Why I do Time Tracking
At one point, I tracked every context switch during my work day. I kept a legal pad next to my mouse and I would write down the time whenever I switched between coding, emailing, surfing, talking to someone in my cube or walking around to find someone I needed to talk to.
People thought I was odd. They’d ask what I was jotting down when I noted my context switch, so I briefly explained it. “Okaaaayyyyyy?”, they’d say. An unintended side-effect was that people did end up bugging me about random things less. In fact, it was way more effective at that than putting up a sign that said “unless something is on fire, email me”. So it goes.
I never ended up running any aggregate numbers on the data. But, it did give me an idea about the frequency and cost of my context switches. I wish there was a better way to track this sort of thing passively. I’m sure it would still shock me how much time I go in and out of focus.
If you’ve never tried this sort of experiment, it’s worth running for a week or two. You’ll almost certainly notice something worth trying to cut out by glancing over the list of things you’re spending time or wasting focus on.
Tips for working alone:
The other thing I’m doing is bringing back my practice of writing “daily pages”… ~750 words a day to myself, that sort of help me get everything out in the open in my head and so that I can find a bit of clarity in my typically scrambled thoughts.
I do this too. I find it’s pretty handy for focusing my thoughts and bringing ideas out.
Some other things I’ve done working from home the past year or so:
* Put as many distractions as possible in another room. Get the TV, Xbox, etc. out of your workspace.
* Keep it clean. Nothing is more distracting, to me, than mess and clutter.
* Take a nap! I’ve become a regular nap taker lately, right after lunch; it’s noticeable the improvement it brings.
* Use Twitter, IRC, Campfire, IM, etc. as your watercooler. Standard disclaimers apply – make sure your work/socializing blend is right.
* Get out every once in a while. I try to get out to socialize with other geeks or get lunch with my wife at least twice a week.
And remember, working from home isn’t for everyone. If it’s not for you, look into your local coworking space. (Dallas folks: give Cohabitat a try, it’s great.)
The Menubar Challenge – everybody, clear out your menubars! It’s one of my secret productivity weapons, I highly recommend it. Also, read everything on Minimal Mac; it’s the best.
Here’s my current attempt to use as little as possible in my menubar:
LittleSnapper normally isn’t running, so that doesn’t count. If I could, I would run DropBox and FastScripts without menubar icons. I’m still not sure I like having a clock visible at all times, but at least analog clocks are classy-lookin’. I’d love to remove the battery icon, but it appears doing so disables the “your battery is tapped” warnings, leading to spontaneous laptop sleeping.
Shawn Blanc has been cataloging sweet Mac setups. Last week, he published a description of my own creative den. If you find this sort of thing as intriguing as I do, also check out The Setup.
Alex Payne has an idiomatic and wonderful way of sharing the interesting parts of his workflow through writing. Bet you can’t read just one.
By far, I’ve found al3x’s Rules for Computing Happiness the most insightful and closest to my own “aesthetic”, as it were. It’s worth regular review, which is why I’m bringing it up right now.
See also, Workflow Voyeurism.
Lately, I’m finding myself replacing free web-apps with desktop software or commercial web-apps. Allow me to explain my evolving philosophy for you.
Web applications make the most sense when people get together to create something greater than the sum of their individual parts. GitHub and Readernaut are great examples of this. The latter, in particular because its _fun_ to use, but also in its focus. The former is great in how it puts a radically different spin on the act of sharing code, but also because their team is *kicking ass*.
I am eager to pay for continuity. Ergo, I put down money for Sifter, GitHub and Flickr. Sure, it’s entirely possible that any of these services will go under. Paying for them makes that less likely, and I’m happy to vote with my dollars on an app.
“Living in the cloud” is kind of a drag. I travel just enough to want to use airplane time as a super-focused work sprint. If my links, for example, live out in the cloud, it becomes tedious to save things away while I’m disconnected, let alone impossible to access them.
Ergo, I now favor web apps in spaces where getting my friends involved is more interesting and I favor paid apps or desktop apps where I want it despite my connectivity or where my friends, as great as they are, can’t help or prove a distraction.
fn1. My friends are awesome. Its just that an app like Facebook is more of a distraction than a must-have tool. For me, at least.