Tips for Productivity and Happiness at Work

Every so often, I get asked what my strategy is for "getting things done". This morning, I had a short session of mass productivity, and on my ride into work, got inspired to jot down a few tips productivity tips. Keep in mind that I grew up in the back woods of Montana with no electricity and I'm mostly Irish.

  • Write stuff down. The first and most important means to getting things done is to keep a todo list. I keep mine on Ta-da List and update it daily, if not hourly. My two most important lists are "When I have time" and "This Week". I regularly re-order "This Week" for the current day.
  • Quit reading e-mail and blogs. One of the ways I can tell I'm in uber-productive mode is my unread (or starred) mail piles up and I haven't read any blog posts (or blogged myself) in a couple days. I like GMail because I can easily star an e-mail after briefly skimming it. For some reason, flagging e-mail in Thunderbird or Mail.app doesn't work for me - I rarely go back and find those e-mails. With GMail, I'm always conscious I need to revisit starred messages.
  • Work on open source late at night, with a beer on your desk. While I do get the opportunity to work on open source at my day job, I still find that I'm most productive at night. Maybe this is because no one bugs me via e-mail or IM, or maybe it's just because the world is asleep. The strange thing is I often find myself motivated at 3 p.m. for my 11 p.m. workload. However, when I get to 11 p.m., I'm not motivated to work on anything. I've found that cracking open a beer at 11 when I start helps me focus and quit worrying about all the other computer-related tasks I need to do. Also, on beer #2 or 3, you'll start to forget what time it is and really start getting things done. NOTE: this isn't for rookies. If you're a lightweight and get hammered on two beers - just go to bed when you start coding with one eye shut. It helps to sleep in the next day after doing this. If you finish off a six-pack before going to bed, it's probably best not to check your code in - you're probably going to spend the next day fixing it anyway. Regardless, this is a great way to get started on a new feature because you're less concerned about the details and more concerned about the big picture. I've also found that "bug fixing juice" can be great for fixing bugs - it gives you a different perspective on the problem. I told you I was Irish didn't I? ;-)
  • Work disconnected. To further facilitate not checking e-mail or reading blogs, I've found that going to a coffee shop w/o connectivity is my most productive environment. They have liquid motivation in the form of coffee, and you can feed your brain with breakfast/lunch or some kind of snack. My most productive days are the ones where I show up at my local Einstein's (bagel shop) at 6 a.m., have two cups of coffee, and work with my headphones on. After the coffee and uber-productivity, I often have an awesome ride to work and barely notice the miles. NOTE: I've found that I'm more productive writing code late at night and authoring articles/books in the early morning.
  • Listen to music while you work. Some noise-cancelling headphones and your favorite music can do wonders for your productivity. Of course, earbuds work just as well - whatever makes the music sound good. Good music can really help you "get into the groove" of what you're working on, regardless of whether it's writing or coding.
  • Work long hours on Monday and Tuesday. This especially applies if you're a contractor. If you can only bill 40 hours per week, working 12-14 hours on Monday can get you an early-departure on Friday. Furthermore, by staying late early in the week, you'll get your productivity ball-rolling early. I've often heard the most productive work-day in a week is Wednesday.
  • Avoid meetings at all costs. Find a way to walk out of meetings that are unproductive, don't concern you, or spiral into two co-workers bitching at each other. While meetings in general are a waste of time, some are worse than others. Establish your policy of walking out early on and folks will respect you have stuff to do. Of course, if you aren't a noticeably productive individual, walking out of a meeting can be perceived as simply "not a team player", which isn't a good idea.
  • Sleep. While working late nights can be productive in the short term, doing it consecutively will burn you out quickly. Getting a good night's sleep can often lead to greater productivity because you're refreshed and ready to go.
  • Work on something you're passionate about. If you don't like what you're doing for a living, quit. Find a new job as soon as possible. It's not about the money, it's all about happiness. Of course, the best balance is both. It's unlikely you'll ever realize this until you have a job that sucks, but pays well.

To follow up on that last point, I think one of the most important catalysts for productivity is to be happy at your job. If you're not happy at work, it's unlikely you're going to be inspired to be a more efficient person. Furthermore, if you like what you do, it's not really "work" is it?

Here is some general advice I give to folks about jobs and careers. I realize that I'm biased here because I have a good job and I've been fairly successful in my career. However, I also grew up with virtually nothing, and learned all my computer skills on my own. Therefore, I believe that anyone can be successful (meaning: happy with that they do, and financially stable at the same time) if they put their mind to it.

  • If you're not happy at work, quit. I got into contracting early-on in my career (6 months out of college), so I got spoiled with good rates early on. It was also the late 90s, so you could easily switch jobs if you didn't like the one you were in. However, I've always had the policy that if you hate your job for more than 2 weeks, quit. It's just not worth it. Some people enjoy bitching about their jobs and complaining about their co-workers, so this doesn't apply to everyone. However, if you're truly miserable - quit. I've done this a couple times, and it's always led to better opportunities (even if I had to wait 3 months). Julie's done it once or twice and it's always worked out for the better. Once she even got a 20% raise by quitting her traveling-consultant gig with KPMG and going back to her old company, Qwest.
  • Always try to be a contractor before a full-time employee. This especially applies to younger folks who don't need the security of insurance for the family, stock plans, etc. Contractors typically make 50% more than full-time employees and tend to be excluded from company politics that might make the workplace difficult to deal with. While you won't get billable vacation time, you will get the freedom to take however much vacation you want - as long as you get your stuff done. The higher rates can generally make up for the unbillable time while on vacation. However, if you travel too much for fun (or conferences, etc.), it's likely your year-end salary will equal that of a full-time employee. If you make good money as a contractor, you'll also get the opportunity to start your own company (to save money on taxes). This can be a great learning experience. The biggest fear that folks have about "going independent" is they'll have a hard time finding their next gig. If you're productive and blog about what you're doing, this shouldn't be a problem. I haven't had an "interview" since 2002 and haven't updated my resume since then either. Networking at your local JUG and conferences is key.
  • Don't work at a company with a two-week vacation policy. I've never worked at a company with a two-week vacation policy, and I hope I never will. The two full-time gigs I've had in my career have had no vacation policy. This is usually only found in startups - but it generally amounts to "get your shit done, and you can take off all the time you want". My parents both work for the BLM (government agency) and they get 6 weeks off a year. Furthermore, they can earn "comp time" (more days off) by simply working overtime. If you have the ability to take time off whenever you want, it'll likely lead to you being more motivated to work long and hard - b/c you know when you finish that project, you're heading to Cancun for a week.
  • Don't travel if you have kids. If you're single, traveling for work is pretty cool. New places, new people to meet - and seeing the world can be very cool. If you have a spouse, it's likely your desire to travel will decrease, but it's still not that bad. If it helps your career, it's probably a good move. It also helps to save money since everything you do is generally expensible. When Julie and I first met, she traveled 100% and made $20K more per year b/c of it. When you have kids, everything changes and traveling sucks. You miss their first steps, and when they get to toddler-age, they'll want to go with you. Hearing your daughter say "Daddy, can I go with you?" can be heart wrenching when you're leaving on a Sunday afternoon to spend a week with people you've never met before.
  • Ask for more responsibility. If your job sucks, but the company is pretty cool - you may want to ask for a shift in responsibilities. I was once an HTML Developer at a .com. It sucked because we were constantly waiting on the Java Developers to fix bugs we found in their code. Finally, I got tired of waiting and asked my boss to show me how to fix the Java bugs. Granted, I wrote some pretty horrendous code at first, but my boss and co-workers helped a lot and w/in a year I was doing 80% of the Java Development.
  • Most things can be learned by reading. If you want to learn something new (for your current or next career), the best thing to do is read. The world's knowledge resides in books and you can learn a lot. Of course, the best way to retain that knowledge is by doing, but reading is a great first step.

Those are my tips, many of them off the top of my head. I may add more as time goes on - but hopefully this helps in the meantime. Please share yours if you have any.

Posted in General at Apr 14 2006, 11:24:28 AM MDT 55 Comments
Comments:

Your beer comment is so true! Just last week I finally got to reading past chapter 2 on my Getting Real book. Not that the book was boring, but I always tried reading it at night when I was un-motivated. How did I do it? Much like you, I find it tough to get motivated at 11pm simply because I then start thinking of the things I need to do the next day. So, I decided 'Screw this I'm having a beer, open iTunes and listen to my collection of Movie Scores' and I read over half the book with making my own notes in around 2.5hrs! Four beers later and listening to the scores for 'Spy Games' and 'Gladiator' 3x I felt I was so productive! My office thinks I'm weird when I go downstairs (we actually have a pub on the first floor of my building!) and have a large draft and work away. Now, the problem with that is, if I only have 1 or 2, I'm pretty tired when I get home. But if I keep going (oh St. Patty's Day!), I can go all night!

Posted by Brad M on April 14, 2006 at 12:00 PM MDT #

BTW, you can create a view "New and Flagged" in Thunderbird (status is Flagged and status is New), so it will give pretty much the same Inbox representation/filtering as GMail's stars. Another option is to create a Search folder for flagged messages...

Posted by eu on April 14, 2006 at 01:09 PM MDT #

So, what are your music recommendations? Is Chris LeDoux or Metallica better for programming :)

Posted by David B on April 14, 2006 at 01:44 PM MDT #

Thanks, nice post! I do agree with many things: read, find the time when you are productive (I often find that 80% of my work is done in 2 or 3 days, the rest is wasting time), be inspired! And most of all, as long as it is possible : have fun! And! never forget that this is only machines, computers, programs... In fact, the rest is simpply more important - it helps to understand the Big Picture, why you are here, why you spend your time coding, reading about "your job" ; this is not about a job, this is about passion.

Posted by Gabriel K. on April 14, 2006 at 02:50 PM MDT #

Hi Matt, I've been reading your blog for the past two years and this is the first time I'm posting a comment, the reason being I found this post fit my natural style. Hope this helps the new comers to the Industry having passion to acheive things.

Posted by Seshadri Ramani on April 14, 2006 at 03:41 PM MDT #

...and try to read something other than technology.

You may consider:
<ul class="glassList">
  • http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/0553277472
  • http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/039552105X
  • http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/0374292884
  • http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/1400043336

    Posted by Jaime F. Zarama on April 14, 2006 at 04:48 PM MDT #

    "Quit reading e-mail and blogs"

    What? Maybe that's good for productivity, but certainly not for Hapiness! One of the small joy that I have each day is to browse through my daily list of links and blogs, and contributing to my own of course :)

    Kiltak
    [Geeks Are Sexy] Tech. News

    Posted by [GEEKS ARE SEXY] Tech. News on April 14, 2006 at 09:18 PM MDT #

    I sometimes find that music is a distraction. I would also suggest turning off instant messengers. They are the biggest distractions. I also find that blocking myself from Friendster or other social networking sites (and blogs, for instance) during the day through timed blocking on my company router is best for my productivity. It lets me focus on things that will actually make me money!

    Posted by Josh Delsman on April 15, 2006 at 12:31 AM MDT #

    I totally agree with your mentality about quitting if you hate your job. Life is too short to stress about a lame job. Especially in the world of software development. There is so much cool stuff out there, Do something you like. Question, it seems like you have done a lot of contracting, what's the best way to find leads to do contracting? I think I meet all of you criteria above, i'm young , don't need insurance, no kids and want more than 2 weeks vacation. Any ideas...?

    Posted by slim on April 15, 2006 at 01:04 AM MDT #

    Nice article. Thank you for posting it and appreciate your efforts.

    Posted by Amish Gangar on April 15, 2006 at 01:36 AM MDT #

    There's nothing worse than working with people who aren't happy being programmers. I can't agree more with your advice and sentiment on being happy... one unmotivated and unhappy person can bring a whole project down. fz, san francisco

    Posted by Frank Zappa on April 15, 2006 at 01:40 AM MDT #

    Great Post. I'm 21, and I am a huge procastanator. I work full time as a shift manager at Taco Bell. I started a job at local isp but then realized all I was going to be doing is tech support. This was always the one thing I did not want to do in the computer industry. So I quit there after a couple weeks and stayed at the bell. I usally dont get home from work till 1 or 2am. But I cant sleep, so I end up on my computer til 8 to 11am working on my site or just learning new things on the net. This seems like the time where I can get the most done because there is complete silence. After reading this I am reconsidering jump starting a computer repair business I've thought about. I've seem to have a nack for troubleshooting some of the strangest problems on a windows machine. I'm have been learning a lot from my younger brother on starting a business since he started his own construction business last fall and is doing awesome. I think tonight I am going to rest up and tomorrow is my day off so I am going to start drinking around 5pm and would like to take a lot of my current notes on this project and type them out into real forms and policies. I dont know why I havent started this yet. I already get at least 3 calls every day that someone wants help on the phone or wants be to come over and fix their pc. Thanks for the reccomendations.

    Posted by Brandon Boss on April 15, 2006 at 01:57 AM MDT #

    Very useful information. Every point had meaning. A++

    Posted by Rob Morgan on April 15, 2006 at 02:15 AM MDT #

    To add to the list of productivity tips: rythm. Obviously, it will differ per individual, but I react well to a clear cut schedule of rising at 7:30ish and hitting the deck at midnight. That may seem boring, inflexible even, but in the long run, it seemed to have had a positive effect on my general condition, and therefor on my productivity as well.

    Posted by Arno on April 15, 2006 at 04:07 AM MDT #

    [Trackback] The good people at Raible Designs have written an article on how to get things done. “The first and most important means to getting things done is to keep a todo list” There are lots of good tips, so do take a minute or two to read the sug...

    Posted by Johnny Chadda on April 15, 2006 at 04:11 AM MDT #

    Very nice. Just the thing I needed since I'm on holidays but need to get a number of projects done. Cheers.

    Posted by Myrak on April 15, 2006 at 04:58 AM MDT #

    That's really a great post! Not sure about the beer, though. Maybe it works with American beer.

    Posted by Lars Fischer on April 15, 2006 at 05:53 AM MDT #

    This is a totally great resource! Keep up the great work guys.

    --- <em>web design london</em>

    Posted by Juuuisu on April 15, 2006 at 06:50 AM MDT #

    The suggestion that "If you're not happy at work, quit." shows a slight arrogance on the writer's part. To correct the article, it should say, "If you are not happy with your job, find another similar position BUT DONT QUIT YOUR DAY JOB". Nothing destroys your happiness like being evicted. If you hate your software development job, ask your employer to switch you to another project. Some employers are slightly empathic but completely intimidated by programmers. Rather than give up, make an effort to change your situation without running away and you will USUALLY be surprised that someone is willing to switch you to another position (other than the front lobby with your stuff in a box; which is what this article suggests you do immediately? be serious).

    Posted by Jeff on April 15, 2006 at 09:36 AM MDT #

    There are some things I'll never get - like people liking Dr. Pepper and people who code while listening to music. I find it a huge distraction. One of my colleagues listens to pounding techo music while coding and I don't understand how that can help one concentrate.

    Posted by Sanjiv Jivan on April 15, 2006 at 09:54 AM MDT #

    I disagree with the use of music . . . In my own experience, I find that if I'm listening to the music, I'm not focused on the task at hand and if I'm focused on the task at hand, I'm not listening to the music. So the music serves no useful purpose. It's nice to listen when I'm having lunch at my desk or reading e-mails, though.

    Posted by E.Grossman on April 15, 2006 at 10:35 AM MDT #

    One major problem I have is serious ADD and my brain automatically processes any speach slightly I can hear somewhat above the subliminal level that it should be. What happens is, part of my attention is stolen away from the task at hand. Adding to the problem, I am a cube dweller with noisy and distrespectful coworkers. Quite often people take con-calls on speakerphone, or 2-3 people will spend and hour discussing a problem in the next cube over. A lot of times I will pick up on the conversation, and actually know the solution to the problem they are discussing, and out of nowhere go help them, just so I don't have to listen any more. Anyway, that is why I listen to music to block this out. But the music that works best has no vocals, so trance techno works particularly well there. It blocks out the background, relaxes me, and keeps my brain from trying to follow it too closely.

    Posted by Mark on April 15, 2006 at 10:56 AM MDT #

    "Quit reading e-mail and blogs" That is one to live by. If you try to keep up, nothing will ever get done. I am also glad to see someone else endorsing Drinking and Programming, in moderation of course. Very nice. At the end of the day our brains are not multi-core processors, and the more you have rolling around in there at once, the more spread out our resources are... Speaking of that I have some work to be doing, so I better "Quit reading e-mail and blogs."

    Posted by Ben Reubenstein on April 15, 2006 at 11:21 AM MDT #

    I have a question for the last poster. I also have ADD and get distracted easily. Wearing headphones help, a lot. However I am not allowed to wear headphones or listen to music. I really like my manager and the work at my current job, however, because we are a manufacturing firm, in some ways they treat all workers alike. That includes things like listening to music, which we are not allowed to do. Headphones are expecially not allowed. However, this rule mainly affects me and a few others. My cube is on the path between HR and the lunch room. So she can see me. Many other people use headphones but are not on the path, like in the production area, and wear them. Also, there is a very loud PA system that is constantly going off. That also makes it extremely hard to concentrate. Sometimes I am on the phone with a customer discussing software requirements, and they say, is there a problem (they can hear the PA system because it is so loud) and I say no it is just the PA system. Also we have planned fire drills where we all have to line up at our muster locations. On more than one occasion I have a high level meeting with a customer and the alarm goes off I then must heard the customer to our muster location.

    Posted by David on April 15, 2006 at 11:21 AM MDT #

    The following article describes the benefits of classical music for spatial-temporal reasoning. I should probably find another source for music since I have memorized the playlist at mostlyclassical.com. http://coe.sdsu.edu/eet/articles/mozarteffect/start.htm

    Posted by Classical Coder on April 15, 2006 at 11:35 AM MDT #

    I like the Matt Raible Blog. Good job. Of course, this means I am breaking the rule about reading blogs. I guess writing blogs is more important than reading them.

    Posted by Berlin Brown on April 15, 2006 at 12:34 PM MDT #

    Great points Matt. Regarding music, I'm a big fan of listening to music while I program. The best music I have found is Trance since it has a constant beat and requires very little thought. Songs with words distract too easily as does classical music, which demands your attention much more than dance music. -Anthony

    Posted by Anthony Eden on April 15, 2006 at 01:07 PM MDT #

    Wearing a headset and listening to loud music helps concentration because it makes harder for other people to interrupt you.

    It is easier to forget about music pounding into your ears than it is to stop doing what you are doing, make a response to a request and then remember what you were trying to do before. People have to make an effort to overcome noise and interrupt you and this shields you from interruptions for trivial causes.

    Posted by 193.95.248.215 on April 15, 2006 at 02:07 PM MDT #

    Ha! I especially like this one, Matt: "Avoid meetings at all costs." YOU SAID IT! I double my rate for meetings and so far no one has taken me up on the higher rate! Music: It depends on the music and depends on the person. I, of course, can't get nuthin' done without music keeping me focused. But hard rock music just distracts me, as much as I love it. Independent acoustic songwriters work best for me. Soothing but not boring. One day I had headphones on, realized the music had been off for an hour, but the muted outside sounds caused by the headphones had kept me in The Trance. - Anyway, thanks! Printing this out for Allen since he's now got a laptop and the itch to sit in coffee houses.

    Posted by Christina on April 15, 2006 at 03:37 PM MDT #

    Interesting post. I find listening to mellower music like Bach or jazz pretty productive. I'll have to think about your ideas on email and blogging. I think I waste too much time at work checking for stuff that isn't even there. I have to slighty disagree with you about the quitting your job advice. I think you're a person who has a lot of experience under their belt and can afford to quit since there's always something better around the corner. I'd say "know how to take calculated risks" is a better way to look at it. Other than that, great post.

    Posted by Mr. K. on April 15, 2006 at 07:51 PM MDT #

    [Trackback] A link to Matt Raible's Tips for Productivity and Happiness at Work appeared on del.icio.us frontpage this morning. It really interested me because I feel I am not a very productive type of person. I checked it out right away and found it very useful...

    Posted by Thiti V. Sintopchai on April 16, 2006 at 12:10 AM MDT #

    Some other tips:

    - i have all my passwords, helpdesk phonenumbers, ids, pincodes, addresses, and so on stored in "codewallet pro 2005", i sync this with my pda, whenever i need such a thing i just start the app on either my pda or my laptop. Saves me much time looking for passwords or whatever and it is encrypted.

    - i tried lots of different ways of storing address information, todo items, and general other tidbits, after trying a zillion of applications the past years i just went back to 1 single spreadsheet with an enormous amount of worksheets in it. Now i just have freeform space to copy and paste stuff from e-mails whereafter i can delete them. I regularly backup the spreadsheet, i renumber it with the day and then store it in a secured place.

    In the spreadsheet i give hot items another color. I use a color scheme.

    - i use freemind (google) for some of my hot todo areas, these are just temporary mindmaps but they work great for related clouds of todo stuff. I just wished i could link the items to my wiki. I made a new toolbar in my taskbar area in Windows (rightmouseclick, new toolbar) and point it to 1 directory which i named "A". Under there i copied several foldes among others the folder where i keep all my mindmaps but also one in which i keep my favorites which i just store as shortcuts. I organize these via total commander like files, handy when syncing.

    About the mindmaps: the size of the cloud gives me an indication what currently takes the biggest space in my brain.

    About the toolbar: i also placed all my desktop icons in there, a cleaner desktop gives me more quiet feeling.

    - Under the A folder for the toolbar i created several handy folder which i use more often, such as "avatars", each time a website asks an avatar i know where to find it. I used to call this main overall folder "repository", handy for regular backups.

    - I bought a dual layer dvd drive and combined my old cdrom backups on the larger dual layer dvds, they are more expensive but i just needs a few of the dual layer dvds so i just have a small pocket with DVDS where all my files are in.

    - I dont agree with dont reading blog and such. I installed the RSS ticker extension for Firefox and just added a few RSS Feeds: the feeds from the blogs and such of my friends and some relations. Whenever they post something i see it at the bottom of my screen. On the one hand this could lead to more information and time but somehow it saves me time going through each of my rss feeds/blogs i really want to keep track off.

    - Other things... i think i am going to make a blog posting about this on my own weblog, nice subject :)

    Posted by b@@ on April 16, 2006 at 02:06 AM MDT #

    Replying to David: Your (implied) question "what should I do about the distraction, because I can't wear headphones"

    In your situation, I would find out if I could wear earplugs.

    If you're like me and talk on the phone on one side, you can take out the earplug for the ear that you hold the phone to and leave the other on, then put both back in when you're done.

    If there's not a policy against that, I think it would be very difficult for your manager to argue with you asking to use earplugs because you want to be more focused and productive while working.

    Sometimes I listen to music, sometimes I don't; depending on what I'm doing and how much I have to intereact with others, but I often leave my earbuds in, because they help block out the distracting noise from the rest of the office.

    Posted by Brandon on April 16, 2006 at 04:19 AM MDT #

    Reply to Brandon's reply to me. I believe that my manager would prefer that we do whatever would make us more productive. Our manager tries to do whatever he can to make us productive. It is the company wide policies that are problematic. The HR person decided that wearing headphones to listen to music is a safety and liability issue, we would not hear the fire alarm. In my opinion this is not a valid position as the fire alarm is REALLY LOUD. She fought my manager all the way to the owner of the company, understand that we are a 100 million dollar company, the owner sided with HR. So the suggestion to use earplugs is not an option because that might inhibit me from hearing the fire alarm, in the HR person's opinion. Also, the poster said not to work for a company that only has two weeks of vacation. I would love two weeks of vacation. Officially we have two weeks of vacation, but they nickel and dime us out of much of our vacation. There are no personal days and there are strick rules for vacation and sick. You cannot combine vacation and sick and cannot combine sick and holiday weekends. For example, you are not allowed to call in sick around a three day holiday weekend, so if you are sick, you have to take a vacation day. Another example, we are required to work at least 43 hours and 15 minutes a week. We are required to swipe in and out so that they can keep track of our hours. If you work more than those number of hours in any week there is no positive roll over, I typically work many more hours a week to finish any particular project, but if you are short in any week your sick or vacation time is automatically used. You have to be physically at work at least five days a week. If you work 50 hours Monday thru Thursday, but are not there on Friday, you are considered short 8 hours for the week. If you are on a customer site, regardless of how many hours you work, you are only credited with 8 hours a day. So if you spend four days at a customer site, in a death march, working much more than 43 hours, attempting to get the project done, and call in sick on Friday, because you are sick, you are short 8 hours for the week. Sometimes it is hard to decide whether you should leave or not. Positives include: I work on very interesting projects, all technologies are leading edge. I am in charge of all software only projects (we are a manufacturing company, hardware, firmware, software), and like and enjoy all the people I work with, and have a great manager.

    Posted by David on April 16, 2006 at 10:50 AM MDT #

    "Quit reading e-mail and blogs"
    While I second most of your thoughts, I don't support this pretty much.
    Emails -> Yes, I keep all new email alerts turned off, and shutdown my email client when I want to
    'get things done'. And open it only when I want small breaks. Same goes for blogs. I believe quitting
    it altogether would be an extreme step, but developing a discpline on when and how many times
    to check them is of paramount importance.

    Posted by Atul T on April 17, 2006 at 03:13 AM MDT #

    Good job thanks! Best wishes to owner of this site!

    Posted by Chester on April 17, 2006 at 04:46 AM MDT #

    You're absolutely right, one can only be truely productive when you really like what you're doing. And the best step is to concentrate on what keeps you motivated, be it playing around with some new gimmicks or enjoying the time with the ones you love. And when I try to get rid of all this "background noise" that tries to take my focus and enthusiasm, I fire up my iPod and tune in to Coldplay or Green-Day... depending on how close we are to the deadline ;-)

    Posted by Lutz on April 17, 2006 at 07:29 AM MDT #

    I love doing computer work while listening to music as long as I use earphones because the people with whom I work with don't like electronic music ;-) Oh and that thing about READING when you want to learn something is so true. People at my work wait for the company to hand them courses on stuff. I always learned my computer stuff by reading books.

    Posted by Pedro Remedios on April 17, 2006 at 08:21 AM MDT #

    [Trackback] Like a lot of computer-oriented people (a nice way of saying ‘nerds’), I’ve always been interested in ways I could improve my workflow, and especially the ‘Getting Things Done’ approach. I’ve been reading Merlin Mann...

    Posted by Bloody Fingers on April 17, 2006 at 10:39 AM MDT #

    what does "b/c" mean?

    Posted by b on April 17, 2006 at 01:15 PM MDT #

    b/c == Because

    Posted by Matt Raible on April 17, 2006 at 01:16 PM MDT #

    Wearing a headset and listening to loud music helps concentration because it makes harder for other people to interrupt you.

    Posted by yp on April 17, 2006 at 07:42 PM MDT #

    How many hours of sleep do you average a week? I find the hardest part in getting involved in open source is that I spend the entire day coding and then struggle to get anything done outside of the day job. One of the reasons I think I have this problem is that I require too much sleep. I could easily sleep every day from 10 PM to 8 AM. Any advice? Should I develop a better caffeine habit?

    Posted by Mark Johnson on April 18, 2006 at 08:50 AM MDT #

    Nice post. I do have to agree with the "listening to music" part. When I program I try to listen to chillout, ambient or loungy music. It relaxes me and detattaches me from what's going on around me and helps me to zone-in and focus on whatever project I'm working on.. On the other hand, when I listen to Trance or Proggresive music I just feel like surfing the net and look for island pictures or vacation spots (go figure). ;) I've worked for several companies and *yet* I am to find one that offers more than two weeks of vacation per year. *sigh*

    Posted by Antonio Gonzalez on April 18, 2006 at 09:13 AM MDT #

    Reponse to Mark about needing sleep, working in a demanding job, what about an outside life. I have the same issue. I have found that exercise helps. Lots of it. I have purchased a "trainer". it connects to the rear wheel of my bicycle and allows me to work out while watching TV, indoors. I have infared headphones. The best is to get up early and exercise before work. The whole day is better and I sleep better. Any exercise is better than none. Even if it is late in the evening. Problem is that on a normal day, have trouble getting up which conflicts with exercise before work since I have to be in work, at this job we have to swipe in and out. When I worked in Silicon Valley, I always worked out in the morning.

    Posted by David on April 18, 2006 at 09:23 AM MDT #

    Mark - I'm one of those people who can live on 3-4 hours of sleep per night. However, I find that if I do it too many days in a row, my ability to produce goes way down. A full night's sleep after two nights of 4 hours of sleep can do wonders. That being said, there are many days when I hit snooze from 4 a.m. to 8 a.m. because my ToDo List for the day doesn't excite me. When I'm doing a software release (especially for AppFuse of Equinox), I can easily sleep 2-4 hours per night b/c I'm so into it.

    Posted by Matt Raible on April 18, 2006 at 09:23 AM MDT #

    I love all of the comments here. Couple of points. I don't know what it is with developers and anti-sleep. I mean I guess working on 100 different projects is good. But, I love my 8 hours. Or at least an hour in bed just thinking about what I will be doing the next day. And like you mentioned it is not always constant. On a good drive day; I could probably do 24-30 hours awake and then on the weekend sleep-in for 10 hours knowing I accomplished something. On excercise; try staying up really late on the weekend, stay up till 4-5 in the morning and then go running; assuming the sun comes up it feels great.

    Posted by Berlin Brown on April 18, 2006 at 09:55 AM MDT #

    If you're like me and talk on the phone on one side, you can take out the earplug for the ear that you hold the phone to and leave the other on, then put both back in when you're done.

    Posted by UOP on April 18, 2006 at 03:25 PM MDT #

    well this is the first time i read ur blog and i do agree with ur point that the time at night is the most peaceful time and u can be maximum of productive at that time. day time most of time u have to waste in some useless task

    Posted by kriti on April 20, 2006 at 07:04 AM MDT #

    I'm convinced that the reason that I haven't been able to jump on board a good Open Source project is because of my sleep issues. I always seem to require 8 hours or I won't get to work until late (I'm a perfectionist...8:10 is late :) ). I really wish I could find a way to fix this problem though because I really want to get involved on a project outside of work. I need that work to inspire me. Speaking of inspired, Matt I'm interested to hear your opinion on the topic of your April fools joke. What is your impression of Ruby on Rails? I have been reading about it a good bit. I have been impressed with how truly object oriented it is. I am impressed that it seems to actually avoid procedural designs that I think the EJB world and the anemic domain model provoked so much. I'm curious if perhaps a RoR open source project might be a good place to learn Ruby and get involved because it might have a community that is full of more object oriented minds rather than former procedural world people who think they're doing pure OO. What are your thoughts?

    Posted by Mark Johnson on April 20, 2006 at 08:08 PM MDT #

    <em>> I'm convinced that the reason that I haven't been able to jump on board a good Open Source project is because of my sleep issues.</em>

    The best way to work on open source is to get paid to do it. Of course, that's often a dream job that's tough to come by. However, one of the best parts about being a contractor is there's often "down time" (or you can just be productive enough to produce your own free time). You could use this time to work on open source or play with your latest favorite technology.

    <em>> What is your impression of Ruby on Rails?</em>

    I think it's awesome in the simplicity it brings to web applications. I did web sites waaaayyy before I did this Java stuff and I've always admired clean and simple solutions to web applications. I've bought the Ruby and Rails books, but haven't had time to read them - mostly because there's still plenty of clients interested in open source Java tools. That being said, I can't wait for the first project I can use it on. Then again, I have AppFuse - and I'm pretty damn productive with that. ;-)

    Posted by Matt Raible on April 20, 2006 at 09:17 PM MDT #

    Matt, It was quite a pleasure finding this site after meeting you tonight at the 7th Annual Consultants and Technologists Dinner for the ABA Tech Show!

    Posted by Norm Thomas on April 20, 2006 at 11:14 PM MDT #

    Sorry Norm, I wasn't at the show you speak of this evening.

    Posted by Matt Raible on April 21, 2006 at 12:49 AM MDT #

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    Posted by H?vard Pedersen on June 23, 2006 at 03:42 AM MDT #

    great read. I hope you don't mind i posted a link to this article on my website. http://bathroomnapper.blogspot.com/

    Posted by cmanlong on April 16, 2007 at 10:25 AM MDT #

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