Managing time – a renewed perspective

My favorite book on time management was Stephen Covey’s ‘First Things First’. I say ‘was’ because it has been years since i read it and longer since i used it. There are random quotes and ideas from that book that still stick with me (‘The main thing is to keep the main thing the main thing’,
Sharpen the saw’,’What lies before you and what lies behind you are
much smaller than what lies within you’) and perhaps that is the best i will get out of it. In general, I don’t do well with a lot of structure around time. I don’t think many people do. You can’t run life based on a list – there will always be stuff that is not there, things that get in the way, and many times, you are just plain tired and want to let things be. Covey in fact warns about life becoming one task list after another,and that is exactly what I was facing in this past month. The number of things on my tasklist seemed getting longer and my time getting shorter. Somewhere down the line the focus was lost. I came upon Brent Ozar’s post on time management (http://ozar.me/2012/03/my-6-rules-for-incredible-time-management/) that made huge sense to me during this time. I am writing below on what each of his points meant to me and how I plan to handle my time better.

As a disclaimer, I don’t think many of these will work as is for me. If it did I’d probably be like Brent in my career (MCM and top notch speaker/blogger), and I am not. I have however found it motivating to use long term, infused with the pragmatism it needs for my own needs.

Rule #1: Decide that you want to be incredible. 
The first thought that came to my mind and question I would have asked myself sometime ago is – doesn’t everybody? But from lessons learnt the hard way – no, not everyone wants to be incredible. Atleast not at their careers. They have other priorities/interests, such as families or other hobbies, and that is totally okay. But the cynicism and negativity in many workplaces is so high that words like that are often met with disbelieving snorts and chuckles by most people. ‘I just wanna go home’ or ‘oh please’ would be the most common answer. I am fortunate to work at a place where people do want to learn and training is given the priority it deserves, but that has been my experience in many places. In fact you do not belong if you think higher than they do. 
Takeways: Rise above the cynicism,do not share hopes and dreams with those who have none.

Rule #2: Never budget less than whole-day increments of time.
Can’t believe how grateful I am to hear this articulated..I attended a SQLSkills class early this month. For one week we were in a classroom, with no internet, no cell phones and no distractions. We were purely on a learning high – I find it hard to even say how good that felt , how much I learnt and how well. I often wondered about why I don’t feel that way when I learn on my own – either by reading a book or working on my own lab or watching a video. I get tired easily, want to check out facebook updates, get on twitter, or call a friend. I think i know why, am doing it in really small chunks of time. The bull is not ‘seized by his horns’ , he is wandering around somewhere and can get away real soon. This also somehow ties in with Pomodero technique that Buck Woody recommended (although that is for small chunks of time) – that technique calls for getting comfortable with clock ‘ticking away’,instead of being stressed by it. Both are about focus and getting things done with passage of time. I would say that I am considering ‘big’ increments of time, say 3-4 hours instead of half hour-45 mins – to me particularly that needs to be done for learning and blogging, since that is two areas I want to improve upon.
Takeaways: Experiment with  a bigger chunk of time with a clock.

Rule #3: Leave one whole day per week to do absolutely nothing.
I can proudly say this is one rule I have been practicising a while now and plan to keep. Sunday is ‘my time’ – when I just relax and do what comes to mind, reading,digging in my yard and napping.I also try to keep it offline day, just to get a taste of life without computers running it all the time!!. In short, just plan to keep this one going.

Rule #4: Leave one more solid day per week to pounce on incredible opportunities.
I have been running a user group for 8 years now and organized 4 sql saturdays with #5 en route. This is something I enjoy  and plan to keep doing. But I have not done enough of presenting, especially given the fact that I have an audience to practice on in my own user group.That is an ‘incredible opportunity’, to devote time on. Volunteering does not need one day every week, it comes and goes..during big events it needs more than a day, during normal times perhaps an hour or less. But with more presenting it might take upto half a day..and ties in with #2 – ‘big increments of time’, rather one one more solid day.
Takeaways: Put ‘chunk’ of time into presenting for user group.

Rule #5: If the incredible opportunity runs more than a few weeks, it’s work.
Learnt this the hard way. I cannot study for 2012 beta exams and 2008 mcm knowledge exam at the same time. I cannot volunteer for reviewing speaker extracts and organising sql saturdays at the same time. In short , a lot of things sound sexy but are not doable given the fact that time is limited. Many of them end up as ‘Well begun is half done’. I can prepare for one exam (right now it is the development MCITP which is a pre requsite for the MCM Knowledge exam) and do one volunteering activity (SQL Saturday). After those two are out fo my way I can add on one more in each category but not before.
Takeaways: Get clear on what to do and stick with it, can’t do it all.

Rule #6: Say no early and forcefully to everything else.
Taking on too much is a nasty habit I have been working on kicking, and had some luck this year. It does come with some pain though. I said no to some of things I greatly enjoy – one of them is reading fiction, second is doing an art class (painting/cartooning). Much as I love these things I don’t have time – and if i have to get ahead with SQL some sacrifices have to be made. Doing a little of everything is tempting, but again goes  back to point #2 – the bull wanders away. That is all. (The ‘bull’ as of now is preparing for the development MCITP).

Perhaps the biggest motivator to me is what Brent said about sharpening the saw – or staying up to date on skills. ‘For me, studying and keeping up with technology is part of my work.’. That is what I’d like my work to be – I made a decision 5 years ago that I would not work for a place that did not support a minimum of two solid trainings or conferences per year. That has worked out fine, and helped me hugely with staying up to date. But for me, and for a lot of people, there is a huge element of operational day to day stuff that is part of our jobs and takes away from time we like to use to learn. Production DBAs cannot get away from that easily – it is when you ‘set aside’ time for something that the cluster goes down, or the NOC calls you for some kind of ‘database issue’. Getting to a place where learning becomes part of one’s work is a reward in itself, that speaks volumes for how creative and involved the work is. The goal is to get accomplished enough to deserve that kind of work.

Thank you Brent, for the inspiration.

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1 Comment (+add yours?)

  1. Ameena Lalani (@SQLHands)
    Apr 03, 2012 @ 05:22:06

    Mala,

    Great and superb article. I am inspired from your inspiration from Brent’s blog post. Wish you good luck with your exams.

    Reply

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