06-18-13 - How to Work

Reminder to myself, because I've gotten out of the habit. In the months before baby I had developed a pretty good work pattern and I want it back.

There is only full-on hard work, and away-from-computer restorative time. Nothing in between.

1. When working, disable internet. No browsing around. If you have a long test run or something, usually it's not actually blocking and you can work on something else while it goes, but if it is blocking then just walk away from the computer, get your hands off the machine, do some stretching.

2. No "easing into it". This is a self-indulgence that I can easily fall into, letting myself start slowly in the morning, and before I know it it's close to noon. When you start you just fucking start.

3. If you're tired and can't keep good posture when working, stop working. Go sleep. Work again when you're fresh.

4. Whenever you aren't working, don't do anything that's similar to work. No computer time. Fuck computers, there's nothing good to see on there anyway. Just walk away. Avoid any activity that has your hands in front of your body. Try to spend time with your arms overhead and/or your hands behind your back.

5. When you feel like you need to work but can't really focus, don't substitute shitty work like paying bills or online shopping or fiddling around cleaning up code pointlessly, or whatever that makes you feel like you're doing something productive. You're not. Either fucking get over it and work anyway, or if you really can't then walk away.

6. Be defensive of your good productive time. For me it's first thing in the morning. Lots of forces will try to take this away from you; you need to hold baby, you need to commute to go to the office. No no no, this is the good work time, go work.

7. Never ever work at a laptop. Go to your workstation. If you feel your ergonomics are bad, do not spend one second working in the bad position. Fix it and then continue.

8. Set goals for the day; like "I'm going to get X done" not just "I'm going to work on X for a while" which can easily laze into just poking at X without making much progress.

9. When you decide to stop working for the day, be *done*. No more touching the computer. Don't extend your work hours into your evening with pointless trickles of super-low-productivity work. This is easier if you don't use any portable computing device, so just step away from the computer and that's it.

10. Avoid emotional disturbances. Something like checking email in the morning should be benign, but if there's a 10% chance of it makes you pissed off, that's a big negative because it lingers as a distraction for a while. I've basically stopped reading any news, and I think it's a big life +EV and certainly productivity +EV.


Hook said...

I ranted about this a while ago as well...


SteveP said...

while I agree with most of what you said, especially the internet being a distraction and time waster, I do love working from my laptop. Being portable helps with some of the boredom and I think the smaller screen provides more focus. But hey, to each his own.

cbloom said...

laptop one is not about productivity so much as my own belief that almost any time in a laptop position is extremely harmful to the body (kyphosis, rounded shoulders, etc).

Tom Forsyth said...

I think this is a case of personality. I have worked the last fifteen years with high distraction quotient. It started at 3Dlabs where I was doing Developer Relations as well as driver writing, and a new driver would take twenty mouse clicks and a three-minute reboot to test, so I got really good at doing devrel email on a different machine in the meantime - for the sake of efficiency.

Ever since, I've been really good at switching contexts. While answering emails, my coding brain is sorting through permutations. English and C seem to occupy completely different parts of my brain. I find it really helpful to think about something hard for a while, then let it soak in the background while doing English-typing crap. When I later worked for Intel - which has an endless stream of eye-rolling email - I found it pretty easy to adapt to.

But it's interesting seeing the other side of the coin. I've observed many amazing programmers (you know who I mean) have entire days nuked from orbit by a few stray emails. Not only do I not have that problem - I NEED the distraction to process ideas, or I go off half-cocked and waste my own time.

There's a huge variance in people - even amongst coders. It's fascinating watching peoples' brains at work.

cbloom said...

Yeah totally, it's very personal. I know quite a few great programmers who are severely hampered by distraction and I'd love to see them try my prescription; others are not so affected.

For me personally, it's not so much an issue of distraction as eliminating the choice of doing anything other than work. A lot of my work these days is not very fun, so if I give myself the option to go off on the internet and learn about matrix orthonormalization or whatever exciting thing I'd rather do, I'll do it.

I'm also finding recently that life works better for me if I give myself fewer choices. If I don't have decision points about "what should I be doing now" then I have more energy to put into the work decisions.

Lastly my prescription is also about my physical problems. Part of my goal is for physical purposes to spend an absolute minimum of time at the computer (particularly tired time, which is when serious harm can be done), and therefore to maximize the work done in that minimum of time.

Jim said...

Charles, for ergonomics, have you ever tried a split keyboard? I've had one for about a year, and my tennis elbow went away. I have the two halves separated about 10 inches, and tilted outwards 15 degrees. It lets your wrists be straight, with your arms straight out from your sides if you want.

Jim said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
cbloom said...

By "split" do you just mean a keyboard with a pivot in the middle? I have never found those too compelling. (I think the MS Natural has your hands coming in at a decent angle already)

I am interested in keyboards where the two halves are totally unconnected, so you can move them apart.

I think it would help a lot to get my arms coming straight out of my body, or even slightly externally rotated. Or probably ideally just move the position around a bit each day so it's never exactly the same.

Having the hands in from the elbows is part of what causes my scapula problems.

Jim said...

The two halves are unconnected, except for a cord between them. Kinesis Freestyle 2. It can be attached at the center-top with a pivot, but you can take it out for complete separation. The default model has just a 9" cord, I think, but they have a longer one, around 24".

cbloom said...

I read a review saying the action of the keys of the KF2 sucks, how do you find it? I see some other reviews warning about glitches.

There seem to be very few keyboards like that that are actually separable.

Jim said...

I'm fine with the action on it, and haven't had glitches. I'm using it on a linux box. I like the editing shortcut keys on the left. Makes it easy to mouse with right hand and move things around without ctrl combos. There's no number keypad at the right, maybe that's an option. The weird motion comes if you're highlighting a number with the mouse, go to enter a new number with your left hand, and find yourself reaching over to the right pod for the seven thru zero. Keys aren't squishy or clicky, they're somewhere in-between.

old rants