The Stochastic Game

Ramblings of General Geekery

Posts tagged with productivity

Live Asynchonously

Quincy Larson of FreeCodeCamp recently posted an article about work productivity:

Last year I turned off all my notifications. I stopped booking meetings. I started living asynchronously.

Now instead of being interrupted throughout the day — or rushing from one meeting to the next — I sit down and get work done.

Using one of the most awesome webcomics on the subject of interrupting a programmer as a starting point, he does the usual attempts at convincing people that open floor plans are bad, and that meetings are better replaced by asynchronous communication.

Offices and emails

I’ve never had even the slightest opportunity to get my own office1 so I frankly have no idea whether a private office would be an improvement – I just don’t know any better.

We do a fair bit of asynchronous communication, however. This is pretty much unavoidable, since, over here on the Frostbite Engine team, we have to deal with customers and co-workers that are spread across a dozen various places on Earth with up to 9 hours of time difference.

In some ways, however, it’s funny that Larson recommends replacing meetings with emails since a lot of my coworkers mainly complain about having to deal with too much email already. Also, the way he describes how a “quick” email conversation can replace a lengthy meeting is misleading since – having turned off all notifications and checking email only a couple times a day to improve productivity – this “quick” 4-message back and forth would actually take 2 days to complete.

In the zone

The part that caught my eye the most is the part about reaching a “flow state” – something that most people call being “in the zone”.

I have almost no problem reaching that state – even in an open floor plan.

Arguably, I’m not important enough to receive enough emails or meeting invites to experience the problems a lot of other people (most of them more senior than me, I assume) complain about, so that must help… but I basically get “in the zone” often enough that, on a regular basis, I finish a task, take off my headphones, and realize that it’s 2pm and that everybody had lunch already.

While most people use the Pomodoro technique to help protect themselves from distractions, I was, for some time, using that technique to help me take a break every now and then… because being “in the zone” for too long would frequently give me painful migraines (at least once a week). Even when I used Pomodoro timers on my phone, I would frequently not notice them going off!

Then again, I’m one of those people that most of you probably hate: the ones who can fall asleep in less than 5 minutes. So I suppose my brain and I really get along well when it’s time to shut off distractions. Yay brain.

  1. Video game companies are almost all using open floor plans, and nothing will change that any time soon. 


Jeff Atwood posted another one of his controversial, opinionated articles on his blog, this time about To-Do lists. It’s a long rant about the failure of To-Do lists.

As a former Remember The Milk user and fan, I can totally relate. I just stopped using To-Do lists altogether a couple years ago. I just didn’t need them anymore – I knew what I needed to do most of the time:

If you can’t wake up every day and, using your 100% original equipment God-given organic brain, come up with the three most important things you need to do that day – then you should seriously work on fixing that.

But the truth is: I’m still using some form of list, especially since Trello came around. It took me a while to realize the difference between the Getting-Things-Done-ish productivity I tried to achieve in the past, and the more zen-like – and effective – process I have now.

Patrick Rhone eventually wrote it for me:

[…] increasingly, my to do list is full of the things I park there that otherwise get in the way of what I’m actively focused on.

My To-Do lists (hosted on Trello) are filled with stuff I don’t want to do right now, but need to remember for later. I know what I need to be working on right now, but I may forget about stuff I may want to do later. It’s more like a notebook than a To-Do list, really, but the To-Do list format makes it easier to cross things out if they become invalid or if I already did it.

Some more contacts love

There’s been a lot of improvement in communications in the past few years, from better services to brand new ones, but I still feel like contact management is lagging behind. I mean, isn’t it important to be able to find how to contact somebody in the first place?

Here are a few things I think could be better.


Labels and quick links work together

I just realized that the 2 GMail Labs experiments “Go to label” and “Quick links” work together, which makes quick links all the more useful. So say you have 2 labels named “Newsletters” and “Notifications”, and one quick link named “ALT.NET” (which finds all the posts from the ALT.NET mailing list). If you summon the “go to label” popup and start typing “n”, it will show all three:


Now, you ask, when should you use a label, and when should you use a quick link?

The main difference is that quick links are only search queries, whereas labels can be both search queries (a filter that automatically assigns that label) or manually maintained containers. If you need the latter, that’s a no brainer. If, however, what you want can be expressed with a search query, you need to choose between labels and quick links.

My method, so far, is based on 2 criteria: complexity and scalability.

  • Make a quick link if the search query is simple, and make a filter if it is complex. Typically, finding out all the emails from a specific mailing list is as simple as typing “list:altdotnet” in the search box, so this calls for a quick link. On the other hand, finding the receipts from some company that also sends you various newsletters and announcements can be a bit more complex, so I would make that a filter. The reason for this is that if the search query is complex, there’s a good chance it’s not complex enough. There’s a good chance some emails won’t get caught, because you didn’t think about all the cases or somehow an exceptional case shows up in your inbox. When this happens, you can still tag that message manually and keep going.
  • Make a quick link if similar types of containers exist. For example, “ALT.NET” finds all the mail from a specific mailing list. There could be dozen of similar containers if I’m subscribed to a dozen of other mailing lists. I don’t want to clutter my email organisation with dozens of such labels, so I go for a quick link. My labels tend to be generic concepts that won’t scale up much: “Newsletters”, “MailingLists”, “Receipts”, some labels for my different internet identities and/or email accounts, and some GTD-ish labels (“FollowUp”, “Hold”).

I hope this helps.