So perhaps this is a boring topic for a post, but ever since I transitioned from hourly intern who could get away with 75% web browsing and 25% actual work to salaried engineer with actual responsibility and free overtime, I’ve been on a constant quest to maximize my productivity in a day’s work. That is why I’m writing this post at work. Kidding, kidding, I’m at home, enjoying a lovely evening of snowboard shopping and dreaming of what to do with the biggest tax return I’ve ever received (I knew there was a reason I got married…). I think I’ve made some big strides in the one year and two months that I’ve been a full time working stiff, and I intend to share that knowledge.
1. Quickly get any personal email, facebooking, and XKCD reading out of your system when you first get in to work. I like to role in 5-10 min early for this purpose. I feel like a good nerd comic starts the day off right, and checking email and social networking sites prevent me from entering the vicious curiosity-will power battle throughout the morning (I wonder if I have any notifications?—Don’t check, stay focused—I wonder if I have any new emails?…and so on).
2. If you’re like me and work from a cube rather than an office with a door that closes, shutting out any distracting noise–such as Adam, across the way, loudly boasting about the looker he saw at the Wells Fargo drive-through last Saturday–get some headphones and find some music that you can listen to without having your concentration compromised (Notorious B.I.G. is probably not a good choice). I often will go with classical music on days when I’m particularly prone to distraction because I find it creates a wall of sound that is non-distracting and completely blocks out background noise. The singer/songwriter genre also has been working well for me, especially in the afternoon.
3. Take a refreshing lunch break. It can be tempting to sit at your desk during lunch reading FAIL blog and watching youtube, but in my opinion, it is difficult to jump back in after lunch without a break from the tube (or, matrix of liquid crystals, nowadays). I personally eat my lunch quickly while reading FAIL blog and then go ride my longboard around the empty warehouse for 5 or 10 minutes. That brief time of soothing, mindless activity allows me to come back to work refreshed and ready to go. (Hmm, that last sentence or two could be taken out of context)
4. The half-life of caffeine is 4.9 hours. This, of course, is where the “2:30 feeling” comes from, although it seems like everyone experiences it, regardless of whether or not they consume caffeine in the morning. It is the sudden complete and utter loss of motivation accompanied by general grogginess that seems to set in at exactly 2:30 every time. It can be a major hurtle that must be overcome if the afternoon’s tasks are to be completed. I like to plan my days such that I’ll be doing the more hands-on tasks around that time. When this is not possible, I find the music bubble works well also. It’s amazing how you can put on the ear blinders, enter the zone, and not think about anything but work for hours at a time (until you have to pee, that is).
5. Determine what types of work you do best at each time of the day. This is kind of a continuation of (4). For instance, I’m a morning person. I come into work in the morning half way through my coffee, and my brain is churning away, anxious for problem solving. Thus, I like to tackle the more complex tasks first thing in the morning, rather than leaving them for after lunch when I’ll be struggling to stay focused.
6. Leave work at work. Sometimes it can be difficult to stop thinking about work after leaving. I feel that it is very important to force myself not to think about work after work. The evening should be time for rejuvenation of the technical side of the brain, and is much better spent thinking about snowboarding, guitar, and your wife in that sexy baby doll.
7. Sex the night before, or even a quickie in the morning before work can really clear the mind, and ease stress.