Tuesday, November 15, 2011

On Productivity

The other day I read an article (thanks for posting, Gail!) on productivity which I thought was pretty interesting.  The article is called, "Time Management: How an MIT postdoc writes 3 books, a PhD defense, and 6+ peer-reviewed papers - and finishes by 5:30pm" and details how to live the 'fixed schedule' lifestyle.

I have to say, it is pretty impressive that Mr. Newport can somehow manage to do everything between 8:30 am and 5:30 pm and keep his evenings completely free, while also fitting in an hour long dog walk and exercise.  And to be honest, I'm still a bit skeptical.  However, I do think there is good advice provided, especially on saying 'no' more often to busy work or work that isn't as important as other tasks.  This is a pretty hard thing to learn how to do, especially as a new or junior employee in industry.

Mr. Newport's observations on his email usage are also interesting.  Rather than constantly reading and replying to email throughout the day, he concentrates the bulk of his email work in a one hour time slot after lunch.  Maybe this is a good way to get back into a concentrated work mode after taking a break for lunch, especially if you experience a 'food coma'!

How do you stay productive at work without working crazy hours?  Do you work on a fixed schedule?  If not, do you think it would be feasible for engineers in the tech industry?  And have you found some good strategies for saying 'no'?


Gail Carmichael said...

I was pretty hard core in undergrad, working as much as I needed to (though still not all-nighters!).

Now in grad school I treat it like a more regular job. I just can't seem to get anything of use done in the night anyway, so I tend to do other things like Taekwondo and playing games then. (We don't watch any TV which helps!)

When I did co-op, I also did not believe in working overtime. Only on the rare deadline-oriented occasion would I stay late. Yet I was basically at least as productive as my colleagues. I knew that longer hours would only result in more mistakes, and probably be worse than concentrating during the day anyway.

Nowadays I do kind of wish I could concentrate more on the core tasks I need to do in grad school, but at the same time, the things that are "distractions" contribute greatly to my ultimate career and personal goals. So I guess it's worth it. Still, I am working on being more careful to where I put my time. ;)

All this to say that I do think it's possible to do what this guy does, even in high tech (remember, once you start working long hours, the amount you do becomes standard and expected!). It may involve cutting things you don't want to cut, or moving those things to the evenings if they can be counted as personal endeavours, but it is possible. Helps if you are particularly talented on being focused and on task like this guy. ;)

Kate said...

When I went back to school I was also pretty hard-core. I only had to pull a few all-nighters and they were because other group members didn't come through on their obligations, which is something that really annoyed me at the time because I was always able to get a good night's rest otherwise!

My coop was much the same, although my internship a little more intensive because the hours were 'flexible', meaning I did a lot more work at home and school.

I also don't like working at night. I really enjoy having time to see friends, read, and watch movies. :)

One thing I forgot to mention in my post is I really like the idea of writing a list and planning your day in the first hour. I do this and finds it helps a lot with keeping focused and finishing tasks I set out to do.