Brian Gilham

Engineering leader, husband, and father

time-management

Thank You

Over the last 52 weeks, I’ve published over 70,000 words on topics like productivity, time management, motivation, and doing great work as a programmer. Much to my surprise and delight, over 1,200 of you have stuck around to read them. This week, I’m going to keep my message simple: Thank you. Thank you for reading what I write. Thank you for your thoughtful comments and critiques. Thank you for your support during hard times.

Over the last 52 weeks, I’ve published over 70,000 words on topics like productivity, time management, motivation, and doing great work as a programmer. Much to my surprise and delight, over 1,200 of you have stuck around to read them. This week, I’m going to keep my message simple:

Thank you.

Thank you for reading what I write. Thank you for your thoughtful comments and critiques. Thank you for your support during hard times. Thank you for allowing my work into your life, each and every week.

I can’t say with any degree of honesty that everything I’ve written for the Mailer has been a home run. But I genuinely hope, on the whole, I’ve brought some value into your work and your life.

I won’t be publishing the Monday Mailer on a weekly basis, going forward. But this isn’t the last you’ll be hearing from me. I’ll still be writing new articles on my blog, creating new side projects, and maybe — just maybe — finally be finishing a book.

Thank you, again.

Cheers,

-Brian


Finding the Time

“I’d love to work on my own projects, but I never seem to find the time.” If I had a nickel for every time I’ve heard some variation of that line, I’d have a whole lot of nickels. Several vaults worth, at least. You’ve probably heard it too — coming out of your own mouth, even. The idea that you’ll magically “find” the time to work on your side projects is silly.

“I’d love to work on my own projects, but I never seem to find the time.”

If I had a nickel for every time I’ve heard some variation of that line, I’d have a whole lot of nickels. Several vaults worth, at least. You’ve probably heard it too — coming out of your own mouth, even.

The idea that you’ll magically “find” the time to work on your side projects is silly. Once you’re done working at your day job, spending time with friends & family, and dealt with personal commitments, it’s hard to imagine finding even a spare second for anything else. Oh, and let’s not forget about those times life decides to throw you a curveball or two — as it does, from time to time.

But there’s something we all know deep down, even if don’t want to admit it to ourselves.

Thinking you don’t have any time is just an excuse.

(There are exceptions, to be sure. We all have moments where side projects are far from a priority. Having gone through it recently, I know that quite well. If you’re going through just such a time right now, feel free to disregard this advice until your life is back in order.)

We all feel like we’re working too much — that we have enough on our plates already. But if you’re going pursue the projects you’re most passionate about, you’re going to have to start prioritizing them. You’re going to have to optimize the time you have available.

Life will eat up every spare moment if you let it. If you’re serious about pushing your projects forward, you’re going to have to fight for the time to do it. 

How? By eliminating time spent on bullshit.

What’s bullshit? It’s time spent on consuming other people’s work, rather than producing your own. Or time spent on mindless busywork. Or doing things just to “stay busy.”

How much time are you spending: * Watching hours of television, or playing video games? * Reading every last post in your social media feeds? * Reorganizing your desk, or hard drive, for the 1000th time? * Hanging out with people you hate, doing things you don’t enjoy? It’s time to take control of your schedule.

If I walked up to you and asked for $100, you’d rightfully have some questions for me. Like, “Why the hell should I give you $100, random stranger from the internet?”

But when was the last time you applied even that low standard to your time? Time is one of the few finite resources in life but, far too often, we give it away freely.

Stop blindly accepting every meeting request you receive. Learn to say no to things you don’t want to do — or can’t contribute to in a meaningful way. Figure out when you’re most productive and schedule your days around that time.

Ask yourself some hard questions. Why are you spending time watching TV, or reading blogs, when you could be coding your next web app? Why are you blowing time reading Twitter, when you could be brainstorming your next great idea? Instead of listening to someone else’s podcast, why aren’t you creating your own?

Why are you reading this email, rather than doing something else?

You need to consciously decide to change those habits. It won’t be easy. But you’ll be amazed how much time you can “find” once you stop consuming and start creating. And start being intentional about your time.

Until next week,

-Brian


Batching Tasks

Lately, I’ve been struggling with the amount of context-switching I have to do each day. One minute I’m knee-deep in coding, the next I’m interviewing a prospective employee or doing a 1-on-1 with a member of my team. And that’s before I get to any meetings I have to attend. Oh, and don’t forget about the emails piling up in my inbox. It’s frustrating. Every switch means 20 minutes of trying to get back in the “zone” and, by the time that happens, it isn’t long before I have to run off to my next task.

Lately, I’ve been struggling with the amount of context-switching I have to do each day. One minute I’m knee-deep in coding, the next I’m interviewing a prospective employee or doing a 1-on-1 with a member of my team. And that’s before I get to any meetings I have to attend. Oh, and don’t forget about the emails piling up in my inbox.

It’s frustrating. Every switch means 20 minutes of trying to get back in the “zone” and, by the time that happens, it isn’t long before I have to run off to my next task. I haven’t been able to give 100% of my attention to anything. And that isn’t fair to me, or my coworkers.

Despite having quite a bit of agency over how I schedule my time, I’ve never actually taken advantage. So, last week I decided to experiment with a technique I’ve heard a lot about over the years: batching similar tasks. I decided to tackle the two biggest pain points first: meetings and email.

Meetings

I’ve moved all of my non-project work to one day a week: Wednesday. From morning to night, Wednesday is now my “sit in a room and talk to people” day. Internal meetings, client meetings, interviews, 1-on-1s, you name it. Where possible, they all happen on that same day. I try to schedule consecutive meetings in the same room to cut down on the amount of running around I have to do.

It isn’t perfect – last Wednesday was a long day – but it means I can put myself in the right state of mind for whatever the day will bring. Is it Wednesday? Okay, that means I need to be ready to sit down, be mentally present, and have real conversations with my team. Any other day? Time to crank out code.

Email

I’ve scheduled two 30-minute blocks each day for processing my email; 9 am and 4 pm. All other times, my email client is closed. I’ve also set it to only fetch new mail manually, just in case my muscle memory kicks in and I open it accidentally.

When an email block rolls around in my calendar, I take the approach that every email in my inbox has to be dealt with in that time. I force myself to make a choice to either respond immediately or ignore/archive it. Every once in a while, an email has to wait until the next email block – or even the next day. But I never go over my 30-minute window. I’ve found most emails can be answered right away, or don’t need a response at all.

Experimenting

I’m only a week into this experiment, but the results have been promising so far. I’ll be sure to let you all know how it goes. At best, it will improve my productivity. At worst, it’ll be a good example of what not to do.

Like most things in life, I suspect the answer will fall somewhere in the middle.

Until next time,

–Brian


Making Time for Side Projects

This week’s article is as much a reminder to myself as it is advice for you. I haven’t done a good job of managing my time, lately. Instead of writing or pushing my side projects forward, I’ve been binge-watching Netflix, reading blog posts full of productivity tips, and playing copious amounts of Pokémon Go. Time to re-focus. Here are some tips for making more time for your side projects. I’ll be re-implementing a bunch of them myself, this week.

This week’s article is as much a reminder to myself as it is advice for you. I haven’t done a good job of managing my time, lately. Instead of writing or pushing my side projects forward, I’ve been binge-watching Netflix, reading blog posts full of productivity tips, and playing copious amounts of Pokémon Go.

Time to re-focus.

Here are some tips for making more time for your side projects. I’ll be re-implementing a bunch of them myself, this week.

Control your schedule

Do everything you can to control your schedule, free of interference from other people. When you do creative work, you need extended periods of uninterrupted time to focus. It’s up to you to create that time.

If someone walked up to you and asked for $100, you’d rightfully have questions. But we rarely apply the same standard to our calendars. Don’t blindly accept every meeting request you receive. Figure out when you’re most productive and schedule around those times.

Granted, this can be difficult if you work at a full-time job or have family commitments. Those hours are accounted for already. But there’s lots of wiggle room if you’re intentional about how you spend the rest of your time.

Stop consuming, start creating

I know it’s a bit ironic for me to suggest this, what with running this mailing list and all. But, at a certain point, you have to stop consuming other people’s content and start creating your own. Articles full of tips & tricks, productivity hacks, and other bullshit can be helpful – for a while.

But every second you spend learning about productivity is a second you aren’t, well, being productive. How often do you apply what you’ve read to your work? Almost never, if you’re anything like me. It’s a trap.

Once you’ve read something valuable stop, think about how you can apply it to your life, then close your browser and go do it. Favour action. You’ll learn more that way, anyway.

Stop doing shit you hate

Often, out of a sense of obligation or guilt, we commit to doing things we hate. It doesn’t just eat up your time; it erodes your overall happiness and satisfaction. Derek Sivers put it best: “If you’re not saying ‘HELL YEAH!’ about something, say ‘no.’”

Cancel any commitment you aren’t 100% invested in.  

Prepare for tomorrow

Sometimes the hard part isn’t making time for your work; it’s getting started once you’re staring at a blank page. It isn’t always easy to turn free time into productive time (see: my Netflix binge-watching). The more you can reduce the effort it takes to get down to work, the better.

As you’re wrapping up your day, ask yourself one question: “What’s something I can do – right now – to make it easier to do my work tomorrow?”

It could mean cleaning off and organizing your desk. Or writing a to-do list. Or deciding on your next writing topic. It will be unique to you and whatever you’re working on right now. It’s a habit you’ll have to work on developing, at first. But once you do, you’ll thank yourself each and every morning.

Until next time,

–Brian