination and multitasking. The technique was developed by Francesco Cirillo in the 1980s that combines strategies of fixed blocks of time, cadence and focus which limit work-in-progress to get work done.

The basic Pomodoro process is fairly simple and straightforward:

  1. Decide on the task or batch of tasks to be done
  2. Set a timer to 25 minutes
  3. Work on the task until the timer goes off
  4. Take 5-minute break
  5. Repeat for four pomodoros then take a 20-minute break
  6. Repeat until the end of the day

As I have implemented the Pomodoro Technique, I have had to surmount a few hurdles.

The first hurdle in my use of the technique is deciding on a task or a batch or related tasks to be done. I leverage a Kanban approach to my backlog of work; segregating work, podcast/blog, and personal activities into different to-do lists. Each of these lists is prioritized. In my case, the first two or three pomodoros each day are focused on podcast and blog activities (a run and breakfast are layered into the time also – I get up early). Once the work day starts I shift to the work backlog selecting tasks in their prioritized order. The backlog has to be groomed and prioritized. Grooming in this case typically means either breaking work down into manageable chunks or putting related small pieces of work together so that it can fit into a Pomodoro. Unlike an Agile sprint, work does not need to be completed during a pomodoro.

The second hurdle I have had to wrestle with revolves around working on a task for 25 minutes without being distracted. This is where turning off email, shutting down chat windows, putting the phone in do-not-disturb mode and putting headphones on are important tactics. There are tools to cut you off from specific internet sites (typically social media), however I do not feel the need to use tools. Distractions siphon off time and focus and, therefore, are to be avoided if at all possible. Depending on your work environment this step can be nearly impossible. For example, just try cutting yourself off from distractions in an airport waiting area. Overall the 25-minute structure is a bit arbitrary. I have experimented with longer pomodoros (generally I lose focus after 30 minutes) and shorter (useful for some tasks that are very intense and less useful for tasks like writing). I am considering trying longer pomodoros in the morning and shorter in the afternoon when I know my attention span tends to wane.

The short break after every pomodoro is useful to take care of basic human needs and to select the next task. I have found it very useful to get up and move around a bit during the break. When I am working from home I generally play a bit with my dog during the longer break. Breaks generally represent two hurdles. The first is taking the break. I have had to train myself to stop when the timer on my phone goes off. Stopping is difficult if you are on a roll; however, I have found that taking a break generally provides more value than pressing on for any length of time. The second is not getting side tracked, during the breaks. I have found that the siren call of email can’t be resisted, perhaps is the fear of being overwhelmed when I final check email. Email, unfortunately, is a lot like potato chips (crisps for our UK readers), you can eat or read just one. Suddenly an hour is gone and while the email stack might be smaller the work someone expects to be delivered isn’t more complete. I have dealt this problem by assigning two pomordos to email during the day.

The Pomodoro Technique has been a great addition to my bag of tricks that I use to manage my time AND attention. Pomodoro is not a silver bullet and it does not work for all scenarios. Here we explore scenarios where the technique does not work and steps I have taken to hybridize the technique to fit my particular work environment.

Kevin Kruse's book: 15 Secrets Successful People Know About Time Management

Time is a resource that everybody struggles to manage. Kevin Kruse’s new book, 15 Secrets Successful People Know About Time Management, outlines a set of tools that he has extracted from interviews with highly successful entrepreneurs, academics, and students. The 15 secrets include recognizing that there are only 1,440 minutes a day (be careful of those that ask you if you have a minute), identifying and focusing on your single most important task, and abandoning your to-do lists for a calendar. None of these or the other 12 secrets is easy to adopt if you are not already practicing time management techniques. While these techniques are not easy, you can unlearn less effective techniques based on purported common knowledge.

I have already been able to adopt a number of the practices, much to the chagrin of colleagues that don’t want an agenda that begins with the highest value item rather than something easy.

The book lays out the 15 secrets and then shares outtakes from Kevin’s conversations with students, entrepreneurs and academics. Frankly, I got little from the interviews with the academics and wish there were fewer. I got the most from the students (this section, I felt, ran a bit long also, but when I looked at all that I had highlighted, I recognized that my feeling was probably wrong).

Overall, I believe this book is extremely useful to me, even though I am old hand at time management. Regardless of whether you think you are a time management pro or are just starting to deal with trying to manage your own time, 15 Secrets Successful People Know About Time Management will be a valuable tool for helping you to manage your time successfully.

Buy Kevin’s book in paper or  Kindle eBook format!

Next week the vacation is over and we will get back to the Mythical-Man Month!

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The next Software Process and Measurement features our interview with Steve Turner.  Steve and I talked time management and email inbox tyranny! If you let your inbox and interruptions manage your day you will deliver less value than you should and feel far less in control than you could!

Steve’s Bio:

With a background in technology and nearly 30 years of business expertise, Steve has spent the last eight years sharing technology and time management tools, techniques and tips with thousands of professionals across the country.  His speaking, training and coaching has helped many organizations increase the productivity of their employees. Steve has significant experience working with independent sales and marketing agencies. His proven ability to leverage technology (including desktops, laptops and mobile devices) is of great value to anyone in need of greater sales and/or productivity results. TurnerTime℠ is time management tools, techniques and tips to effectively manage e-mails, tasks and projects.

Contact Information:
Email: steve@getturnertime.com
Web: www.GetTurnerTime.com

 

Call to Action!

For the remainder of August and September let’s try something a little different.  Forget about iTunes reviews and tell a friend or a coworker about the Software Process and Measurement Cast. Let’s use word of mouth will help grow the audience for the podcast.  After all the SPaMCAST provides you with value, why keep it yourself?!

Re-Read Saturday News

Remember that the Re-Read Saturday of The Mythical Man-Month is in full swing.  This week we tackle the essay titled “Why Did the Tower Babel Fall”!  Check out the new installment at Software Process and Measurement Blog.

 

Upcoming Events

Software Quality and Test Management
September 13 – 18, 2015
San Diego, California
http://qualitymanagementconference.com/

I will be speaking on the impact of cognitive biases on teams.  Let me know if you are attending! If you are still deciding on attending let me know because I have a discount code.

Agile Development Conference East
November 8-13, 2015
Orlando, Florida
http://adceast.techwell.com/

I will be speaking on November 12th on the topic of Agile Risk. Let me know if you are going and we will have a SPaMCAST Meetup.

Next SPaMCAST

The next Software Process and Measurement feature our essay on mind mapping.  To quote Tony Buzan, Mind Mapping is a technique for radiant thinking.  I view it as a technique to stimulate creative thinking and organize ideas. I think that is what Tony meant by radiant thinking. Mind Mapping is one of my favorite tools.

We will also feature Steve Tendon’s column discussing the TameFlow methodology and his great new book, Hyper-Productive Knowledge Work Performance.

Anchoring the cast will be Gene Hughson returning with an entry from his Form Follows Function blog.

Shameless Ad for my book!

Mastering Software Project Management: Best Practices, Tools and Techniques co-authored by Murali Chematuri and myself and published by J. Ross Publishing. We have received unsolicited reviews like the following: “This book will prove that software projects should not be a tedious process, neither for you or your team.” Support SPaMCAST by buying the book here. Available in English and Chinese.

Longer races usually use "bins" to group runners, like classes of service.

Longer races usually use “bins” to group runners, like classes of service.

Without some sort of structure, projects, daily to-dos, ideas and just flat stuff can quickly overwhelm anyone. Many, if not most, of us have spent time taking time management classes of all types in an attempt to find the secret sauce for managing the chaos that is the 21st century. My wife is a sort of adherent of GTD®. Once upon a time I took classes for the Franklin Covey Planner, and I dutifully carried it everywhere. In recent years I have used Scrum and Kanban to manage projects. Many of the lessons in Agile and lean project management coupled with time management concepts are a useful synthesis: a personal Scrumban (Kanban-y Scrumban) approach. The approach begins with deciding on a set of classes of service and then developing an initial backlog.

In a typical implementation of Kanban, classes of service allow teams to break backlog items into different groups either based on risk or the cost of delay. In our personal Scrumban, we combine the concept of cost of delay with different focus areas. Unlike a typical work environment where a person and team would focus on one thing at a time, a personal process for handling the overwhelming list of projects and tasks that occur in everyday life needs to acknowledge life is more than a project or a sprint.

I have developed an approach that recognizes five classes of work ranging from association work items to work items associated with my work (I am process consultant and manager at the David Consulting Group). Each class of service has a higher or lower priority based on the day of the week and time of day.

My Classes of Service

My Classes of Service

For example, daily items like running or editing a podcast segment typically have higher priority between the time I get up and beginning the work day. In a similar manner house/personal and podcast/blog entries priorities are driven by day of week and/or time of day. Alternately work and association items are driven by cost of delay. The backlog items in each class of service vie for the slices of attention available 24 hours a day and seven days a week.

Backlog items are captured in a wide variety of manners. For example, project work items can be captured using standard techniques for building an initial backlog (observation, showing, asking and/or synthesis). Backlogs for most projects can be developed using these techniques. Many smaller items or grand concepts will be discovered while encountering day-to-day trails and just generally living life. These need to be captured and logged (a habit that has been drilled into me by my wife), where they can be broken down and prioritized at leisure rather than being forgotten. Just as in a typical backlog, items that that are higher priority (by class of service) are broken down into next steps that are small enough to be completed in one to two days.

Using Scrumban as an approach to bring order out of chaos can be combined with other time management techniques. Real life is more complicated than a single project. For example, real life might be a project at work, prepping the yard for winter on the weekend, training for a half marathon and writing a book before sunrise. Each type of work is its own class of service that needs to be addressed separately to focus on what is important, when it is important.