My productivity is generally pretty high, but I do have a natural rhythm of ups and downs. I’ll really crank for a few weeks, then pull back to keep from burning out. Lately though, my low phase has seemed to drag on, and I needed a kick in the pants to ratchet things back up.
Fortunately, part of my low time goofing off was reading about life as a Software Developer in Test (SDET) at Microsoft. In the post, the unnamed author shares some pretty impressive metrics on all the stuff that made up his typical day over the course of a year.
Inspired by the post and tipped off by one of the the comments, I downloaded and installedManicTime, a time-management package. Then went about my normal day, as best I could under its watchful eye. Having used it for a bit now, I have to say that it’s a near Mint type experience. You see, before you use Mint you think you kinda know where your money goes and what you spend it on. But Mint knows all, and shares it in beautiful graphic detail. Turns out don’t know so much, and realize that you should probably invest in Starbucks to at least get some dividends on all of the coffee you’re drinking.
It’s much the same when you can see in detail where your day goes and what you’ve been doing with it. ManicTime gives me a breakdown of each application that I’ve used, and what percentage of time I’ve spent with them. It also provides excruciating detail about what I was doing. For example, I can see that I spent some time in Chrome at Hacker News, then did a little research, then veered off into Facebook, then veered off into that stupid Skittles video. I also noticed that I was spending a good deal of time in Outlook, and that a lot of that time was reactive, responding to incoming emails. That’s worth some looking into. Should I be that reactive? Are any of these issues something I could get in front of?
Using a time-monitoring tool can give you a fresh perspective about what you’re actually doing with your time. It gives you an opportunity to look at the data objectively and find patterns that will lead you to make new choices, and even structure your day differently. After having looked at the data now, I know what a “bad day” looks like — and what a good day should look like. It’s a dashboard touchstone that I can take a peek at to make sure I’m spending my time on a purpose and keeping my productivity level high. I plan to continue the experiment to see where it goes.
How do you handle the up and down rhythms of work? I’d love to hear from you in the comments below.