Scott Hanselman

Totally stressed out? Sync to Paper

May 29, '15 Comments [57] Posted in Productivity
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Messy Moleskine photo by Alexandre Dulaunoy and used under Creative Commons

One of the things I often talk about when I give presentations on Personal Productivity is that more people should Sync To Paper. I first had this idea in 2006 while working on a completely overwhelming project at my last job. I was already deeply into using OneNote, which was rather new at the time, so I was putting everything onto my laptop. I was convinced that my unorganized brain could "get organized" if I just wrote everything down in some cloud-based text file.

The problem is, at least for me, is that there isn't a great way to see the big picture when you've just got pixels to look at. Life is much higher resolution than I think folks realize. I'm frankly surprised that so many of you can feel organized and productive on those 11" laptops. What a tiny window into your life!

Anyway, when I was working on this huge project the database was extremely complex. Hundreds of tables and relationships to manage. It was far too much for anyone to keep in their heads or view on a screen. So they turned to the plotter. Remember those? The database team would print out massive posters and hang them on the wall. They'd stand together in front of them and stare and think.

You see syncing to paper a lot with user interface/user experience teams (UI/UX). We'll wallpaper entire hallways with mockups of what the system should look like, putting them in high traffic areas so everyone can absorb them and collaborate.

When my life is overwhelming and I am at PEAK STRESS, I do a three things.

  • I get a haircut, because at least I got that handled.
  • I clean my office, so I'm not reminded of the chaos of my life by the chaos of clutter around me.
  • And I sync to paper. I get a Moleskine notebook (Here's how to pronounce Moleskine, BTW) and I find a clear page and I write down what's stressing me out. I sync all my devices to paper. Calendars, Todos, thoughts, life, to paper.

The physicality of it is very satisfying in a visceral way. I've tried to do the same on a Surface or iPad with a stylus, but it doesn't work for me. The removal of technology and the scratch of a good quality pen on paper (I use a space pen) is very cathartic. Often I'm working on solving a technical problem so stepping away from tech is as important as the paper. It's a forced context switch. Even more, as a kinesthetic learner I feel like the moving of my hands differently, even if I never refer to the written notes again, the process helps cement the issues.

True Story: If you watch the Microsoft BUILD Keynote (a big deal, in tech circles) you'll see me come out for my 15 minute demo holding my Moleskine notebook. No one else does this. In fact, they tease me a little about my notebook. In fact, I'm usually given a 30 page typed script to memorize. It includes screenshots, talking points, gotchas, demo instructions, passwords, all the stuff I need for my demo. Folks work on these scripts for weeks and then deliver them to me. It's VERY stressful for everyone. We sit together for days and go over these huge documents and I freak out and panic and then get out my Moleskine and synthesize 30 pages into one. Here's what I took on stage with me for the BUILD 2015 keynote. Insane isn't it? But without it I would have freaked out. Now the stage crew knows me as "the guy with the notebook." And yes, I know my handwriting sucks and that this is an unintelligible pile. It still worked, and worked well. ;)

I have horrible handwriting

When I'm completely a mess OR I'm trying to get my head around a large problem, I'll cover the floor with paper, or find a wall or large whiteboard and try to work it out.

We focus on touchscreen and pinch gestures a lot these days, but for me "zoom out" means literally and figuratively taking a step back from a piece of paper and trying to absorb the big picture.

Paper is the cheapest retina display you'll ever use. Give it a try, at least until I can afford a Surface Hub for my office. ;)

Microsoft Surface Hub

Do you sync to paper? How does it work for you?

UPDATE: I was pointed to a post from Robert Greiner who promotes the same idea! Great minds think alike. I encourage you to also read his thoughts on the concept, as they are different from mine. He likes the temporary aspect of paper, and the pain of writing as ways to keep one focused.

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* Messy Moleskine photo by Alexandre Dulaunoy and used under Creative Commons

About Scott

Scott Hanselman is a former professor, former Chief Architect in finance, now speaker, consultant, father, diabetic, and Microsoft employee. He is a failed stand-up comic, a cornrower, and a book author.

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"Simply terrible advice" - If the shoe pinches, don't wear it.

September 10, '14 Comments [41] Posted in Productivity
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Photo by Ben Grey used under CC

There's few things that get me too riled up when it comes to advice. I love hearing about other people's lives and their life systems. From the mundane and familiar, like how they pack their kids lunches, how they manage their finances, or how they manage their email.

The only thing to do with good advice is to pass it on. It is never of any use to oneself. - Oscar Wilde

We are an amalgamation of all the advice we've ever been given. The first 18 years of my life I was trapped in my parents' house and subjected to their "advice." Most of which turned out to be spot on. I am currently forcing my children to take my advice until their brains full form (which I suspect will happen in about 25 years).

A word to the wise ain't necessary - it's the stupid ones that need the advice. - Bill Cosby

I did a post yesterday called "Don't Check Your Email in the Morning." It's not that controversial, I think. However, it's been characterized as "The singular most life-changing productivity tip I've received" as well as "Simply terrible advice."

Come on. This is simply an issue of self-reflection. Look at your personal habits, your routine, and how you go about your day. Do you go about your workday on auto-pilot, or with a sense of intentionality?

Don't check email in the morning is a rule of thumb. The essential point is "Don't get caught up in the minutiae of unimportant morning email checking if you're unknowingly using email checking as an way to procrastinate."

Maybe checking email every 5 min works for you. Perhaps that morning quick email sweet is essential to your business. Hey, more power to you. You check email 365 days a year. I wonder what would happen if you didn't check it in the morning for a day? Might be useful advice. Totally might not. You'll never know unless you try.

I like trying on shoes. But if the shoe pinches, I don't wear it.

Consider not checking your email in the morning, if you think it might help you. Enjoy the comments.

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About Scott

Scott Hanselman is a former professor, former Chief Architect in finance, now speaker, consultant, father, diabetic, and Microsoft employee. He is a failed stand-up comic, a cornrower, and a book author.

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Don't Check Your Email in the Morning

September 9, '14 Comments [68] Posted in Productivity
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Hanselman's Productivity TipsIn my productivity talk "How to Scale Yourself and Get More Done Than You Thought Possible" I include a challenge to the listener. It's kind of insane, but it's actually proven very useful to me when I really need to get important work done.

Don't check your email in the morning.

Insane right? I believe that checking your email in the morning is the best way to time-travel to after lunch.

Why DO we check email first thing in the morning? Well, because something crucial might have happened overnight.

There's a few things wrong with that sentence, in my opinion. Words like "something" and "might" stick out. We check our email because of fear, a sense of disconnectedness, and (in some cases) a feeling of urgency addiction.

We often go to bed with our current project or work on our minds. It's THAT project that we should probably wake up and start working on. It's that project that we kind of left unfinished when we went to bed in the first place.

We SHOULD get up and start working on our project first thing. Instead we check our email, get sucked into it, answer a few, get stressed, answer a few more, threaten to delete the whole inbox, and then it's lunch time.

When I'm not really focused, sometimes the day just slips past me. I find my feet around 5pm when the day is winding down, not at 9am when it should be winding up.

If something really really important happened it won't be in your inbox. Your phone will be blowing up. Someone will be sitting in your seat when you show up at work. They will find you.

When they DO find you, you should be working. Go to work and resist the urge to check your email. Start working immediately, head down, sprinting. There's HOURS of time before lunch to be discovered.

Here's your homework. Go to work tomorrow and don't open email until afternoon. You might be staring at first, wondering what the heck you're supposed to do. Do that project. Write that code. Work on that book. Update that blog. Do literally ANYTHING except email.

When you open email for the first time after lunch, you'll have hours of amazing work already behind you and you'll feel amazing.

Try it.

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About Scott

Scott Hanselman is a former professor, former Chief Architect in finance, now speaker, consultant, father, diabetic, and Microsoft employee. He is a failed stand-up comic, a cornrower, and a book author.

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Personal Productivity: Business vs. busyness vs. laziness

July 14, '14 Comments [28] Posted in Productivity
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There's an ancient cliché that drives a lot of my thinking about personal productivity. "Excessive busy-ness is a common form of laziness."

Busy-ness in the Tibetan tradition is considered the most extreme form of laziness. Because when you are busy you can turn your brain off. You’re on the treadmill. The only  intelligence comes in the morning when you make your To Do list and you get rid of all the possible space that could happen in your day. - Elephant Journal, 2008

The Tibetan term lelo, as I understand it, begins to describe this kind of laziness.

Kausidya (Sanskrit; Tibetan Wylie: le lo) is a Buddhist term translated as "laziness" or "spiritual sloth".

Alan Wallace explains that kausidya (lelo in Tibetan) refers to a very specific type of laziness, that is concerned only with virtuous activity. Wallace explains from Wikipedia:

[...] lelo in Tibetan, is often translated as ‘laziness,’ but it is much more specific. If a person is working sixteen hours a day, hellbent on earning a whole lot of money with absolutely no concern for virtue, from a Buddhist perspective you could say that person is subject to lelo. A workaholic is clearly not lazy, but such a person is seen as lelo in the sense of being completely lethargic and slothful with regard to the cultivation of virtue and purification of the mind. Our translation of this term is ‘spiritual sloth,’ which we have taken from the Christian tradition, where it is very comparable to the Buddhist notion.

I'm not saying you're lazy so don't get mad quite yet. I'm saying that using "I'm too busy" as an excuse or a reason to not do something important to you, then you might want to give your situation a closer look. I'm saying that sometimes we are busy with work, but not the kind of work we should be busy with.

Sakyong Mipham states: "Speediness is laziness when we use it as a way to avoid working with our minds."

Of course, there's busy people who are literally on fire and being chased by ninjas, I'll give them a pass. But when someone says "I'm too busy" perhaps they are letting you know they are too important to talk to you, or they are just using it as an excuse to not engage. Often I've said in the past that "I'm busy" when I really mean "I'm not really that into your idea to take the time to think deeply about it."

So when we say "being busy is a form of being lazy" we're saying think about what's important, and think about the work you're doing. Is it moving the ball forward? Is it moving YOUR BALL forward. The Ball that you care about?

I have an hour set aside once a week that's for a meeting. The meeting is with myself. No one else comes to this meeting but me. I think about what I'm doing, where I'm going, and what I need to be working on. I use this meeting to think about the business and busyness of my previous week. I think about what busy work I did that was a waste of time, and try to setup myself up for success in the coming week.

My parents and brother are convinced that I'm too busy to hang out or have lunch. I constantly hear "Well, we didn't want to bother you." I'm never too busy for them. Time can be made. It's amazing how quickly a day of meetings (or a half-day) can be cancelled or moved. Days can be cleared and time can be made.

It's easy to get caught up in the chaos of business. It's fun to play Tetris with your Outlook calendar. It's satisfying to pack those productive meetings in and feel important and urgently needed. It's cathartic to delete email and think that getting rid of that email is moving my life forward, but often it's not. Often I'm just on a treadmill, running to keep up. I know this treadmill and my inertia keeps me going.

The hard work is to consciously step off the treadmill, step away, turn around and look at it. What can be removed? What can be refined? In what ways have we taught our bosses or co-workers how to treat us and our time?

I was in Egypt once and the hosts wanted to take me to the Sphinx, but I didn't want to miss a weekend with my sons. They may have thought me rude, but it was about consciously choosing one priority over another. I knew my time and my priorities and made a conscious choice on how I was going to spend it.

In what way are you buying into the idea of being always busy? What are you doing to find balance?

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About Scott

Scott Hanselman is a former professor, former Chief Architect in finance, now speaker, consultant, father, diabetic, and Microsoft employee. He is a failed stand-up comic, a cornrower, and a book author.

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Scott Hanselman's Complete List of Productivity Tips

March 27, '14 Comments [37] Posted in Productivity
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Note Scott Hanselman (me): I had been meaning to write up my productivity tips for years. Isn't that ironic? However, after giving a presentation at SXSW on Productivity this year, Danny Schreiber from Zapier took it upon himself to do just that. I had no idea that Danny did this until I saw he shared his very excellent write up on the Zapier Blog. It is also reproduced here with Danny's permission. So this is my talk, filtered through Danny's brain, out his fingers, and now back on my blog. Which is something. Thanks Danny and Zapier, for not only attending, writing it up, and giving it back to me, but also for making a great product. Zapier is a web workflow system for everyone that lets you automate hundreds of web apps with rules like "As I post Instagram photos, post them to DropBox" or "SMS me when my Azure Website gets Deployed." They are great example of an app that empowers you to avoid tedious work and avoid duplication of effort. Check Zapier out.

What follows is Danny Schreiber's summary of my Productivity Talk. If you'd like me to give a version of this talk at your company or event, contact me.

"Don't worry, just drop the ball."

This counterintuitive advice is one of a dozen-plus productivity practices preached by Scott Hanselman, a program manager at Microsoft, author and avid blogger and speaker.

"Dropping the ball is sometimes the right answer," Hanselman says. "Let a ball drop. Tell people, 'I'm just not going to do that.'"

Hanselman's not the person you'd to expect to hear encourage dropping the ball and discourage burning the midnight oil. On top of his day job, he balances a full load: he blogs, records a podcast, engages on Twitter and attends and speaks at conferences regularly. In the past six years, he's co-authored more than a half-dozen books, and at home, he has a wife and two childen. In short, he's one productive individual.

How does he do it? Why does he do it? If you're asking yourself those questions, you're not alone.

"A lot of people say, 'Well, Scott, you're doing all this stuff. Why do you do it? Are you not sleeping?" Hanselman says. "It's because, I must dance. I can't stop. Whenever I think about stopping, I think about this little boy and how excited he is about doing what he's doing."

I must dance!

"It turns out," he continues, "the less that you do, the more of it that you can do. This is the standard law of scale."

Scale Yourself

In a 40-minute talk Hanselman originally delivered in 2012, and has since presented several times—most recently at South by Southwest Interactive earlier this month—he shares his productivity practices. From his "one email rule" to follow to his reasoning for reading Robert Scoble's blog, all his tips are immediately actionable.

The productivity practices he shares, he says, have been adopted from folks like David Allen (Getting Things Done), Dr. Stephen Covey (The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People), J.D. Meier (Getting Results the Agile Way), Francesco Cirillo (The Pomodoro Technique) and Kathy Sierra.

The following is a recap of his popular talk, featuring quotes from his October 2012 presentation at GOTO Conference and his original talk at Webstock earlier that year.

Look for Danger Signs

Staying focused hasn't always been a challenge—there hasn't always been hundreds of pages of new content to consume daily or a constant stream of new information interrupting you. Instead, Hanselman says, when he wanted to learn programming, he needed to know everything in just two books.

"Then the Internet happened and suddenly there's Exabytes of information being created, and half of it is garbage and a third of my day is wasted by interruptions," he says.

Danger Signs

"I'm completely overwhelmed, and we tell ourselves that we're going to be able to pull it off if 'we just work late tonight.'" Stop. This is a danger sign.

"If you find yourself saying, 'I need to work late to catch up,' then that's a problem, that's a big problem," he says, admitting he's guilty of using this phrase himself. The remedy isn't as easy as "hoping" you'll catch up with your to-do list.

"Hope is not a plan," Hanselman says. "Hope is nothing but waiting and letting life happen to you."

So what do you do when you see danger signs? Hanselman has an antidote, but before he unveils it, he sets the record straight on what it means to be effective versus what is means to be efficient.

Understand Effectiveness Versus Efficiency

"Effectiveness is goal orientation. This is picking something to do. This is doing right things—picking a goal and doing that goal," Hanselman says. "Efficiency is doing things in an economical way, process-oriented.

"So phrased differently: Effectiveness is doing the right things, but efficiency is doing things right. That means effectiveness is picking a direction and efficiency is running really fast in that direction," he says.

Effectiveness is doing the right things.

Efficiency is doing things right.

"When you realize those two things are different, it becomes an extremely powerful tool that you can use."

Define "Work"

With effectiveness in mind, Hanselman stresses the importance of understanding David Allen's threefold nature of work, which is:

  • Pre-Defined Work - Work you've set up ahead of time
  • Work As It Appears - Work that interrupts you
  • Defining Work - You sit down and think about what work you need to be doing

More time needs to be spent on the last bullet point, Hanselman says.

"How often have you actually put on your calendar one-hour of time to say, 'I'm going to sit down and think about what work I need to be doing.'" he says. "No, we panic and we look at our (to-do list) and we sort it. Then we just kind of freak out for a while and then the (to-do list) gets larger."

Instead of this haphazard approach, take time to define your work. Allen says it'll take an average of one hour per day for the typical professional.

Do It, Drop It, Delegate It and Defer It

Hanselman points to another David Allen's practices from his popular Getting Things Done manual, that of the "Four Ds":

  • Do It
  • Drop it
  • Delegate it
  • Defer it

Applying this to your inbox, Hanselman says, is a useful tool.

"Only do it if it's going to take a minute and it's been scheduled. Otherwise, it's really just drop it, delegate it and defer it, that means I'm not going to do it, someone else is going to do it (or I'll do it later )," he says.

Drop the Ball

Allen's "drop it" point leads Hanselman to encourage the practice of "dropping the ball." Though this sounds irresponsible, this will lead you to feel better about yourself as you'll be better able to focus in on your work rather that juggle responsibilities.

"Saying 'no' is difficult, but the guilt associated with saying 'yes' is often worse than the guilt associated with saying 'no'," Hanselman says. He points out that all systems that work, including the Internet, have flow control, which includes dropped packets of data.

"Communication by its nature is fault tolerant," he says. "If you've ever had communication with someone over a cell phone and a couple words drop out, you could still understand what they were saying."

To decide what to drop, Hanselman recommends using Stephen Covey's four quadrants:

Four Quadrants

"When something is both urgent and important, like a pregnant wife or an appendix being burst, you should probably do that now," Hanselman says. "If it is neither urgent nor important you should dump it. But unfortunately what happens is that we spend our time on things that feel urgent but are not important at all, but the urgency is an addiction."

Four Quadrants Examples

Resolve Inbox Issues

One of the most common areas to add effectiveness to your work is your email inbox. Hanselman, who receives hundreds of emails daily, shares five tips for inbox management.

Follow This One Email Rule

Changing how emails are displayed in your inbox, Hanselman says, will "fundamentally change how you think about email." The change: set up a folder for emails that you're Cc'd on and a folder for emails that come directly to you. The emails automatically filtered to the "CC" folder, Hanselman says, are not important.

The One Email Rule

"Next time your boss sends you a to-do and Cc's you on it, don't do it," he says. "Then when he says, 'Why didn't you do it?' (Say,) 'Oh well, you Cc'd me, I thought you were just informing me.' He'll never do that again."

In his community management role at Microsoft, Hanselman uses one more folder in his inbox. "Notice how the inbox 'External'—my community, people who don't work for my company, they're important to me—I've answered all of their emails," he says.

Don't Check Email in the Morning (or at Night)

It's simple: if you reply to email in the morning, the sender will reply right back. What you thought was going to be less than an hour chore, quickly consumes half your day.

What happens is if you check email in the morning, you time travel. You wake at 9, you check email. Boom, it's lunch, and then you go to lunch. Boom, it's 2:30. Then it's like, 'OK, it's 2:30, I'm going to start working now.' That all happened because you checked email in the morning.

"Don't put more energy into things you don't want to," Hanselman says, paraphrasing David Allen.

Moreover, replying to email in the morning teaches people that they should expect future replies from you at that time. The same goes for answering email late at night.

"Remember, if you're the person who answers email at 2 in the morning, you just taught you're boss that you're the person who answers email at 2 in the morning," Hanselman says. You've also taught them that you're addicted to urgency.

Instead, check email at noon, and put it on your calendar. "You'll be surprised at how much work you get done," he says.

Find Your Robert Scoble

You shouldn't be constantly checking your email for fear of keeping up, Hanselman says. "I've got probably 500 emails—I usually have zero but I'm on vacation (in Sweden)," he says.

At the conference he was giving this talk, he observed other speakers give their talk and then rush back to their laptop to check their email, or as he puts it, delete their email.

"Has my job really come to this?" Hanselman says. "Is this my job: deleting email?"

To fend that habit off, Hanselman uses what he calls "trusted aggregators," colleagues who can be asked, "What's going on?" Or, they're people like Robert Scoble.

I used to have 1,000 blogs that I would read. And then who's the greatest blog reader in the world? It's Robert Scoble, he's always talking about how many blogs that he reads. So I finally decided, 'I'm not Robert Scoble.' He's a freak, and it's not healthy to keep up on that many blogs. So you know what I do? I read his blog. So I took the thousand blogs that I read and I pick five link blogs. I found my Scobles. And I read those five blogs and they give me an aggregated news. It's like why we listen to the BBC news on the hour, because it tells us what's going on so I don't have to watch all the other news. Find your aggregator inside of the company.

Robert Scoble photo courtesy JD Lasica.

Ask yourself: Who is the person who can tell me what's going on and keep me up to date? That person is your aggregator.

Remain in Your Flow

"Remember that anything important that happens in the world, in the news, in you life, in your work , will come your (way) many times," Hanselman says. "If there's another 9-11, somebody will tell you. You probably didn't learn it by hitting refresh on your favorite news site."

His advice: remain in your flow. "Be wrapped up like a child in the thing that captures your attention," he says, quoting Stowe Boyd. "Get that excitement back, and that excitement does not involve Alt-Tabbing over to Gmail."

Conserve Your Keystrokes

Pulling a page from author and software developer Jon Udell, Hanselman encourages you to "conserve your keystrokes." What does this mean? He explains by example:

If Brian emails me a really interesting question about … and I send him back an exciting and long, five-paragraph with a code sample email that solves his problem, I just gave him the gift of 10,000 of my keystrokes. But there is a finite number of keystrokes left in my hands before I die, and I am never going to get those keystrokes back and I've just gifted them to Brian. And I don't even know if he reads that email. So what should I do to multiply these keystrokes given that there is a finite number of those keystrokes left in my hands? I write a blog post and I mail him the link. Then after I'm dead, my keystrokes multiple—every time I get a page view that's 5,000 keystrokes that I did not have to type.

Conserve Your Keystrokes

Keep your emails to 3-4 sentences, Hanselman says. Anything longer should be on a blog or wiki or on your product's documentation, FAQ or knowledge base. "Anywhere in the world except email because email is where you keystrokes go to die," he says.

Triage the Inbox of Your Life

On top of email, you have a constant stream new information coming into the "inbox of your life," which includes everything form your social media activity, to new episodes to watch on Netflix to snail mail. The items in this inbox of your life, Hanselman says, need to be triaged.

Triage - from the French verb trier, meaning to separate, sort, sift or select.

He offers a gruesome analogy: if you're in a parking lot full of injured people, you must act. It's your job to put a toe tag on each individual—are they dead or alive, how should they be treated?

"We don't ruthlessly (go through the) inboxes of our lives and do that," Hanselman says. "We get wrapped up in the little details and then we're putting bandaids on cancer while someone else is loosing an arm."

He instructs you to identify the data streams in your life—Twitter, Facebook, email, SMS and chat, for example—and sort them by signal versus noise. What provides you value and what doesn't? Which ones can be dropped? Drop them.

Here's how Hanselman defines his data streams:

Data Streams

Get Rid of Psychic Weight

You've just signed up for Netflix, giving you access to all episodes of House of Cards. Finally, you think, now you can watch the full second season whenever you want. But this isn't as freeing as it seems.

"I realized that this was psychic weight that was pressing me down," Hanselman says, recounting the time when he gained access to all episodes of Law & Order on TiVo.

"'OK, we got like seven Law & Orders on the thing," he says as if he were talking to his wife. "We'll put the kids to bed early tonight, and we're going to bang through Law & Order and then we're going to get this thing under control and we're going to handle it. And then we'll be back on track."

TiVo, it turned out, wasn't a "gift from God" as Hanselman originally thought. This "glorious productivity thing," he says, became the primary source of psychic weight in his life.

Whatever is "pending" in your life, drop it, Hanselman suggests on his blog.

Reserve Fridays for Reflection

"(When) I think about the things that I want to get done, I want to think about: what are the three things I can get done today? What are the three things I want to get done this week, this year?" Hanselman says.

This practice, called the "Rule of 3", comes from fellow Microsoft program manager J.D. Meier.

Write down three outcomes for the day.

… for the week.

… for the year.

"When you're going through your week, you need to have a vision on Monday of what your week looks like, and on Friday you need to stop and look back on your week and think about the reflection," Hanselman says.

Ask yourself: Was that a successful week? What could I have done differently? What could I change?

"The point is to end the day without guilt, to end the day without psychic weight," he says. "Maybe I'm just talking to myself here, but I truly believe that we have had that feeling at the end of the day where, 'I didn't do a damn thing today.'"

Try the Pomodoro Technique

The Pomodoro Technique, invented by Francesco Cirillo in the late 1980s, has you focus on one task for 25 minutes. Between each of these task sprints, you get a break.

Pomodoro Technique

Try this approach, Hanselman encourages, and when you do track the interruptions that impede the 25 minutes. Put a tick on a piece of paper each time an internal—one triggered yourself—or external—one by a co-worker, for example—interruption occurs.

First, you'll record six interruptions in that 25-minute sprint. Then one. Then none at all.

"Then you'll start thinking about productivity in your life as how many Pomodoros that you got done in a day," Hanselman says. "You'll say, 'Man, that was a four Pomodoro day, I got a lot of work done.'"

Realize that Being Busy is a form of Laziness

Being busy is a form of laziness—lazy thinking and indiscriminate action. - Timothy Ferriss

"Being busy is not thinking about what you should be doing so that you're not so busy," Hanselman says. "We find ourselves just being busy. It turns out, that 'being creative and making something is the opposite of hanging out.'

David Rakoff

Hanselman takes notice when someone he sees tweet a lot suddenly stops tweeting and then a month later comes back with a new creation.

"Wow, that person just made a list of the things they needed to get done and Twitter wasn't one of them," he says. "They went off and they created and they came back and they shared it with us.

Face the Fact: Multitasking is a Myth

"Multitasking does not work," says Hanselman. "The optimal number of threads in any system is one thread. That is a computer science fact and if you think you can multitask, you're wrong."

When you do multitask you're really doing what Hanselman refers to as "task-switching," which requires context switching. To explain, he offers this example:

You ever been working on something and working on something and then the phone rings and you're mean, to like, your dad? Why was I so mean to my dad? Well, he called you at work at 3 in the afternoon and you were totally focused on something. Then afterwards (you were) like, 'I'm sorry, I was really working on something.' … Then I'm sad for like 10 or 15 minute. That's the context switch, as I get back from that phone call that I screwed up, back to the work. 'OK what was I thinking about?' Context switching doesn't work.

But Here's What You Can Multitask

There are some things, Hanselman notes, that you can multitask. For example, walking and chewing gum. Or for him, listening to podcasts or watching TV when he's working out.


There's also idle and waiting time to take advantage of in your day. Hanselman unabashedly shares how he makes the most of his visits to the bathroom.

"The iPhone has completely changed the way that I poop," he says. "I have no idea what we were doing in there before. Weren't you thinking, 'This is completely unproductive time.' And then the iPhone came along, and Instapaper, and now poop time is good time."

Clean Out Mental Clutter

Near the end of his talk, Hanselman offers the following quote to boil down a decision process to pinpoint what's important in your life.

If it's not helping me to make money, if it's not improving my life in some way, it's mental clutter and it's out." - Christopher Hawkins

Get rid of the "make money" part, he says. Instead, ask yourself: "If it's not helping me to—what is your goal? Spend time with your kids? Pay off your house? Grow your business?

"In any decision, if you're going to do something, is that helping you with that blank—whatever that blank is for you.

For Hanselman, that blank is his family.

"I stopped caring about my career when I had kids," he says. "Everything that I do, every decision that I make, is how I can get home to my four-year-old and six-year-old faster."


Hanselman ends his talk with a five-part assignment:

  1. Audit and sort your sources
  2. Schedule work sprint
  3. Turn off distractions
  4. How are you triaging your inbox? Are you effective? Are you efficient?
  5. Consider your personal toolbox

"Notice that I didn't talk about Evernote or any of these fancy systems," he says. "You can spend more time reading productivity books and making productivity systems when maybe all you need is a (to-do list).

"Maybe what you really need is the will to do it and the recognition in your mind that there is a difference between being busy and doing the work that you want to do," he says.

Credits: Hanselman photo courtesy Webstock conference. Robert Scoble photo courtesy JD Lasica.

Related Links

About Scott

Scott Hanselman is a former professor, former Chief Architect in finance, now speaker, consultant, father, diabetic, and Microsoft employee. He is a failed stand-up comic, a cornrower, and a book author.

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Disclaimer: The opinions expressed herein are my own personal opinions and do not represent my employer's view in any way.