your calendar belongs to you!

I was taking a training class this week and was informed that some of the things I do aren’t “common knowledge.” So I’m going to be using the soft skills category in this blog to share some of them. Consider this the first blog post of many.

The advice that started this was a comment I made about blocking out your calendar. If you want to be able to do something, you need to make it a priority. And how do you do that if your calendar tells the world (well your co-workers) – “hey look, Fred is free at this time.”

Personally, I block out time for lunch each day. I also block out “coding blocks” so I have dedicated blocks in which I can focus. Want to do something after work? Block out your calendar starting 5 or 5:30.

Now I know what you are thinking – that won’t work in my job. We have unplanned events, emergencies, high priority meetings. Well, that’s ok. You can make peace with the idea that you won’t keep all of your blocks. Maybe you want to run at 5pm three days a week. Block out 5pm on all five weekdays. That way you can have two unplanned events and rest assured that you will still run three days a week.

One reason this works, is that you regain control of your calendar. If you have it blocked, someone has to ask you (or you have to offer) to free up that time for them. Which ensures it is important enough a reason to do so.

One of my co-workers started calendar blocks at my suggestion. He still has those blocks in his calendar so it must be working for him too! And if it helps us, why not you as well?

jeanne’s attempt at pomodoro

When I work at home on personal computer projects, I have one of two problems:

  1. getting distracted from my main task by other computer things or other items that need doing around the house
  2. getting so absorbed in my task that I forget to look away from the computer causing me to get a headache and need to stop
Neither of these is an issue at work and I can usually get a couple hours of personal project stuff done on a given weekend day before it becomes a big problem.  Which is all the time I usually have anyway.  One weekend was different.  I was technical proofreading a 300-400 page book (The Well Grounded Java Developer) and needed to get a lot done in a short time.  I blocked out my weekend to have 15-20 hours to do it.  Then all I needed was focus.
I’d read about Pomodoro and decided it to try it with this particular project.  (which is evidence of problem #1 – I was experimenting with Pomodoro when I should be reading.)
Installing software
First I installed the GNU pomodairo app.  Including the download of Adobe AIR itself, this took less than ten minutes.  I added my tasks and kicked it off.
How it went
The beginning two Pomodoros were the toughest.
  1. On the first one, I got water 2 minutes before the break. I needed to trust it and wait longer.  The sound was a bit jarring.  I only read 3 pages (and played with an example.)  Not much momentum yet.
  2. On the second one, I worked a whole pomodoro but only read one page (and fiddled with examples).  I did get in the zone although I could have stayed there longer.  I took a break anyway to avoid burnout.  I did successfully wait out the Pomodoro to check my e-mail (which I noticed because gmail automatically pulls mail and I needed to refer to one as part of my task).  I learned the tool shows your pomodoro as interrupted if you don’t click the right button at the end of a Pomodoro.
  3. On the third one I was starting to feel the flow.  That time I did get fully into what I was doing in 25 minutes and got two tiny chores done during the break.
  4. At this point, it started working.  I got absorbed during every Pomodoro.
My stats weren’t correct.  I lost two pomodoros on the second chapter I read. I think it was because I didn’t explicitly select the next task when I finished the first one.  But the stats didn’t matter.  What mattered is that I was able to get focus and momentum going.  And I didn’t have a headache at the end of the day.
I’m not sure if it was the Pomodoros themselves that helped me or the fact that I was doing something different so felt obligated to be responsible.  Hmm.  That sounds like a good question to post on  Did so here.