The Work I Think I Do And The Work I Do.

Periodically, I step up my organizational skills or tools or both (usually after being yelled at for missing something!).  Lately, I’ve been doing TimeSnapperthis more intensively as I’m working on a number of different projects and I need to ensure that each is getting its share of my time. 

To manage this, I decided to budget a certain amount of time each day to each activity. To be realistic, I allocated the time on a weekly basis, as each day can be somewhat different depending on what comes over the threshold.

Here is my budget 

  • Mail, Admin, Overhead – 5 hours
  • Videos – 4 hours
  • Blogging – 5 hours
  • Podcast – 2 hours
  • Learning and writing about Rx & Linq:  2.5 hours
  • Learning and writing about migrating from other devices: 7.5 hours
  • Diving deep and writing about Windows Phone: 10 hours
  • Writing Book: 5 hours
  • Coding, writing about and recording Full Stack: 7.5 hours

This totals to 48.5 hours, and I figured in 90 minutes of wiggle room to bring me to my standard 50 hours.  Not bad; enough time for each activity and responsibility to have about an hour or an hour and a half a day. 

In theory, theory and practice are the same, but in practice, they never are

I went along for a while thinking this was working great.  But the reports I was getting from TimeSnapper  (see image above) were not making a lot of sense to me.  Why was I spending 1/4 of my time in mail (that would be more than twice what I budgeted).

And what was I doing with 20% of my time on-line?  I don’t play games or do anything nefarious on line, so that has to be unaccounted for work time, but doing what exactly? Reading web sites, searching, answering comments…. did I allow for all that?

The 14% unknown meant that I was off the computer.  14% of my time? That’s about 7 hours a week, more than an hour a day.  Aha! That’s meals, maintaining homeostasis, running out to the dentist, feeding the fish, fixing my wife’s internet connection….  I’m actually surprised it isn’t more.

I resorted to a very low-tech solution: I bought a simple “daily planner” and wrote down, with a pen, in half hour increments, not only where I was spending my time but the sequence of when I was working on each project. 

Very scary.

It isn’t that the estimates/budget was off significantly, it is that I had imagined myself focused on each project in turn, smoothly finishing one and moving on to the next. 

The reality was almost the exact opposite, meetings must be attended to, and phones must be answered, emails replied to, children’s problems resolved. In short, though I had a rational division of labor, the cost of interruptions was enormous.

I suspect that I’m not alone in this;  totally focused for minutes at a time.  

I did notice something interesting however.  Periodically there were blank spot in the log… for example, a full 2 and a half hours unaccounted for yesterday. I couldn’t remember what I’d done during that time.  Then I checked my source-code control logs… Aha! I was coding. Coding is the one thing that I do that goes in two or three hour bursts of total focus.  And that is why I love coding… all the rest is great; but coding is transcendent. 

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About Jesse Liberty

Jesse Liberty is an independent consultant and programmer with three decades of experience writing and delivering software projects. He is the author of 2 dozen books and multiple Pluralsight courses, and has been a Senior Technical Evangelist for Microsoft, a Distinguished Software Engineer for AT&T, a VP for Information Services for Citibank and a Software Architect for PBS. He is a Xamarin Certified Mobile Developer and a Xamarin MVP, Microsoft MVP and Telerik MVP.
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5 Responses to The Work I Think I Do And The Work I Do.

  1. Craig says:

    From what I recall reading, the cost of a “context switch” when programming is about 15 minutes. That’s every time you change task, which includes every meeting, every phone call.

    In my experience it seems to hold true.

  2. DaveWill says:

    You have recognized the single biggest problem in IT today … too much task switching.

  3. Dina Berry says:

    Perhaps you need an on-the-go activity tracker for your phone. App Marketplace just released Activity Tracker by Lart Soft, which also keep stats. There are probably other apps as well.

  4. NayLinAung says:

    I admire Jesse Liberty.I wanna be like You..Can You advise me how to try to become a good Programmer. Are practical Projects more important to become a good programmmer?

  5. Sathyaish says:

    Very interesting article. Thank you. Like you, I too am very time conscious. It’s nice to be in good company.

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