The blog of Rahoul Baruah from 3hv Ltd

What's going on?

My name is Rahoul Baruah (aka Baz) and I'm a software developer in Leeds (England).

This is a log of things I've discovered while writing software in Ruby on Rails. In other words, geek stuff.

However, I've decided to put this blog on ice - I would ask you to check out my business blog here (or subscribe here).

19 February, 2007

Keeping your head ...

A few techniques that I use to keep my head together at work:

  • Keep a log.
    • Every week I start a new text document and list my tasks for the week. Then, each day, I write down what I have been doing (with times).
    • I started doing this to help me fill out my timesheets but it actually turns out to be much more important than that.
    • Firstly, I get a vague measure of my achievements against my goals (or more importantly, how my goals by the end of the week have diverged from those at the start of the week).
    • Secondly, coupled with Spotlight (or Google Desktop or Vista's equivalent), it can save your neck. We had a disgruntled customer - a quick search through my text files let me quickly build a log of every interaction I had with that customer. Armed with a dossier of facts they quickly called off the lawyers (although they remained disgruntled).
  • Use a To-Do list.
    • Every time anyone asks you to do something, write it down as a to-do item.
    • Give it a due date, a priority and a category. The priority and the category are up to you - it's the due date that really matters. And if you don't have a definite due date, make one up - give yourself a week, or a month, or whatever. But make sure you assign a date when you need to look at it again.
    • If that due date arrives and you are not in a position to complete, then move it back a couple of days. Write a note against the to-do item, explaining why you have moved it back.
    • If you are waiting on someone else then edit your to-do item: from 'Do this' to 'F - Dave: Do this' (F being for follow-up). Write a note against the to-do item, explaining what you expect of Dave and reschedule the due date. Then when the due date occurs, ask Dave if he has done what you ask of him. Reassign the task to yourself ('F - Dave: Do this' to 'Do this') or assign it to someone else. Or just leave it assigned to Dave. Reschedule the date. Write a note.
    • Repeat.
    • More often than not you are just pushing tasks into the future, as you are not in a position to complete. If possible, record a start date for your task as well, so you can measure how long it has been active (possible in Outlook but not in iCal).
  • Do not rely on e-mail as your communication tool
    • E-mail is great - mainly because it is simple and understandable and most of the people you deal with already use it.
    • E-mail is poor - it is not interactive and it has a fixed set of recipients.
    • The latter is a real problem - all too often an e-mail is sent to a massive list of recipients, to make sure that no-one is left out (cover your arse). This just means that a load of people are spammed on topics that don't concern them.
    • All too often the people who need to be on a mail aren't. So you add them into the 'conversation' later and forward copies of the previous correspondence.
    • E-mails are copies. You attach a Word document, pass it around and each person involved makes a couple of edits. Yet when Dave makes his edits, he uses a different version to the one that Claire made her edits on - so now there are two different versions doing the rounds.
    • Use a centralised repository for your discussions and files. We use Basecamp, but phpBB would do.
    • Have in-depth conversations over IM - use Group Chats and save the transcripts. We use Campfire but MSN (or Windows Live or whatever they call it) would do.
No guarantees but these tips have transformed me from living in a shambolic haze into someone regarded as organised. Which of course I'm not, but sometimes, it's the perception that counts!

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