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How to beat workday blues?

My tips on how to actually feel good doing work.

Let us face it - all of us feel like having achieved or done very little after spending a long day away from family. Then you look back and find that you could’ve spent some of that time with family at least!

I’ve been observing my work habits a lot and I think I have found out something that works for me.

I am summarizing these as a NOT-TODO list of 3 items. I am a software engineer by profession and by passion.

Has this worked for me? Absolutely much better than when I was not following these rules.

1. When you context switch, don’t start by spending time on something with no definable goal

By context switch, I mean the context in GTD methodology. Say you got to office and sat down in the morning. Or you went out for lunch and came back. Or you reached home in the evening and after a break, decided to work.

Very often, we start by checking mails. Or reading news. Or looking at reports.

Almost all these have no definable end results. If you don’t have an alarm to stop you from these, you won't know where your time has gone.

These days, when I start, I ensure I work on some thing that has a deliverable. It could be a code commit, a design outline document, or thoughts outlined using paper and pencil.

Even if I pick a task that can take days, I ensure that there is a tangible output before I switch to some thing else.

It gives you such a boost to get brain working and to get motivated to see some result.

2. Don’t keep e-mail open!

This is such a time sink. Life is flooded with notifications - SMS, gTalk, RSS, Twitter, Facebook, e-mail etc.

I don’t think human beings can really multi task and focus. First thing I do is to keep the phone in a work profile - it beeps only on incoming calls or for calendar alerts. On desktop, shutdown all of these nuisances except gTalk since that is required for work - by and large people honor your busy status.

This often leads to funny incidents here in India because the culture is a bit different than in the West. I’ve had people walk up to me multiple times asking whether I saw their mail, which was sent a minute ago. My standard reply has been whether they were trying to prove they can walk faster than e-mail and it usually gets people thinking.

In general, life threatening emergencies are not communicated by e-mail!

I get distracted a lot by people coming in and asking for stuff. Still, that goes with the job and is not even half as damaging as distractions we inflict on ourselves like these notifiers above.

See what distracts you for a week and then figure out the solution.

3. Don’t "communicate" and "do" at the same time!

This follows from points one and two. In general, I check and respond to e-mails once in the morning from home, then before lunch break and evening before getting out of work. Because I don’t want to start work by doing this, I do this at logical end points at work.

Browsing web, news feeds etc are in the morning. Listening to podcasts happen during commute. It is a good break to think about non-work, non-home stuff.