Wednesday, February 24, 2016

How to Save a Million Seconds This Year

I play Call of Duty: Black Ops with my daughters (both the original and Black Ops II). 

We typically play team death match and we are all on the same team. We like to keep the family on one team and the “bad” guys on the other team. Cooperative games help keep us “liking” each other.

Depending on who is play, we’ll have 2, 3 or 4 Teske’s on the same team playing against as many AI players as the game will allow.  

The next and most important debate we have is what difficultly to play.  

If you play Recruit, you will totally smash the opponents.  

If you play Regular, you’ll likely win with a decent margin.

If you play Hardened, you have a 50/50 chance of winning and you better bring your 'A’ game.  

If you play Veteran, you need your A+++ game, caffeine, luck, and my middle daughter … who is a terror to any opponent she faces.

Saving a Million Milliseconds a Day is equivalent to Recruit or Regular.


Saving one million seconds in a year requires an average daily savings of 45 min/day, 3 times the amount of minutes at the “Million Milliseconds” level.  This type of savings is on the order of Hardened and depending on your situation and capabilities, you might consider this the Veteran level.

In my previous article, “How to Save a Million Milliseconds in a Day,” I talked about several ways to invest time toward your the valuable life pursuits.

When it comes to saving random pieces of time on the order of 15 minutes, it’s pretty easy to find your top 5 time wasters and eradicate them from your routine.

Saving a millions seconds per year requires a more systematic approach.  My goal each year is to eat breakfast with my family every weekday.  I’m calling this 30 minutes of “saved” time. It’s saved time because, if remember from my previous article that you really can only invest time and earn the rewards of well spent time, you can never bottle up time and use it later.

First consider what is important

Your significant other is important.
Your intellectual growth is important
Your health is important.
Your family is important.  
Your friendships are important.
Your career is important.  
You could probably name a few other important things that are personal to you.

Level Up From Recruit to Hardened Through Consistent Behaviors

Below are example of systems that reflect what is important and will yield a time savings (investment).

Breakfast with your family - 30 minutes/day   

This investment results in bonding and discussion about all kinds of interesting things … Discussion at breakfast include stuff seen on YouTube, things read on Tumblr and numerous events from school or friends.  

To enhance this breakfast activity even more, I read a impactful quote and we discuss it briefly.  I do this because I want to set the tone for the day … to lead my family in the practice of good thinking.

Reading an educational book or listen to an inspirational audiobook book - 30 minutes/day

A natural outgrowth of knowing that your intellectual growth and your career are important is the adoption of learning as a habit. 

Well planned meetings at work - 30-60 minutes/day

In order to achieve better results at work, you will want to adopt a systematic way to make the most of your time with other people.  This doesn’t necessary mean you are militaristic with your meetings, but you must use a little time in preparation. 

Spending 5 minutes of your personal time can return 5 minutes to each person in the meeting. You just clawed back 25 minutes for 5 people or 50 minutes for 10 people. Everyone thanks you. If you have longer meetings, you might try a system that I propose in “Change your Meetings and Change your Life”.

This list is not exhaustive. Take out a piece of paper and write down 3 more items.
If we applied all 3 of the items above, it would result in not 45 minutes, but 90 minutes that can be reinvested in the valuable life pursuits of your choice.

Not everyday is so well structure, so we might achieve 50% of this (as you would expect from a battle at the Hardened level) and on average we would get 45 minutes.

Wow.  You just “Leveled Up”. You saved One Million Minutes in a Year.  Congrats in advance.

Write a comment and let me know one thing you want to invest your time in during this year.

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

How to Save a Million Milliseconds per Day

Saving time is impossible. 

But we all use the word ‘Save’ to mean ‘Avoid Waste’ or ‘Do the things I really want’.
For comparison, you can save $100 today by putting money in the bank or in your sock drawer.

In six months you can go back to the bank (or sock drawer) and get your money out and you’ll have it ready to use.

If you save $100 in a bank with an interest rate of 1% annually, you’ll get $101 dollars back.

If you invest your money in the stock market (not in 2016 of course, but over a longer period) you could get 10% annually and you would get back $110.

Saving time is more like earning interest on a $100.

With time, we are really trying to invest, not save. We want today’s time to give us the best results we can possibly get.  Unlike a savings account, with time you never get back the principle, you only receive the interest (value in the future)

So now that we share a common vocabulary, how does a person save a million milliseconds in a day (or about 17 minutes)?

1.  First thing in the morning … don’t consult smartphone or laptop or morning TV news

Avoid reading any e-mail or looking at Facebook or getting engrossed in the news.

Workout, brush your teeth, read a book, get a shower, eat breakfast, write in your journal, pay a bill or sit quietly and contemplate what you want to accomplish for the day. Better yet, write a list of things you want to get done. If you write the list, you will actually save even more time because you will focus on what you want done by the end of day.

If you avoid digital distractions first thing you can save up to 10 minutes. Reinvest the minutes with purpose...something that adds value to your life.

2. If you watch TV, switch to Netflix and avoid commercials

Yes you will have to sacrifice the latest shows, but you can manage this because your life goal has a professional vector and a family or personal vector.  Neither your professional pursuits nor your family goals will benefit from watching sitcoms (I’m sure someone has a exception to this rule, but I think the exceptions would be TV columnist).

For 30-60 minutes of programming you can create up to 15 minutes to reinvest.

3. Cut down on watching

If you watch two - 30 minute episodes, consider just watching 1 episode.  Have something ready to replace the TV time.  Since your energy is low at the end of the day, you might be able to introduce light reading or perhaps if you find a really entertaining business book, you could indulge in that.  

(Netflix Subscribers: If you want to help yourself cut down on watching, turn off auto-play.  It's not easy to find, so here's the quick details ... Upper Right Corner --> "Profile Icon" --> "My Account" --> "My Profile" --> "Playback Settings" --> Uncheck "Play next episode automatically".)

4. Substitute an educational or professional podcast or audiobook for music or talk radio during commute or exercise

Remember investing time is by definition saving time.  When you take time to invest in your future, you are actually saving time by creating a better more effective you in the future.  

This could be an investment of 15-60 minutes or longer depending on your one-way daily commute or the length of your exercise routine.

To extend this time savings, substitute podcast or audio books on both legs of your commute; home-to-work and work-to-home. 

5. At work, create a goal for every meeting that you host and publish it in your calendar invite

Determining and writing a goal will either shorten your meeting because you can stop when you meet the goal, or it will focus everyone so you can get to your goal quicker.  A goal does mysterious things to your brain that helps you hit the mark. Assume you could save 5 minutes per meeting.  If you have 3 meetings, it’s possible to save 15 minutes in one day.

If you attend another persons’ meeting, you can simply ask them at the outset of the meeting, “What's the goal for this meeting?”  That question will help everyone in the room dive into the meat of the collaboration.

If you think deeply you can probably find more interesting ways to save a million milliseconds.  If you do, you are on the path to something great...maybe saving a million seconds.

Leave a comment and let me know your biggest time waster?

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

On the Journey of Productivity and Excellence

It was my junior year in college.  I will never forget the lesson.

I did something that solidified one of my life principles: Leverage.

At Colorado School of Mines in Golden, Colorado I took an algorithms class and the major assignment was to create visualizations of sorting routines as they ran.   The idea was to start with a list of few hundred names and then create a plot on the screen that showed how they moved from chaos to order during every step of the process.

As a visual person I loved seeing the graphics on the screen move as each piece of the puzzle fell into place.  It was like Neo in The Matrix … seeing the patterns and knowing that they made sense.

Every few class periods the professor would assign a new algorithm to the process.  Near the end of semester, the professor assigned the grand finale:

Pull all the sort algorithms together and create a single application so that you can upload a single set of data and interactively select any algorithm and watch it run.  The application should return to the main menu and allow a person to again select another algorithm and watch it run.  Rinse and repeat.

There was lots of groaning throughout the class.  Many people anticipated weeks of spaghetti code combined into one big pasta dish that would turn out looking like ten different Italian dishes run through a blender.

Earlier in the semester I figured out I could design a common interface for all the algorithm projects and reuse it for each subsequent assignment.  After all, I’d have to test all the projects, so why not use a common interface and automate the test.

The final project was completed in a few days and it took me very little effort.
A few hours of good design resulted in an easy semester of programming and an even easier final project.  

The professor pulled me aside after he finished grading the final project and he said, “I really liked how you wrote that project.  If I were a software company, I would hire you.”  I thought that was pretty cool.
Putting my 20 year-old elation aside, the real lesson I learned was how to maximize my Leverage.  

Thoroughly understanding the problem creates Leverage.

Good planning creates Leverage.  

Leverage allows you to do something once and have it work for you over and over.

It’s perhaps a little cliche, but Archimedes said it right, 
Give me a lever long enough and a fulcrum on which to place it, and I shall move the world.”

Leverage is a tool available to everyone.  Like any craftsman, you must explore and practice to find the one that works for you. Here are my Productivity levers…
Every year I re-read or re-listen to these books to refresh myself on the concepts and practical tips for a successful life.  Like a ship constantly adjusting its course on a long journey, the principles and practices found in these books help me navigate the ocean of life and reach islands of success throughout my journey.

What is your #1 productivity lever? Please leave a comment about either your biggest productivity challenge or your biggest productivity lever?

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Don't Torpedo Agile Part 1: How to Deliver Working Software Every Sprint

As a technologist, I'm easily drawn in by new and shiny things.  I love watching the key note speeches for every apple product launch and every Telsa car launch.  

And when it comes to new technologies, I love to learn the latest about Amazon’s latest Web Service or new Productivity App for my iPhone.

At work or at home, the latest alert or e-mail appeals to me like water calls a thirsty hiker.

In the modern age of ubiquitous distractions, one of the greatest gifts we can give ourselves is focus. Focus is the unsung hero of so many successful people and successful endeavors.  

Thomas Edison is a preeminent example of someone who was focused and persistent.  His single-minded search for a sustainable burning ember contains the recipe of success.

In the age of environmentally induced ADHD, we are especially in need of any and all mechanisms, systems, tips, or tricks to help keep us on task. 

Enter the time box

When you travel to the airport to get a flight, you have a limited time in which to check-in, get through security and board the plane.  

The time constraint motivates good behaviors such as planning and focus.  You might pack the night before and consider the traffic conditions as you plan your departure time. On the morning of your departure, you won't likely be distracted enough to pick up a book and read a few chapters or look over your family budget or commit yourself to buy a brand new travel bag.

Scrum and other Agile systems typically utilize a 2-4 week time box (sprint) to enhance focus in teams.  Institutionalizing a fix period to create and deliver working software applications is just like getting to the airport on time, you eliminate distractions and make sure you have a good plan. However, practicing good time box discipline is hard because it can feel arbitrary.  It’s less arbitrary when you consider the business side of agile: 

Deliver customer value (a working product or feature) at the end of each sprint and revenue can be earned immediately for the company. 

A sure fire way to how to torpedo agile -- treat your time box like it’s a ‘hopefully we make it box’. You’ll lose a lot of the power of scrum because getting things working and deployed to customers on a regular schedule core to agile development.

Here are some tips to help keep teams focused on the time box:

1. Don’t cave to the ‘multi-sprint’ development paradigm

Sometimes the magnitude of a new feature or product looks like it’s impossible to break down into component parts or perhaps the component parts are understood, but they seem too large for a 2 week development cycle.

At the start of a project it’s very difficult to create a simple working product in 2 weeks especially if the end product appears to have significant complexity.  But it’s not impossible and it’s actually prudent to break it down.  

If you are a scrum master or product owner or developer, be diligent and painstakingly help the team decompose problems into smaller nuggets that have value and can be created in 2-4 weeks.

These processes can be tough to comprehend for teams new to agile, but it's worth the pain and effort to create a discipline of delivering value every sprint. 

Decomposition does not attempt to throw away the grand vision of a larger and more comprehensive application, but to FOCUS on composing working building blocks every step of the way.

2. Decouple ‘multiple features in one story’

In some cases a single customer request that has multiple features packed inside.  At first these features look like a collective package that can't be broken.  But if you listen carefully and ask for specific examples about the use case, you can assist in breaking out multiple stories that represent individual items with stand-alone value. 

This helps to FOCUS the discussion and prioritization efforts by examining a pond rather than an ocean of ideas.

3. Dig deeper in developing the definition of done and possibly get down to the details in task planning

It’s easy to get off track or even falter in planning and executing a sprint if there is ambiguity about what the team is doing.  For most experienced teams they know that each story requires a Definition of Done (DoD).

The DoD for a story can be written literally as, "This story is done when...such and such happens."  For an online shopping cart a DoD might read, "This story is done when the user can select an item from the online store and then it shows up in the shopping cart when the shopping cart icon is clicked."  Other Dod alternatives include a bulleted list, or a series of well written tests that must pass. 

Team sometime include process related criteria as a boiler plate in the DoD such as, "Must be code reviewed. Must pass a sanity test. Must be delivered to specific servers or development environment."  

The next step beyond the DoD is to get more detailed when it comes to recording each task associated with the story.  A team will have more confidence in achieving sprint goals when they have clarity about how things are decomposed on a task level.

Writing a DoD enables the team to FOCUS on the details of how a story will be created in real life and this results in a better plan for sprint execution.

4. Don’t settle for progress when you can have completion

Progress is good, but not profit-making.  Doneness is great and profitable.  If the team is not reaching done, then hold a retrospective. Don't be generic about your retrospective. It should be FOCUSED on one thing…getting to Done.  Here’s another article where I describe a how-to plan for a retrospective, “Learn from the Past to Make the Future Better.”

What do you think your biggest issue is when it comes to completing all the items in a sprint?

Thanks in advance for any comments.