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What You Get Wrong About Productivity - A Humanist Approach

Published 6/6/2018

How do you set yourself up for a productive day? That's what we're going to be talking about in today's episode and how we can use our own motivations to get us through some of the harder parts in our day.

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Transcript (Generated by OpenAI Whisper)
It's the middle of the week and you're probably listening to this on some kind of break. Maybe you're coding right now as you're listening to this in the background or maybe you're on your commute. There's plenty of places that people listen to this show and you almost definitely on a day like Wednesday in the middle of the week you almost definitely have thought about productivity today. And in fact, if you're listening to this episode after it was released, it's probably because it is about productivity. This seems to be an endless well of information seeking for people in this new age of high productivity and this hyper focus on productivity. I think it's easy to get attached to the idea that we may be able to get 1% faster, 1% more productive in our days. And it is true that humans have become significantly more productive, especially in the past 100 or 200 years. And there's a lot of reasons for this leap in productivity, but I want to talk to you a little bit about some of the things that we might be getting wrong with productivity. In the next couple of episodes, we're going to stick on this topic because I think it's a very important topic to discuss not only on this show, but with your co-workers, with your peers, with your leaders and with the people that you lead. This is such an important topic because it changes the way we think about our work. And then ultimately, as a result of that, it changes our work. My name is Jonathan Cutrell and you're listening to Developer Tea. My goal in the show is to help driven developers connect a little bit better to their career purpose so they can do better work and have a positive influence on the people around them. And one of the things that we do as developers, when we're trying to become better, we want to do more in less time. That's kind of the general definition of productivity. I want to produce more per minute or more per hour. In this measurement of productivity, it really comes from an older way of thinking about production. The production line is actually outputting something, right? And in fact, in a factory, one of the ways that you measure how good a machine is, how useful it is, how much you might invest in that machine is to look at the output of that machine over the course of an hour. And how often can that machine be run? How many years will it last if we run that machine 24 or 7? And so many of our strategies with managing people, as it relates to productivity and managing machines, many of our strategies for managing people will kind of mirror those machine strategies. And that might sound bad at first, but it's not necessarily bad when you think about it. A machine, for example, a machine might run for a couple of hours and once it's been running for a while, it could get very hot. So it needs to take a break and cool down. And people operate kind of similarly to this. So it's a useful metaphor, but there are some places where the science doesn't really match up where our ideas of productivity don't really translate into the human realm. Now, we've been trying to hack our way around productivity, especially in the last 10 years and software developers are on the kind of the front edge of that hacking. We hear these mythical stories of 10X developers and the idea that comes to mind is this concept that a 10X developer might somehow have 10X the actual output, that they're actually delivering 10 times the amount of code or the amount of working code. And that 10X developer is presumably being compared to the average developer. And the statistical reality of this is that most people who are listening to the show are probably around the average. That's the whole point of averages, isn't it? But I want to talk to you about the science of this productivity jump, not how to get to a 10X output, not how to get to 10X engineer status and put that on your resume, but instead to start thinking about productivity differently. I want you to think about productivity not in terms of your machine level output, because here's the reality. When you talk about machines in a warehouse or on a production line, those machines are interchangeable. Eventually, we know we're going to replace them. We know we're going to upgrade as technology continues to make machines better. And as robotics start becoming more refined, we're going to replace the old robotics. And nobody's feelings get hurt when these machines are replaced. But a human is very different from this. You don't get the opportunity to replace your machinery. Instead, you need to understand how your machinery operates best. If you walk away with nothing else from today's episode, I want you to walk away with this. Becoming more productive is not about learning something that is outside of you and bringing it into you. It's more about learning about something that's inside of you and bringing that out. This is such a key factor in understanding the science of productivity as it relates to you, as an individual, as an individual human, unique from everyone around you to some degree. It's important to recognize that productivity is something that you already have the capacity to achieve. Now that may mean learning something that is outside of you, right? So seeing something that triggers an understanding that you didn't previously have, or learning particular skills, learning particular ways of doing things, but it all is about managing what you already have your own kind of equity in yourself. And once you recognize that, that changes the perspective on how to become more productive from a machinistic viewpoint to a humanistic viewpoint. You start to understand why taking care of yourself can be so important. We're going to talk a little bit more about that. Right after we talk about today's awesome sponsor, SkySilk. This episode is brought to you by SkySilk Cloud Services. SkySilk is a new cloud hosting platform looking to shake up how businesses and developers approach cloud computing. You can spend up a virtual private server of VPS in just a few seconds. Choose between popular Linux operating systems. Like for example Ubuntu, CentOS, or Debian, as well as over 40 different software applications like WordPress or Magento, MySQL, among others. Creating and hosting your own website, blog, application, or just a simple script can be very easy with SkySilk. They're currently in beta testing with their new platform and everything is completely free of charge while they're in beta testing as long as you provide them with feedback and testing. It's a great time to get in on the ground floor, try out the new service. By the way, as a developer, you're going to be able to use the code TTime, that's capital letters TTime, all one word, no spaces, to redeem 1000 sky points. What are sky points? In this case, that's equivalent to $10 of cashback or account credit on your SkySilk account. Sky points are a new rewards program that SkySilk is introducing. You can trade them in for account credit or you can use them for things like Visa, Pre-Pay, gift cards, or Amazon gift cards. It's a really interesting idea. It's something that you can try out as you are using your account. You'll accrue these points and use them however you'd like. Go and check it out skysilk.com. Remember the code TTime, all capital letters, all one word. Thank you so much to SkySilk for sponsoring today's episode of Developer Tea. We're talking about productivity and more specifically, we ended off talking about how productivity is a humanist effort, not just a machinist effort. In other words, if you try to eke out every single little bit of productivity that you can from yourself, or if you're a leader and you're trying to do that to the people that you lead, then eventually the human part might kick back. That is really what productivity science is about for humans. It's about understanding that humans are not necessarily as predictable. They're not interchangeable like machine parts. So for today's episode, we're going to look at a very simple reality that a lot of productivity discussions ignore. Here it is. If you're taking notes now is the time to put a little bullet point down. This is really the only one we're going to discuss for today, but it's extremely important. It sets up the basis for the way that you think about so many things. Not all tasks are equal. Let me say that again. Not all tasks are equal. We're not just talking about the complexity of a task. For example, we aren't talking about the difference in story points between one task and another. We're not talking about scale. We're not talking about how long they take necessarily. Of course, those things are obviously true that some tasks take longer than others. But a lot of the ways that we manage our tasks and our day-to-day lives treat tasks as if they have equal characteristics. Regardless of the size of the task, we can line up our tasks however we want to. And we can prioritize tasks and make sure that the most important task is the one that gets done the earliest. Now there's some logic, some basic ideas of logic in this, that most important things need to get done before less important things. And of course, we should pay attention to that. We should respect that, especially at a large scale. However, humans are notoriously bad at estimating and we're notoriously bad at prioritizing. And so a lot of the time our estimations are as good as a guess and our prioritizations are equally as good as a guess. Now, it's not to say that you should throw away prioritization or estimating for that matter because these are things that we can practice and become better at, especially if we use something like a retrospective where we look at what we thought we were going to do and then we look at what we actually did and we adjust our expectations for the future. This is a straightforward, elementary process that can yield some amazing results. But what we're talking about here is not necessarily about becoming a better estimator or becoming a better prioritizer. Instead, what we're talking about is arranging your tasks in such a way that you are more effective at completing them. So here's what I want you to do. I want you to imagine that you have a set of, let's say, five tasks. And they're very similar in terms of priority. And the overall scheme of things, one could come before the other and that's not really a big deal. Now, of course, we want to prioritize things because when it comes down to it, it's important to do one thing before another. Now, the entire discussion today is about how you actually prioritize. Here's the unfortunate reality. Most people prioritize tasks that are relatively similar in terms of how important they actually are. Most people prioritize those based on some kind of long-term effect or some kind of overall priority that has nothing to do with themselves. It has nothing to do with the work itself. So, for example, if you've heard much about productivity and planning your day out, if you've done any research on this, you might have heard about doing the hardest thing first, doing the most unpleasant thing first so that it's out of your way. And it makes sense, right? We've been taught to do our chores before we go outside to play, and we've been taught to eat our dinner before we eat our dessert. And the simple idea is that we don't want to have this thing hanging over our heads for later on in the day because we're likely to procrastinate. And there's some truth to this, but what's a stronger reality for most people is your constant mood being fed by your previous mood and more specifically the start of your mood. So, for a given day or really any period that has a clear beginning, it can be the beginning of the week, it can be the beginning of the day, it can even be something as large as the beginning of the year, but for any time that is designated as a beginning, you're kind of setting a tone. This is why we have phrases like, for example, woke up on the wrong side of the bed. And similarly, why cereal companies might tell you to start your day off right. The beginning of things is incredibly important. It's one of the reasons why first impressions are really important. You're setting a tone and your mind is kind of taking steps away from that tone. And so, it's important to recognize this when you're establishing your tasks for the day. If you set the tone with something that you really kind of are slogging through, you're not really enjoying it very much, then it's very possible, if not likely, that your energy will be depleted when going into the next task. Even if that next task is really exciting and really enjoyable, unfortunately, that tone is set at a really low bar. So, what are some ways that we can tackle this? Well, I would recommend choosing a relatively small task, a relatively short task that you can achieve in the morning. And even better than this, if you start your morning off doing something for yourself, so wake up a little bit earlier, spend five to ten minutes journaling or do a little bit of yoga, whatever it is that you do for yourself first, that sets your tone. And even when you start working for the day, I recommend that you take the first 30 minutes or so and do something that you actually enjoy. Do a task that you've been looking forward to. Again, essentially, you're setting yourself up to have positive energy throughout the day. Even if it's not the absolute most important perfect task, and even if you have something else that is due before that thing, if you are working off of a deadline for some reason, it's important that you set that tone. And what you'll end up seeing, if you try this for a few days, what you'll likely end up seeing is that your energy is a little bit more dependable throughout the day. Rather than completing that one really arduous or difficult or draining task and then spending the rest of the day trying to regain that energy, you really give yourself the opportunity to kind of charge up at the beginning of the day and run full force into those more difficult tasks later on. Now, there's one more thing that I'll say about tasks and then we're going to talk about this in the next episode. The time of day for your task and the type of task it is actually matters. I encourage you to do a little bit of research on this for yourself and then come back and listen to the next episode of Developer Teaon Friday. At the end of this week, as it turns out, endings are pretty important too. Thank you so much for listening to today's episode of Developer Tea. Thank you again to SkySoke for sponsoring today's episode. You can get started with SkySoke by heading over to SkySoke.com. Remember, while it's in beta, it's totally free for you to use as long as you provide feedback to their team. Use the code T time, all capitals, no spaces to get a thousand sky points. That's the equivalent of $10 in cash credit. If you don't want to miss out on this next discussion about timing and your tasks as it relates to productivity, then I encourage you to subscribe and whatever pie-casting app you use. Thank you so much for listening and until next time, enjoy your tea.