musings about technology and software development..

Managing your time wisely

I'm one of those people who strive to be “efficient”. I learned this playing games like Starcraft. To win, you have to click like a madman to control everything at once. The best players were above 200 clicks per minute. And, you better type at light speed, otherwise you will get clobbered while writing messages to your teammates. At work, this means I don't sit around for process recycle or rebuild, I always go quick-check something else while I wait. I've read that your brain thinks at around 400 wpm (words per minute), so even if you type at a zippy 150 wpm then you are wasting braincycles. When I watch people type at a very reasonable 60wpm, it takes every ounce of resistance in my body not to rip the keyboard away and type for them.

So yes, patience is not one of my virtues. As a result, I cannot believe a 3.0ghz quad-code computer makes me wait. Ever. Everytime Outlook hangs while I'm in the middle of typing my e-mail, I can't help but flip it the bird. What on earth is it doing? If not for NetBIOS name restrictions, my computer's names would be !$(^$@( and %!%^(*.

Anyways, some tips for dealing with e-mail:

  • Reply to the e-mail the first time you read it. It takes a few minutes to context switch into a problem, so make sure to only do it once. Don't “save this mail for later“, because you'll either forget, waste time reading it again, or you're making the other guy wait. Even a brief initial response is often enough for the sender to figure the problem out.
  • Delete the e-mail as soon as you reply.  Don't worry, it'll be in your trash for a while, and you have your "sent items" to fall back on too.  But the net result will be a clean Inbox which reads like a to-do list so you won't lose track of things. 
  • If your response is going to be more than a paragraph or two, go talk in person. I could not believe how long it takes to craft a well thought-out e-mail -- try timing yourself sometime. And even then, the recipient usually just asks you to schedule a meeting and it quickly becomes clear they didn't even bother reading the mail.
Some tips for software development:
  • Invest in your development environment.  Spend time learning all the shortkeys, discovering ways to customize the tools you use every day, and get the hardware that will make you most productive.  Start with a new monitor. A big one.
  • Given that your typing speed is a constant, reduce the amount you have to type. I create batch files for everything -- "n" for notepad, "d" for diff, "b" to rebuild, shortkeys to take me directly to common directory paths, etc. I ditched my hardware KVM switch because of the two-second switching lag -- using software to swap desktops is instantaneous. It may not sound like much, but instantaneous is an order of magnitude better and can change the way you work.
  • Automate repetitive tasks. If you find yourself doing the same thing over and over, you can save tons of time by automating it. I've written tons of tools that do repetitive, labor-intensive tasks automatically, and your peers will appreciate it too when you share it with them.
Strategies that haven’t worked out for me:
  • Closing the door doesn’t prevent people from stopping by, and it shouldn’t. The fact that they invested the time to pay you a visit, means that it must be important to them. Ignoring them may only save you five minutes, but cost them an hour.
  • Having separate dedicated boxes for coding and e-mailing doesn’t allow me to focus single-mindedly on programming. It just makes me switch between machines all the time.
  • When I come in early in the morning, I don't get any additional work done. If I don't get sleep, I will spend the morning sipping tea and reading the news. Even more than usual.
What strategies work for you?


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