Thursday, March 27, 2014

Time Management And Other Things Kid-Mike Wrongfully Thought Would Be Boring.

And I'm back in the groove again. Only a little ways into Act II, but I can already feel myself settling in. The dialogue between the characters is snappy, I have a good idea where I'm going with all this bullshit. I tossed in some foreshadowing. I've tightened up the outline, spit-shined some of the plot flow. I also polished away some of the dangerous curves ahead--the pacing, just from the outline alone--looks more interesting.

Is the book better for the time off? Yeah, I think so. More importantly, I think it'll improve my writing pace over the next month.

It's exciting.

A lot of the progress is because I've spent quite a bit of time over the last year thinking about Pareto's Law, the idea that 80% of your results comes from 20% of your input.

It's one of those things which would have bored me silly as a kid, like personal finance. It takes time and perspective to see the subject as exciting or even useful.

After all, mostly it's all about trimming crap out of and/or readjusting your schedule. What kid has anything like a schedule? Back when I was a teenager, my "schedule" was me waking up, getting my ass pushed onto the school bus and then coming home. I had little control over it nor did I have any sort of sense of what you'd call "wasted time". I'd joke about wasting time, but it never had the same sort of palpable feel as wasted time does as an adult.

As an adult, I'm very keenly aware of what I want out of life. I want to finish this damn book. I want to do interesting things at work, help my coworkers out with interesting apps or knock projects I've been putting off out of the park. I want to finish books I read, hang out with friends, get my exercise in. I want to have time to go outside and feel the sun on my hair, the wind on my face. I want to travel, do all sorts of things. I even want to get enough rest in, get enough down-time so I can recharge my batteries and face all the bullshit I have to or want to do with a completely relaxed air.

All of these things are achievable, given enough motivation, effort and money. Despite what people might say, motivation, effort and money are all effectively limitless resources. You can cut costs, you can economize, you can refuse to spend your income on shit you don't care about. You can work side jobs, get raises, rob banks, sell spare body parts, whatever. Money's out there.

What you don't have enough of to do everything is TIME. As a kid, when everything was new and you had nothing to lose, no responsibilities whatsoever, time was everywhere. Asking a kid his opinion on time management is a lot like asking a Bedouin the most efficient way to build a sand castle. It's ridiculous.

As an adult, I know that time flows only in one direction. If I spend five seconds, those are five seconds I will never get back. So I want to make sure I'm using those five seconds effectively. Not productively--effectively. More on that in a second.

80% of your results come from 20% of your effort. Maybe those numbers are actually 10%/90% or 30%/70%, but you get the idea. Figure out the shit you care about, then do everything in your power to reduce or minimize the shit you don't care about.

I want to write, so I make sure I have more time to write. I want to do more interesting programming at work, so I aggressively make sure I have less time-wasting grunt work to do, whether by making it Somebody Else's Problem, automating it, or figuring out a way to make it a moot point.

When I set up my work schedule these days, I make sure I get all of my programming scheduled in during the time of the day when I'm the most awake. If I have repetitive stuff to do, things which don't require much focus or creativity, like checking email or the occasional unavoidable data entry, I make sure to do it all at once at either the beginning or the end of the day...and preferably at the end, because the ticking deadline that is the end of the work day does a great job at keeping my attention focused on grinding through the necessary tedium. It sounds simple, but it works.

What do you with all the time you clear up? I'm a big fan of down-time. The brain isn't really designed to just go full blast all the time. You need to decompress. Ideally, I'd have long periods of time in my day when I don't do much of anything except exist, walk and read. It doesn't often work out like that, but it's fun to think about.

There's this poisonous culture in modern life of always having to "be productive", even at the expense of efficiency. If you tell someone you can do 100% of your work in 40% of the time, they'll ask you what you're doing with the 60% of time you just cleared up. They'll cluck their tongue at you and judge you, maybe look at you like you're pretty weird.

If they do the same thing themselves, they'll spend the rest of that time shuffling paperwork or rushing about  the place looking busy because nobody wants to be perceived as lazy. It's this weird Puritan work ethic that corporate culture fosters. You're being paid, so you better keep moving, damn it.

And of course, at the end of the day, you're exhausted if you live like that. You miss all the good weather. You're too tired to do anything but sit in front of the TV because you've wasted half the day doing tedious shit nobody cares about, least of all you. You go to bed tired, you don't sleep well and then you wake up for more of the same. It's this constant treadmill which does nothing but eat your life-energy and spits it back out again as a stream of bullshit.

That's why Pareto's Law is so great. Clear out the shit in your life you don't care about, what doesn't excite you and maximize the shit that does. If you clear enough pointless bullshit out, you spend the time in which you're not doing awesome things to rest up and be yourself. You recharge your batteries so the next round of awesome things you do will be even more awesome. Simple.

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