As the lead on the Launchpad Soyuz project, I have to deal with a lot of different tasks at the same time. I hate this as much as the next engineer, but burying my head in the sand and hoping things will just be all right simply won’t work.
At the end of the day I was feeling really unproductive and anxious about time wasted – I’d sit back and think, what did I do today? I felt really busy but I can’t remember what the heck I’ve been doing! Even worse, I’d leave my office at the end of the day in a bad mood and the 30 seconds it takes to get back into the house is not enough to ease the tensions, which made it hard to interact with my wife and kids. I want to reclaim that precious hour between finishing work and the kids going to bed!
So, what can I do about this?
1. I made a conscious effort to finish my major work items 30 minutes before leaving the office and to spend those 30 minutes doing all the simple tasks that you know you need to sort out but never get around to doing. This has had a dramatic affect on not only how I feel when I finish, but also I get the warm fuzzy feeling of having cleared out stuff that was niggling me at the back of my brain.
2. I have eschewed technology in favour of the classic pen and paper! I used to keep TODO lists electronically, but I found this hard to keep up with as they were always hidden by other windows on another virtual desktop somewhere. So now, each week I start on a fresh piece of paper and write down all the things I know I need to do, with a little box next to them. When I’ve done that task, I can put a great big satisfying tick next to it. At the end of each day I can see visible progress. This is very uplifting! I start a new sheet each week so that the TODO list is not cluttered, and it also forces me to think of anything I missed.
3. Take regular breaks. I know, this is easier said than done. Michael Nelson put me on to the Pomodoro Technique which while I don’t follow religiously, does give some effective tips on how to time-box your activities.
If you’ve got any more tips, or used mine and found them useful, I’d love to hear about it! Please leave a comment.