When 1 Hour Is Not 1 Hour, Again.

If you’ve been following my twitter stream lately, you might have noticed that I am posting about once a day with an update on my thesis work. I’ve been working for a while at a particular piece of the puzzle, making slow but steady progress. The key has been partly due to the fact that I’m forcing myself to do it every day, and not slack off. It’s a big productivity booster, and I think it has been helping me get more done for a while now. There are a bunch of reasons why I think it has helped me eek a bit more than an hour out of that work every day.

The first is that I am making myself culpable after the fact about what I have done in that day. While there is some evidence that telling people what you’re going to do before you do it is detrimental to finishing, it’s a little hard to keep something like a Thesis a secret. I’ve compromised by switching the rules around a little bit, and posting what I’ve done after I do it. It helps me stay on task by reminding myself that I will have to fess up to not doing anything if there is nothing that I accomplished in the day. It also helps me look back on my progress for the day and gives me a little review - reminding myself where I was if I lose track as well.

Another facet that I’ve been gaining from is that when I’m in downtime, I’m never really not thinking about my thesis work. Everything that I end up doing at work and especially the pieces of my work which are related are keeping my mind on task and making me think about what I need to do at the end of the day. I also make a point of trying to split my work in half for the day, and take a walk while I’m still thinking about stuff. Lately I’ve been listening to some podcasts on my daily exercise, but I am convinced that there is still some part of my brain working on it, especially because I know that I’m only halfway done with the day - I am thinking about what I want to accomplish in that second half-hour of work.

Related to the half-hour nature of my time management, I also use the Pomodoro technique in order to time the intervals. I’m specifically using Pomodroido, which works quite well for Android. The advantage of using the pomo as a timer is that I don’t think about looking about how much time is left, I know that I will get at least a 5 minute break between sessions, and it also has a nifty progress bar and levelling-up system which gives me a great sense of accomplishment. By looking at how many pomos I’ve done in a week, I can confirm that I did my work for every day. I’ve used the pomodoro in the past for general tasks, but I have a harder time when I’m not able to focus on a single task. Using it for something as focused as “thesis work” works out well for me.

Lastly, I think that the timing of my work is a big factor. I do my work at the end of my work day, which means that my mind is still in the productive mode from being at work all day long, but I also do it in a different environment, so I am training myself to think about other things. There is also somewhat of a “thinking about it outside the timebox” which happens because of completing the work nearer to the end of the day. I haven’t actually experimented, but I am fairly convinced that if I did it at the beginning of the day, I would get less done.

Working every day on my thesis has been a big boon to making progress on it in the last few months. I am making real progress which is shown by the fact that I’m almost ready to run my first experiment. Using the timebox in the way that I do, by using a specific timer, splitting it in half and doing something else in the middle, and putting the work at the end of the day, has been a big help to getting a lot more out of an hour of work every day than I would expect. I’m hoping that I can take these tools and apply them to other projects as well - I’m wondering about how well they would apply to something like my consulting when I have a project that needs to get done. I’m also wondering if I can add another hour to the work in the day to “ramp it up” for the last parts of the thesis when I’m in crunch time.