Tag: effectiveness

Timeboxing: TODO List 2.0!

I recently wrote about TODO lists and how they can help with focus now that many of us are working from home. I had a former colleague on LinkedIn mention this concept of “timeboxing” (which I think many people are familiar with the general idea) and how that can improve the effectiveness of a TODO list.

Here’s the post I made on LinkedIn sharing my blog article:

And the comment that came in right away from Graeme Harvey:

Graeme Harvey - Timeboxing

This obviously got me thinking because sure, Elon Musk is a pretty smart dude, but I also have a lot of respect for Graeme and his perspective on things. So I decided I’d try something out!

TODO Lists v1.0

My original TODO lists didn’t factor in any timeboxing techniques, but they had some benefits. The engineering mind in me says this is a great opportunity to do a little bit of a pros & cons analysis, so if you didn’t think I was nerdy before… Buckle up!

Pros:

  • Generally written out in the order I want (or need) to get things done. Acts a bit like a schedule in that regard.
  • Can have big and small items on the list.
  • Making progress on small items can help build momentum.
  • Let’s me record all the things I want (or need) to get done in the day and track if I did that or not

Cons:

  • No concept of how many things are too many or too few for an entire day’s worth of activity… There’s no timeboxing!
  • No concept of relative time spent on things (If I wrote “eat breakfast” and “Write a novel”, do they each get equal amount of time?)

TODO Lists v1.1

Okay we’re not quite yet at version 2.0 for these, but I took some of the concepts Graeme was referring to and I’ve implemented them every day since he made the comment. I’ve been trying to gauge how things have been going in terms of productivity and I’m already impressed. In fact, writing this blog post is part of my TODO list with timeboxing constraints (so meta, right?).

So the changes I made were very subtle but I’ll list them below:

  • I dropped the concept of putting in order what has to get done. Much of what I’m working on right now doesn’t have true dependencies, so trying to come up with an order for things doesn’t make sense (right now).
  • Every item I write down I put a time estimate on in minutes or hours. Literally everything. Remember I said little things like “Eat breakfast” can still be a TODO item that can help you feel like there’s momentum? Right. Breakfast, 10 minutes. Lunch, 15 minutes. Everything gets a time!
  • I tally up the total time my TODO list should take with timeboxing and do a gut check. I’m at least awake for 16 hours (typically people sleep like 8 hours, right?), but it’s probably closer to 18 hours. Because I’m starting off and don’t have great estimates, I’m ensuring I’m around the 12 hour mark for filling up my day.
  • I’m purposefully leaving some wiggle room in my schedule so that I can try incrementally building this out to be more accurate.

Nothing groundbreaking to implement, but what have I noticed so far?

  • Having a (relatively) small list of things I need to get done and getting to pick the next thing I want to tackle is kind of nice. A bit of flexibility is great!
  • The timeboxing really helps me make sure I’m focused on what I set out to do. 1 hour to review interview questions? Better not scroll on Instagram. 30 minutes to research a topic? Better not be on YouTube.
  • Some estimates for things are way off and some are very accurate! That’s okay though, because the following day I can adjust my estimates accordingly.
  • The overall feeling of being productive and making progress, for me at least, is even higher than it was before.

I’ve really enjoyed this small tweak and I’m hoping to get this to v2.0 status really soon 🙂 Thanks Graeme!


Listen First: The Human Sounding Board

Background

In the company I work at, Magnet Forensics, I’ve gotten myself into a leadership role. I wasn’t hired for this position (I’m a programmer at heart) but I’ve managed to stumble my way into it! As a young leader, I think one thing is really obvious for me in my daily leadership tasks: I don’t have all of the answers. Hell, I don’t even have a lot of the answers! So what keeps me from being entirely useless as a leader then?

I know who has the answers. My team.

The most important leadership lesson that I’ve learned (and I’m glad I learned it early) is to listen. The benefits to listening, and I mean actually listening, can be beneficial to the person asking as well as yourself as the leader.

How Can Listening Help Me?

Let’s be honest here. You’re a leader. You have things to do. How is sitting around listening to other people going to help you?

I briefly mentioned it already, but as a leader, I don’t have all of the answers. I’m also willing to bet that you don’t have all of the answers. In the end, probably nobody has all of them. The group of people you lead, collectively, probably have the best bet at having the answers though. Your team is not only core to production at work, but they’re also a great source of insight. Provided you have hired people from a variety of backgrounds, everyone has different experiences and perspectives to share.

Say you’ve run into a problem where developers can’t code things in parallel because everyone has different versions of the source code. Someone on your team suggests source control software. Cool. What the heck is it? Let’s ask a couple other people for their perspective on it. Now you know that some people have used Subversion, some Git, and others CVS. You still may not know what they are, but you know that introducing one of these could solve the problem at hand. But which one? Ask. What are people comfortable with? What are the pros and cons? What are people’s person experiences with these? Use the information provided by your team to guide your decision making process.

That’s Great, But… I Knew That. What Else?

If you’re a leader in your place of work, you may have encountered a situation like the following. You have a junior staff member come to you to ask questions. Like anyone else, you’re busy with your own stuff to do, but it’s your responsibility to help out your staff (and junior staff need the most assistance)! So, you do the obvious thing: give them the answer.

Sound familiar? It’s a common situation and it probably doesn’t seem out of the ordinary. Sometimes after a handful of questions, these junior staff members get up to speed and the questions cease or slow down. Other times, you might notice a bigger problem. That junior staff member becomes a bit more of a familiar face. You actually see a lot more of him or her now. And the questions? Don’t you worry. He or she has tons of them. In fact, they have an unlimited list of them.

If you listen to what these people are asking you, you can better shift the solution to long term. Don’t instinctively spit out the right answer. Let them ask you. Then ask them some questions back. Listen to their responses. If listen to what their problem is, you can find out where their pain points are. Guide them through it by asking them more questions and using their responses to steer the conversation.

This is beneficial for you because you’ll start seeing less of this person for asking questions. But why? What have you started doing?

Benefiting The Person With The Questions

And now we’ve arrived at the other core point: become the human sounding board. By listening (and listening well) you can actually let other people answer their own problems. They really just need some guidance in the whole process. It’s really similar to rubber duck problem solving (from the programming world). People often come to you with questions, and they’re on the verge of arriving at the answer.

You end up conditioning people on your team (that sounds king of wrong I guess, but let’s roll with it) to think first. People won’t come to you because they know they can get a quick answer from you. It’s not like doing a search on The Internet and relying on the first result anymore. Problem solving often doesn’t have a simple instant answer so don’t teach people to use you for that.

How Can I Listen Better?

Stop talking. It’s that easy. When someone comes to you with a question, don’t interrupt them with the answer before they’re done. Shush your lips. Besides, nobody likes being interrupted. You’re also demonstrating you’re not listening if you wan to interrupt them to answer. They could throw in a curve ball at the end that completely changes the context. So… hold your horses, zip your lips, and open your ears. If you find it hard to do this, actually shut up and count to 3 before you respond. You might get some funny looks for a week or so, but you’ll be listening a lot better after that.

Give your full attention to the person asking you questions. If you’re typing 3 emails, checking your facebook and twitter accounts, programming and interrupting the person asking you questions, you’re doing it wrong. When someone comes up to ask you a question, provided you aren’t in the middle of something that you can’t get away form momentarily, lock your computer. Lock it, turn to the person, and give them your full attention. You certainly aren’t listening well if you’re multi-tasking while someone is asking you questions. How do I know? Well, I guess I don’t. But I’d be confident in saying that you could listen better if you gave him or her your undivided attention. This also makes the person asking you feel more engaged. They know that you’re listening.

Reword people’s questions back to them. When someone asks you something, paraphrase it and ask it back. Confirm that what you’re hearing is what they’re asking. Why does this matter? It ensures you that you’re not misinterpreting something and it ensures him or her that you know what they are asking. It engages the person asking the question and it forces you to actually listen. It’s pretty hard to paraphrase something if you’re only hearing words and not getting any meaning from it.

Summary

By acting as a human sounding board, you:

  • Need to listen to what people are saying. Actually listen to the meaning.
  • Need to practice giving full attention.
  • Need to bite your tongue. Just. Stop. Talking.
  • Paraphrase what people ask. Boost engagement from both sides of the conversation.
  • Empower other people to make decisions better.
  • Utilize your number one information resource: your own team.

There are many benefits to listening. Start now to help yourself and help your team. You’ll see the results of this immediately. Try it out!


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  • Nick Cosentino

    Nick Cosentino

    I have nearly a decade of professional hands on software engineering experience in parallel to leading multiple engineering teams to great results. I'm into bodybuilding, modified cards, and blogging about leadership/development topics over at http://www.devleader.ca.

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