How do you plan for mid/long-term work? Do you use goals, to-do lists, regular reviews?
I use a 3-tier system: goals, projects, and a todo list. Goals determine projects, and projects determine to-dos (in GTD parlance, next actions). I do Friday weekly reviews of which projects I made progress on that week (and what goals they’re attached to), and what I’d like to focus on the coming week, and prioritize tasks based on that. At the end of each day, I queue up the to-do’s I’d like to focus on the next day. That helps me “park on a downward slope” so to speak: when I begin my day, I know exactly what I’m doing and why, and I can just get started.
This method is probably too overwrought and systematized for many people, especially people with a more spontaneous nature. For me, goal/project/task review and organizing my todo list is a form of anxiety management and stress relief. When I’m feeling overwhelmed by how much there is to do for long-term work, having a plan calms me down because it makes me feel like I’m on the right path.
What do you do when you feel overwhelmed with work, or your day is otherwise going badly? Do you have a go-to method for “resetting” your day?
Yep — if the weather’s okay, I take a walk outside. Sunlight and a brisk walk almost always reset my attitude on a tough day. If the weather’s bad and I’ve got time, I go to the gym. If I don’t have that kind of time, deep breaths, a glass of ice water or a hot cup of green tea. If it’s the task at hand that’s crushing my spirit, I switch to something else for awhile. As a programmer I’ve learned the only thing to do when you hit a wall with a bug is to step away from it for awhile.
Do you procrastinate much? If so, how do you overcome that when you need to hit a deadline?
Oh dear yes. I’m pretty much in a constant state of procrastination. In fact, I’m procrastinating right now! (I’d much rather be doing this interview than That Other Thing I have to do today.) And that’s how I usually deal with procrastination. I try to use the energy I’m expending avoiding one thing to move ahead another. I don’t have time to be doing nothing at all.This technique doesn’t work as well when you’re on a hard deadline. When I’m in that situation, I try a couple of approaches. First, I try to figure out what my mental block is and try to rationalize my way out of it. What is the root of the dread? Talking about that with a human I trust can help. Second, I’ll try to break down the thing I have to do into the smallest atomic units. If it’s a writing assignment, I try to make writing the next sentence, the next paragraph, the goal. If I can do that, I can celebrate. I’ve got movement, and things in motion want to stay in motion. Finally, if I’m desperate, I settle for good old fashioned bribery — if I get so much done, then I get some sort of reward.
Do you have any other “bad” work habits you have to work around?I overthink things.
As an engineer, my brain is trained to think of everything that can go wrong, and that means I can fall into the trap of spending time on premature optimizations. I’m also a perfectionist, so it’s uncomfortable for me to publish or ship something I don’t think is completely perfect. To deal with that, I always try to remember: nothing is ever perfect, and that’s okay.