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We're all about productivity and efficiency these days. But these all serve to get more done in less time, making us more stressed and looking for even more ways to cut time down. At least, that's what it feels like I'm doing.

Is there a way to change productivity methods so that you're heading towards less work, and less stress, while remaining efficient?

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Um, yes - and almost by relex - I'm going to quote randy pauch again... from

When you get good at time management you realize that it's a collaborative thing. I want to make everybody more efficient, it's not a selfish thing, it's not me against you, it's: How do we all collectively get more done? As you push on the time journal stuff you start to find that you don't make yourself more efficient at work so you become some sort of über-worker person, you become more efficient at work so you can leave at five and go home and be with the people that you love. People call this work-life balance. For the junior faculty, you may have heard of it in some sort of mythical sense...

Let's also make a comparision about the question.

I can imagine that trying to get more done in less time is stressful, but that's due to the change in process right? Actually doing the stuff effectively when you've got used to a system is very different.

(Next bit mildy edited from

What I think might help, might be looking at the question as "How do I avoid the urge to fill every waking moment with productivity, to avoid feeling like I'm on a treadmill all day?" This is also a pretty interesting one. In my mind there are two main motivations for increasing productivity

  1. To achieve more
  2. To achieve the same, but in less time, so you have more time to relax and chill out.

People of type two are people who don't have to worry about switching off - people of type one start approaching a mentality where every waking moment should be advancing your career/fitness/mind (and when we move into ultraman sleep schedules, is when we start to increase the number of waking moments to be productive in.

As far as I'm concerned, one `cure' is to trust your system enought that you can walk away from it for 24 hours, and know that there won't be any problems when you come back to it. If you can manage that I think you'll know you've broken the cycle.

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Absolutely agree with this - I have worked with many people who are obviously working flat out, but who get about the same or less done than me, fixated on career, selfishly exclude others etc; and I make sure I enjoy life, make time for my family and band (and Stack Exchange) and get not only a feel good factor for mentoring others, but also have them support me. A 'family' type of team works much better for me to get stuff done while enjoying life and career. – Rory Alsop May 11 '13 at 11:32
Another take away from the Pausch talk I would recommend is: Doing the right things adequately is far better than doing the wrong things beautifully. – Josh Bruce May 11 '13 at 11:35
ABSOLUTELY. I am focused on productivity for work types of things because I want to be able to do things I want to do more often, things like hanging out with friends, reading, playing piano, etc. The better I am at managing the "must dos" the more I can spend on the "want to dos." – enderland May 11 '13 at 15:48

I believe the answer is to to take control and define the work duration.

Much of the stress comes from not recognizing how long things really take to get done. We often tend to underestimate by a factor of 2 or 3, regardless of what the task or task complexity is. This has actually been true for most professions that have got more efficient over the past 200 years, from auto making to farming to transportation, all through the use of technology.

However any innovation or advance quickly gets adopted, becomes the new standard or 'norm' and now success means doing more or beating it.

So that's a bit historical.

Going forward and to address the issue I have found the best approach is:

  • break stuff down into very small elements
  • double or triple your own estimates
  • meet the (generous) estimates you set and over time you'll be trusted to set them.
  • communicate early and often. Spent a lot of time explaining the details to the people that are paying you and/or setting the deadlines.
  • don't give a quick 'yes' to an urgent request. Resist the temptation to please your employer with getting an urgent fix that that creates technical debt that is not immediately addressed (quick fixes that are then refactored however are ok).
  • be ready with answer to 'why so long?' with items like 'has to be tested, has to be refactored, has to be QA'd, has to be deployed, etc.'. You're going to sound like a 'broken record' (i.e. you'll be repeating things a lot) for a while while the msg is being sent.
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