One-Man Agile

This is a bit of a distraction from the usual fare on my blog (and no jokes that the usual fare on this blog is no posts…). However, I stumbled across the concept of “Agile” development recently, and I believe the concepts of this working methodology are extremely far-reaching (though currently they are only really known about in the world of software programming). And far more interesting than you’d expect anything to be coming out of the IT world. (You can tell I’m non-IT, can’t you?)

Where I heard about it was at the 2010 Tessitura Learning and Community Conference, which was a highly stimulating and enjoyable experience like the 2009 one (my thoughts here). This year I decided to attend a session there titled “Agile in the Arts”. I thought vaguely the session was going to be about the consulting team that was working with Tessitura on their Next Generation project, but instead, I saw speakers from the IT departments of various arts companies that use Tessitura software, and they were all raving about a new system of working they had adopted called “Agile methodology”.

Slide after slide flashed on the screen, going on about Kanban boards, scrums, sprints, standing meetings, pair programming and the sheer joy of whiteboards. I wasn’t sure, at first, what I was seeing, but it was quite clear that computer programmers, in the last 10 years, had invented more rituals than the Roman Catholic Church had come up with in two millennia.

However, as I started to cotton on to what the terms referred to, I started to realise that these “Agile teams”, as they call themselves, had come up with some startling new methods of dealing with common problems we encounter at work. I got really fired up by the whole session, and the next week, I went and paid an exorbitant amount of money to get hold of a book on Agile methodology (there are quite a few out there, but you’ll only really find them lurking in the IT section of a large bookstore).

There are many, many components to the methodologies (and the one in particular that I read up on was a system called Extreme Programming – XP for short), but I want to share with you the basic concept today of the “iteration” and how I’m attempting to implement some agile ideas at work.

(Officially, what I’m doing isn’t considered true Agile, because technically all Agile methodologies are used by teams – there’s not really anything that refers to individuals. But, seriously, this stuff is way too good only to be used by companies with more than one IT staff. In fact, it’s way too good to be only used by IT staff, period.)

In Agile teams, they work in blocks of time – sometimes called “iterations” (in XP), sometimes “sprints” (in another system called Scrum). I’m going to call them “iterations”. Every iteration, the programmers attempt to produce a fully working version of what they’re building. Iteration by iteration, they add features, until it’s all complete.

The opposite of this is the old way of doing things – the waterfall method of planning. Waterfall planning is where you plan everything out beforehand, go away and build it, and then come back and see whether you like it. The problem with this is that you have no idea until the end whether or not the “customer” (the person you’re doing the work for – either an external customer or someone in your company) likes what you’re doing until you’ve actually built the thing. In the Agile world, however, you’d come up with a smaller version of the final product, that had less limited features, see what the customer thought of that part, and if things are going well, go back and build some more.

So, for instance, if a project is 10 weeks long, under normal circumstances at the end of 2 weeks, you might not have anything to see. However, under Agile methodology, you would get to see something fully working by the 2nd week and could decide whether things were progressing.

The benefits are immense. For the customer, you get to have close tabs on what’s being built. If you change your mind or your business needs change, you can get the programmers to switch track really quickly.

But I think Agile’s best invention is the concept of “stories” and “velocity” as a way of ensuring that programmers don’t get overloaded with work. Instead of thinking of their work as a series of IT tasks, programmers are asked to work with their customers to create “stories”. So instead of “build a database to hold customers and sales” the story might be “As a marketing team, we’d like to be able to see how our sales are tracking week by week”.

At the beginning of every iteration, the programmers demo the stories they finished last week, and then prioritise stories for the next week. The best part of this process is that customers are the ones that are encouraged to write the stories (and literally write them – on an index card). The programmers give the stories “points” that estimate how long they will take to complete. Then the customers work out how they want to spend their points for the next iteration. The catch is that the can only spend points up to the “velocity” – the number of story points that the programmers completed last iteration.

What a great idea! This straight away gets rid of the estimation problems that can occur. As someone who has to make estimates on things that are hard to estimate on a regular basis, I can see the benefit of this. I tend to underestimate things, and take on more than I can deliver. Other people might be more cautious and want to overestimate things. But the idea of velocity is that people’s estimates to be consistently under or over on a regular basis. So thus if people tend to underestimate, they’ll soon find that their velocity points drop and they’ll only take on the amount of work they can compete. If people tend to overestimate, they’ll get through more points in an iteration and next time they can take on more. It’s a constantly improving feedback loop.

So I decided that I’d give the following a try at work:

  • Iterations of a week long – from Thursday morning through to Wednesday.
  • Turning people’s requests into stories.
  • Giving those stories points.
  • Using the weekly Tessitura meeting that we have established to work out which stories have priority for the coming week.

To test all this, I tried using the index cards and stories for managing my own workload for a week and a half before we started to give me an idea of my own velocity. I think it will take a month to work out a reliable figure, and how to estimate properly, but it’s been a good discipline and I’m keen to see how it goes.

If all this works, and my workload adjusts to less frantic levels, I’ll maybe come back and let you know how it’s all going.

Book Review: How To Do A Great Job And Go Home On Time (Fergus O’Connell)

This book would probably be a bit difficult to track down, because the publishing house is not so large and it’s in the UK. Certainly, I haven’t seen it for sale in too many bookstores. But if I could, I would make this book a compulsory read for everyone who works a white collar job. It’s that good.

Fergus O’Connell has a very simple idea: at work, we need to stop trying to be magicians and start trying to be a Duke of Wellington. A magician is someone who  tries to pull rabbits out of hats. In other words, someone who says “yes” to everything and will kill themselves to deliver what they said. But a Duke of Wellington is someone whose word is dependable. If they say they’re going to do something, they do it.

This book doesn’t necessarily have a lot of time management techniques, though there are a few – but is most concerned with your mindset towards work. Because no matter how much you plan, you will continually sabotage your plans to get out of work on time if you are driven by things like: fear of what other people will think, guilt that you aren’t doing a proper job, a lack of self-esteem if you don’t say “yes” to everything.

So this book’s greatest strength is cutting right to the chase on why we tend to get workaholic and giving good tips on how to plan, how to get agreement with your managers on what you will do, how to say “no” – a very important chapter – and other things related to the psychology of trying to have a work/life balance.

I doubt there will be anything ground-breakingly new in this book, but if you work through it carefully and thoughtfully (and it is meant to be worked through, not just read) and you have the courage to implement Fergus’ suggestions (and it will take courage, believe me), this book just might change your life.

4 1/2 out of 5.

Newness Block – Email Newsletters

I sat down to look through my emails last weekend (about the only time I find I have a solid block to read and reply to them). And I went through and unsubscribed to most of the email newsletters I had received over the last week, again making a note of which ones I’d unsubscribed to. They generally fell into three categories, which was quite interesting:

The Irritating – You know the ones. Hotel chains, clothing stores. Some place where you gave your email address, completely forgot you’d done it, and then they send you an email out of the blue. I can’t even remember the last time I stayed at a Rydges hotel, and yet there they are sending me emails. These ones are really easy to get rid of, because I never read them anyway. It’s just that it’s always been easier to hit delete than look for the unsubscribe link. But now, after this purge, both I and the company sending the emails are being completely honest with each other – the relationship wasn’t really working.

The Guilt-Inducing – These ones are more interesting. There are a number of email newsletters that I was signed up to because they’re related to something I felt guilty that I should be doing (and most likely wasn’t doing). An email newsletter for a writing course. An email newsletter from a missionary that I signed up to once ages ago at a one-off meeting, even though it’s not a missionary I’m ever likely to meet again and is not supported by our church. Frequent Flyer emails (I know I should check what miles I have and be vigilant to look for an offer, but I never do…). By unsubscribing from them, I was kind of admitting that actually I may not get around to these things for a long while (if at all), which was hard to admit to. But, once I had done that and unsubscribed, by cutting them back, I immediately felt like I’d free up some energy.

The Right-Buttons Emails – These are the hard ones to unusubscribe from. They come in, and they push all the right buttons to make you want to spend money. Emails from cinemas advertising special movies. Emails from book stores. Not that I’m saying I’m completely avoiding book stores and movies. But the point is, to be in control of these things, you have to be the one saying – “I think I’ll go to the movies; what’s on?” Or, “I think I’ll buy a book.” But if you weren’t planning to go to the movies or to buy a book (especially if you’re on a budget), do you really need this kind of stimulus to impulse buy? I think I’d just rather wait until I definitely want to buy something and then visit the website or the store.

So, yes, all in all, it’s been rather a good purge.

Newness Block: RSS Feeds

Oddly enough, even finding time to implement a newness block has been an issue. Anyway, the first and simplest thing that I took a sledgehammer to was my RSS feeds. You may not be an RSS junkie – I find it comes in waves with me. Sometimes I’d reading all the time. Other times, I don’t feel like touching it for a few weeks.

Anyway, as a first step, I went and unsubscribed from a lot of my feeds. In fact, I unsubscribed from every feed I had unless it was a blog of someone I knew personally (I do still want to know what you’re up to…), either online or offline. I think the only two exceptions to this were the Daily Lost feed, only because with three weeks left to go before it will all be over, I’m enjoying these last days of keeping up with the hype. The other exception was Greg Sandow’s blog on the future of classical music, but given that I still rub shoulders with him on Twitter, he’s kind of a friend. He still has a lot of good stuff to say.

I should say the other key to this is that I wrote down a list of the blogs that I unsubscribed from, so if next month I decide to subscribe again, I can. But it’s amazing how having a few weeks off from something can make you realise that you don’t really miss it that much…

Next big thing is to try and stop the number of emails coming in…but that seems like a weekend task.

An Addiction to Newness

I blog about this every so often (or at least I think I do), so forgive me if you’ve heard this one before, but I have an addiction to newness. And the reason I’m blogging about it is because, at least at the present moment, it’s become particularly irritating.

So what do I mean, and why does it bother me?

Because I haven’t seen a lot written about it, I’m not sure what the technical term is for it, so I can really only describe the symptoms for me. But it works like this:

I’m at my happiest when I’m starting a new project or buying or otherwise acquiring something new. The things that I get most excited about are new projects that I haven’t even begun or new objects that I don’t own.

That may not make perfect sense, so I’ll tell you how it breaks down across a number of areas:

Books – I love collecting books more than I like reading them. So subsequently I have approximately 150 unread books sitting at home that I haven’t read. Some of them dating back to when I was a teenager. And this 150, mind you, is after I culled all the books that I was kidding myself that I would ever get to read in the next 10 years. However, even despite having all this reading mapped out, I still often feel the urge to buy more.

Films – I have a reasonable DVD collection at home and several TV series on DVD on the go. And yet  I’m always excited by the idea of starting another TV series or watching another movie – much more so than finishing the ones I’m watching.

People – I love meeting new people. I always find it quite exciting to be in a room with a bunch of people that I haven’t met. The possibilities are endless. However, I find it really hard to maintain contact with most of my friends. (I feel a bit better this week because I organised a picnic to catch up with some of my friends from Brisbane, but still that was more of an exception.)

Where newness gets particularly draining is online:

Email – I’m always checking my email (which can be done even more frequently if you’re carrying an iPhone with you). Why? Because there might be a new email in there to make life exciting. However, I don’t show anywhere near as much interest in replying to emails that I already have.

RSS – I love coming across a blog that sounds good to read. So I add it to the RSS reader. But then I have hundreds of posts coming in, which I feel obligated to catch up with, and that takes time too. But I like them, because they’re new.

Window Shopping – I also find that if I go into any sort of store, like a CD or a DVD store, that I find myself eyeing off new things that I could get stuck into. And I like big new things as well. (100 CDs of Beethoven’s music? Sounds great! 32 DVDs of Seinfeld? Yeah, it’d be great fun to watch all them!)

However, I have lots of these sort of projects sitting at home, with virtually nothing happening to them. I’m still not completely finished all the extras on The Lord of the Rings extended editions, but I’ve bought lots of DVDs in the meantime. I’m still midway through The Complete Sandman. I do actually own the aforementioned 100-CD Beethoven set, and I’m still listening to that as well.

And let me tell you, good as these things all are, they were most exciting when they were in the bag on the way home from the shops (or when I first ripped open the parcel when it got mailed to me). After that, they become ordinary, less exciting. Still good, mind you, but not as exciting as the thing I don’t own or the thing I haven’t started. And I could point to hundreds of things, and possibly thousands of dollars I’ve spent on things which I want to do/read/watch one day, that I’m still not finished yet.

The closest I’ve come to a diagnosis of why I like new stuff so much is really, I think, the Bible’s teaching on contentment and wealth. While some people like to read the Bible and find a justification for a left-wing agenda, there’s not a lot of that in there really. There’s plenty of wealthy people in the Bible who followed God, and they only got wealthier. There’s not really anything wrong with that.

But the people who do get a mention and a talking to, are those people who make their life revolve around their stuff and particularly their pursuit of stuff. This I completely understand. If you’re not careful, you hit a point where the stuff means a lot less than the actual acquiring of stuff. But at least in my observation, I don’t think that’s just limited to things you buy. It could be that all of this is symptomatic of a discontentment with the things you’ve got, and a drive to get more / consume more. Which is really a way of saying that newness is becoming the focus of your life, the thing that determines what you do and don’t do. In the Bible, anything that determines what you do and don’t do is usually called your idol or your god. You may not think of it in those terms, but it is helpful for me to be reminded about how strong this thing actually is.

I’ll talk more about this hopefully over the course of the month, because to counteract this drive for newness, I’m going to implement something I tried a couple of years ago (which I found really effective) called a Newness Block. The idea was to see if I could stem the flow of newness into my life and free up more mental energy for other things. So I’m going to give it a try again. I’ll come back soon and explain a bit more about what it involves. You never know, if you’re as addicted to newness as I am, you might like to join in…

Further on Productivity: How I Let Pomodoros Into My Life and Almost Ruined My Productivity (But Then Got It Back Again)

Continuing on from the last post about productivity and timesheets, as promised, I wanted to talk a bit about the famous Pomodoro Technique.

I got put onto this while hunting around for timers to do my 15-minute timesheet program.

I’d never heard about the Pomodoro Technique – but it’s certainly novel enough, that I think it deserves to become as famous as GTD. You can find all about it for free, just by going to www.pomodorotechnique.com and downloading the free ebook, but I’ll give you the brief version here.

This system was designed by an Italian guy who had trouble focusing when he was in university. So he got himself a kitchen timer in the shape of a tomato (“pomodoro” is Italian for tomato, thus the name) and used to see if he could concentrate till the timer went off.

Over the years, he eventually perfected it to a system that (in its simplest form) works like this:

1. You write a to-do list.

2. You start a timer for 25 minutes. During that time, you work on the top item on your list to the exclusion of anything else till the timer stops.

3. If you get distracted (either by you thinking of something or someone disturbing you), quickly write down whatever other task you have to do coming out of that down on your to-do list and keep working on your item.

4. When the timer goes, you must take a 3-5 minute break from what you’re doing. This is to clear your head and give you more energy. You’ve then completed one Pomodoro (or unit of time).

5. Every four Pomodoros, you can take a longer break (like 15 minutes).

This is pretty similar to my own system, except it has two advantages:

a) The built-in breaks are actually really good. You might not think so, but once you try it, by 25 minutes (as opposed to 15), you’re well and truly on a roll, and being told to wait 5 minutes actually makes you really keen to jump back into the next block of time. As long as you’re strict about keeping the break to five minutes, you’re not really going to lose much momentum, because that’s really only enough time to check a couple of emails, get a drink of water, go to the bathroom or something like that. If you actually knock over four of these things, you will have worked so solidly, that a 15 minute break will do you good.

b) The other advantage was that I wish I’d thought of the distractions notation. His simple system (which you can read about in the e-book) of noting down your distractions so that you can think about them later is brilliant. By far, the biggest distraction for me is that I’m mid-way through a job and I think of another one. By noting the job down (either urgent to be done that day or on a master job list to be done at some other time), you assure yourself that you are thinking about it, but you’re not going to work on it right now. After a little while of doing this, I discovered that most times I thought of jobs, it was mainly because I was procrastinating on the job I was doing, so now I find I don’t think of so many jobs to do in the middle of the one I’m working on now.

So those two aspects of the Pomodoro technique are great.

However, I decided to give the system a workout for a week instead of my usual timesheet system. I pretty much halved my productivity.

You know why?

I didn’t want to start the timer. I knew, after I’d written out the to-do list, that it’d be a bit of a nasty job, that first one, so I thought I’d just check one more email, or maybe get a cup of tea, or stop to talk to someone, etc. etc.

Once the Pomodoros were started, they were fine. But I could sometimes delay on starting the timer for a good couple of hours.

After trying to work out what went wrong, I have now adapted the system as follows:

 

1. Instead of my 15 minute intervals that I talked about in my last post, I now like to use Pomodoros (if I can) as a measure of time. If you count a Pomodoro as 25 mins work and 5 mins break, that gives you 30 minute blocks.

2. I now divide the day up into 30 minute breaks, plus a couple of 15 minute “tea breaks”. So a typical day might look something like this:

9am – 11am [Pomodoros 1-4]

11am – 11.15am [15 minute break]

11.15am – 12.45pm [Pomodoros 5-7]

12.45pm – 1.45pm [Lunch]

1.45pm – 3.45pm [Pomodoros 8-11]

3.45pm – 4.00pm [15 minute break]

4.00pm – 5.30pm [Pomodoros 12-14]

Now I’m not saying the day runs as smoothly as this – it rarely does. And obviously if you’re in a meeting, you just have to count how many Pomodoros roughly you’re spending during that time.

But the important thing with the above plan is it gives me a time when I need to start the timer. So at 9am, I start the first timer – while it’s ticking, I find the guilt of knowing that it’s running and I’m not doing anything inevitably makes me starting using that first one to work out my to-do list for the day and what’s most important. By the time I hit the end of the first one, take 5 minutes, it’s 9.30 and I straight away start the next one and jump in.

As long as I’m reasonably awake when I come into the office – and even often when I’m feeling tired – it really does work to get the day off to a good start.

So, yeah, I love the Pomodoros – I like the rhythm it gets you into – but I’d highly recommend starting your first Pomodoro at a set time on the clock, so you avoid pre-Pomodoro procrastination.

This is not quite the official system, because the guy who created the system believes that you start the timer when you start working. I believe start the timer, and you’ll more than likely start working.

After all, if the timer is running and you know that you can mark off that you did a solid half hour of work – and I think 25 mins of solid work plus 5 mins downtime is easily worth 30 mins of distractable work time where you’re checking emails, replying to everyone who talks to you, etc. – then you tend to not want to put down that you spent the entire time shuffling papers and doing nothing much. So you start working.

I also agree with what the Pomodoro guy (sorry, he does have a name – Francesco Cirillo) says at the end of his book – that if you stop using the timers, you lose your productivity. It’s a funny little quirk of nature, but unless you’re particularly driven to start with – in which case stopping every 25 minutes will probably irritate you no end – if you take away the timers, your productivity drops. The timers aren’t a tool to train you how to work productively – they’re what makes you work productively.

Maybe it looks a bit goofy to have numbers ticking down in the top right-hand corner of your screen when you’re working. Could be. But it’s a lot better going home knowing you did a solid day’s work. And could any worker ask for more satisfaction? I don’t think so.

Final link for the day is this timer which I found as a nice alternative to the AleJanJes Timer, albeit that it only works for the Pomodoro Technique. Called Focus Booster, this is another timer, that can be downsized to a small block that sits in your top right-hand corner (where I like to put my timers) and it’s set to count down 25 minutes, followed by 5 minutes. The only catch is that you have to remember to start it again as soon as the 5 minutes are up, but that’s not the worst thing in the world, and helpful for the longer breaks.

I have tried a couple of the Pomodoro apps on the iPhone, my favourite being Pomodoro Time Management (by rapidrabbit), which for some reason is no longer available in the Australian iTunes store. However, they don’t let you play music while you listen to them, and the problem with an iPhone app of course is that it doesn’t run if you use another application on the phone, making it annoying if you need to use something else on the phone while you’re using it (and it won’t even let you listen to music on the iPod while it’s running, which is particularly cruel . . .)

Anyway, whatever you use (and I’m aware not everybody is going to be as Draconian to themselves as I am), I hope you all manage to get to the stage where you can feel proud of how much work you do, and know that you’re being productive.

How I Became Ruthlessly Productive At Work (After Years Of Struggling With Procrastination & Distraction)

Every good blog has to have a time management article at some stage – this can be mine. Whether that makes it a good blog is up to you, gentle reader.

All right – time management.

I’ve always struggled with procrastination. It’s not quite as bad “My name is Matt and I’m an alcoholic” but I’m pretty sure “My name is Matt and I procrastinate on work” is not too far behind. I’ve done it as long as I can’t remember.

You know those people who like to burn through their homework so they can play outside? I’m the guy stuck inside doing it up to dinner time and beyond because I just can’t get myself to concentrate on my work . . .

I struggled with it through five years at my first full-time job, and I’ve struggled at my current one. I’ve tried different things.

I loved the Getting Things Done system. In fact, I read it in the week before I moved to Sydney to start my first full-time job. And it has certainly been a system I’ve come to rely on for how to get organised and keep your mind clear. However, for me, the GTD system didn’t help with the crucial problem I faced – procrastination.

See, by the time I’ve emptied my head, made all my lists, and done all that great GTD stuff, there’s the issue that that work has to be done. I read a variety of books that talked about different things like how to prioritise tasks, how to work out psychologically why you’re procrastinating (e.g. fear of failure). And I’d get some short-term changes out of these systems.

But for the most part, I’d keep falling off the wagon. And sometimes the advice you’d get from time management books would cancel each other out. Some books tell you that just actually doing the jobs that are there (rather than thinking about them) is a good way to go. Well, this is true, and there is something to be gained by just doing something now rather than endlessly scheduling it around. However, if you do everything that’s in front of you now, you’ll find that you answer a lot of emails, run a lot of errands for people who drop things on your desk – but the big picture jobs (most likely the ones you’re actually being paid to do) aren’t getting done.

I never knew how to get myself out of this dilemma. The other problem is, I’ve worked out that I’m a dreadful people-pleaser. It can be almost anyone in the company, but if they ask me to do something for them – whether it be shifting boxes or proofreading things or whatever – I’ll drop anything to help out.

And if I go to team meetings – aarggh!! – it gets even worse, because I’ll say “yes” to everything I’m asked to do, even if I’m not sure how on earth I can manage it all. Even though I inevitably get myself in trouble later on for not delivering everything I said I’d do, I still can’t help myself.

Oddly enough, it was this tendency of myself that led to an interesting breakthrough that I made.

The background was that at the beginning of this year, I had three roles at work. I was supposed to spend 2 1/2 days a week on one, and 1 1/2 days on the second and 1 day on the third.

On paper.

In reality, I’d just work on whichever one screamed the loudest. And I was having trouble doing any of them well.

And I was starting to get asked these questions, “How much time are you spending on each job area?” And you know what? I had no idea.

So I decided to start tracking my time. I know there are time management books out there that talk about doing a time log for a few days – some of you may even have tried that. However, that kind of thing is more about working out how many times you get phone calls during the day, how many times you distract yourself, etc.

But this time – what I wanted to do was actually track my time as if I was a consultant. So I signed up for a free internet-based timesheet called actiTIME. The main attraction with actiTIME was that it’s completely free if you just want a timesheet to log times into. (You can buy versions if you want to have more than 10 people using it and you want to access more complex management and accounting processes – but the free version suited me fine because I just wanted a sheet that I could log times in.)

The major tweak I made to it was that actiTIME comes with three main categories – Customers (it’s assuming you’re a contractor), then Projects which filter under Customers and then particular Tasks under that.

I changed Customers to Job Roles (one for each of my three roles) and kept the Projects and Tasks. (Actually, it was a nice feature that I could rename these levels to be in keeping with what I wanted.)

The other key that I decided to do was record my time in 15 minute increments, which seemed like a standard way of tracking these things. I’m not sure how contractors keep track of these things, or whether they guess at the end of the day, but I decided that I’d use a little countdown timer program that I had downloaded a long time ago (the sadly no-longer-available AleJanJes Timer, which I can’t link to because the page is no longer there). I’d set the timer for 15 minutes, and I’d run it pretty much every 1/4 of an hour (unless I wasn’t at my desk). I’d try to keep it as close I could to the hour, quarter past, half past and quarter to (e.g. 9.00, 9.15, 9.30, 9.45) so that it had a certain regularity to it.

Every time the Timer stopped, I’d flick over to my actiTIME sheet, which was sitting open in a browser on my computer all day.  I’d then add 15 minutes to the total of whatever task I was working on.

At this stage, I wasn’t attempting to prioritise my work or anything like that – and I still tended to work on whatever was screaming the loudest – but the idea was just to track it to give me an idea of what was taking up my time.

But what I didn’t expect was the amazing secondary benefit of this tracking – I finally discovered the anti-procrastination holy grail I’d been looking for!

Quite simply, knowing that every15 minutes I had to account for what I’d been doing made me work more solidly. Originally, this might have been because I had some thought that I was going to show the timesheet to my managers. That never eventuated – and I don’t think I’ll ever show anyone those reports – but after three weeks of tracking every 15 minutes, the habit was well and truly entrenched.

I’m not saying I didn’t waste time sometimes. There were times when I was tired, when I didn’t want to start a particular job. When I’d go make a cup of tea or coffee just to avoid starting the next time. (For the record, I’d count cups of tea as part of whatever job I was working on for 15 minutes, but if I had a real waste-of-time 15 minutes doing something like surfing the net or a long conversation with someone, I wouldn’t claim the time.) The idea was that I was trying to make sure I could account for all the 7 1/2 hours during the day that I’m paid for. And for the most part, I’ve been able to. There have been some days where I hit the end of the day and realise that I’ve only done about 7 hours work (despite the fact that I was in the office for a full day), but those days are becoming rarer.

I never would have picked it as being a winning system – running a timer and logging my work in a timesheet – but it has me able to do a full day’s worth of work, knowing that I didn’t spend a third or more of it mucking around and doing stuff I shouldn’t have been doing.

This system worked rather well for quite a while. Until I discovered the Pomodoro Technique, and decided to try that instead of my existing system.

That led to interesting results. . . and a new generation of time management for me. But I’ll save that for another blog.

In the meantime, I would challenge any of you die-hard procrastinators out there to give actiTIME a whirl, with a timer. (Hmm . . . maybe actiTIME could add a timer to the page?) Seeing as it’s no longer available, I thought I’d set the AleJanJes Time up on Media Fire for you to download. It was always intended to be freeware, so I don’t think I’m doing any wrong here. The guy who originally made it put it there so his kids wouldn’t fight over the computer.

I like this particular timer because it’s small and you can put it in the top right-hand corner of your screen where it will remind you quite obviously that your time is soon up. You right click on it to change the settings.

Have fun! I’ll talk more about Pomodoros another time.