Today begins week two of my “un-“, er, “self-“, employment. Week #1 was spent in large part taking another pass at my processes to see what further enhancements I could make to the way I get stuff done. Here’s the cheat sheet of my favorites.
TODO List: Who knows how many different incarnations I’ve had of TODO lists? The one I’ve kept going back to is just a running document that sits in my Gmail “Drafts” folder. But I think I’ve finally found a piece of software that can beat the elegance of nothing: rememberthemilk.com. I found the site after Googling “best todo software” and finding a web poll where people rated about 10 different pieces of online TODO software. RTM beat the others by a factor of many. After using it, I can see why. It’s interface is dirt-simple, but it does everything I hoped it would, without bells and whistles getting in the way. Which is not to say it doesn’t also have bells and whistles: it took about 2 minutes to set up my Google Calendar to show which TODO items I have scheduled on which day. I consider RTM a must-have for any person who makes their own schedule.
Park on a Downhill Slope: The idea, which I read in Life Hacker (Confession in order: I got almost all these ideas from Life Hacker), says that the last thing you do before you leave should be to leave a folder on your desktop that describes in specifics what your first task will be for the next day. Then, when you get in, you’ll get straight to work and set up your momentum for the rest of the day. This goes hand-in-hand with a similar idea: don’t check your email for the first hour of the day (until you finish your first task). It sets the stage for distraction and not getting tasks done.
Close Thine Email: I’ve heard this recommendation countless times, but have finally started taking it. What I’ve noticed is that even though having Gmail open doesn’t seem like a big distraction (it doesn’t pop up or make noises when I receive an email, like some of my friends’ Outlook configurations do), it serves as an escape valve that my brain uses whenever hard problems arise. My tendency had been to double-check whether there might be any email to read instead of solving said problem. Bad, brain, bad!
Ban You from Your Most Visited Sites: Another Life Hacker special — here’s a script that you can use along with GreaseMonkey to keep yourself from visiting certain, customizable, web sites at customizable times of day. I scoffed at this one when I first saw it (isn’t that what self-discipline is for?), but it is handy to have the computer be strong for me when I am weak.
Time > Money: I came up with this one myself — when one is a programmer, and one has a lot to get done in not a lot of time, many hardware expenses, most software expenses, and pretty much all book expenses are worth the cost if they can make you work faster. When you figure that the average Rails contractor makes $75-$150 an hour, if there is a book that could cumulatively save you one hour, it is worth whatever it costs. It was this same stream of logic that emboldened me to get my fancy new Quad Core machine last week, which is not only going to minimize my idle time, but improve morale when I get more done with the same amount of brain power.