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Working Hard, Working Smart

centaur 0


I had planned to post a bit about my work on the editing of LIQUID FIRE, but this image in my Google+ photo stream caught my eye first, so you get a bit of opinionating about work instead.

Previously, I’ve blogged about working just a little bit harder than you want to (here, and here), the gist being that you don’t need to work yourself to death, but success often comes just after the point where you want to give up.

But how do you keep yourself working when you want to quit?

One trick I’ve used since my days interning with Yamaha at Japan is an afternoon walk. Working on a difficult problem often makes you want to quit, but a short stint out in the fresh air can clear the decks.

Other people use exercise for the same purpose, but that takes such a large chunk out of my day that I can’t afford to do it – I work four jobs (at my employer, on writing, at a small press and on comics) and need to be working at work, damnit.

But work sometimes needs to bleed out of its confines. I’ve found that giving work a little bit extra – checking your calendar before you go to bed, making yourself available for videoconferences at odd hours for those overseas – really helps.

One way that helps is to read about work outside of work. What I do frequently pushes the boundaries of my knowledge, and naturally, you need to read up on things at work in order to make progress.

But you also know the general areas of your work, and can proactively read ahead in areas that you think you’ll be working on. So I’ve been reading on programming languages and source control systems and artificial intelligence outside work.

Now, not everyone reads at lunch, dinner, coffee and just before bedtime – maybe that’s just me – but after I committed to starting my lunch reading with a section of a book that helped at work, all of my work started going faster and faster.

Other tricks you can use are playing music, especially with noise canceling headphones so you can concentrate – I find lyric-free music helps, but your mileage may vary. (I often listen to horror movie music at work, so I know mileage varies).

Another thing you can do, schedule permitting, is taking a week out to sharpen the saw and eliminate blockers in your common tools so everything goes faster. I recently started documenting this when I did it and that helped too.

One more thing you can try is inverse procrastination – cheat on one project you really need to do by working on another project you really need to do. You use different resources on different projects, and switching gears can feel like taking a break.

Quitting time is another technique; I often make a reservation at a nice restaurant at the end of my workday, and use the promise of going out to dinner to both motivate me to work efficiently and as a reward for a job well done (I tell myself).

Some people use caffeine to power through this – and sometimes I even describe myself as a caffeine powered developer – but I’ve seen a developer stop in shock at their trembling hands, so beware stimulants. But at quitting time? That hits the spot.


Oh, and the last thing? Use a different channel. My wife is a painter … and listens to audiobooks ten to twelve hours a day. I’m a writer and programmer … so I doodle. Find a way to keep yourself engaged and going … just a little bit longer.

-the Centaur

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