Getting Things Done?

Well, I know that this is a bit of an ironic entry given that I should be revising for my exams at the moment, but today I’m going to write about how I organise things so that I can get work done.

Index cards and pen Over the last couple of months, I’ve been bewitched by the beauty of index cards. Whilst I’ve not taken to carrying them around with me on a day to day basis yet, I do keep an elastic banded pile in front of me at all times on my desk, with an old, chewed, biro next to them. Any time that I think of something that needs to be done, and I’m in the middle of doing something else, it gets noted on a card. If it’s something that needs to be done fairly immediately, then it gets blu-tacked up behind my monitor where it’s in my immediate line of sight. If it’s a note about my current major project, then it gets added to the relevant spot on my noticeboard, but more of that later. Personally, I prefer 3”x5” index cards, since they’re small enough to not get in the way, but large enough to fit a decent amount of information on them. If I need more space than is available on a single card, then I’ll tape multiple cards together until the information fits. The way I tape is to tape the first two cards together at the back, the second two at the front, the third two at the back, etc. This allows the cards to be folded in a concertina fashion, with the top card still displaying its information proudly.

My desk, complete with snack drawer Given that I’m a Software Engineering student, I’m at my desk most of the time. When I’m at my desk, in the middle of something, I really don’t want to have to get up and move to get that refreshing drink of Ribena, or that energy enriching Iguana bar. So, this year I decided it was time to buy myself a little fridge. This now sits immediately to my left, in front of my kitchen sized swing bin (little office bins just don’t cut it for me). My fridge has been a godsend for me. I can now quickly and easily top up my glass whilst I’m poring through that complicated piece of code without losing concentration - not something I was able to do when I had to go all the way downstairs to get it. To my right is my snack drawer. Maybe I shouldn’t have this (okay, I really shouldn’t), but it’s nice to be able to open it up and pull out a nice little piece of sugary goodness to give me a boost just when I need it. I also like to keep a bowl of fruit in my windowsill. While having this food and drink available within my grasp without moving from my chair may not seem like much, I personally find that it helps keep me in my chair working, rather than wandering the house, foraging.

My noticeboard My noticeboard has really been the crux of my productivity this year with my major project. I was lucky with my room this year that I got a 7’x3’ noticeboard, which is easily big enough for all the cards I could need to put on it for one project. I’ve divided my board into two rows, each with 3 columns. The top row contains things that I should be tackling now, and the bottom one is reserved for things which will be tackled in a future iteration. In accordance with “Extreme Programming” law, the three columns are for things which must happen, things which really should happen, and things that would be nice if they did happen. Using this index cards on a noticeboard approach, I am able to easily move cards from one importance to another, and once they’ve been completed remove them alltogether to my “completed box”. Being able to tick off small cards and remove them from the board has been a nice mental boost for me. While I’ve only organised one project in this way, I would be keen to try this again in the future, and have multiple projects organised at once like this.

I do have some major distractions from productivity though. I’d really like a piece of software which sits in my taskbar and stops me from bringing certain applications to the foreground when I have it enabled. IRC really sucks the time away. I’d love to have a web proxy that I could flip a switch on to stop me from being able to visit sites like LiveJournal whilst I’m mean to be working. These products probably exist, but I haven’t gone looking for them yet. If they don’t, could somebody please write them?

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about wwm is a resource for web developers created by Neil Crosby, a web developer who lives and works in London, England. More about the site.

Neil Crosby now blogs at The Code Train and also runs, The Ten Word Review and Everything is Rubbish.