Scott Hanselman

Scott Hanselman's Complete List of Productivity Tips

March 27, '14 Comments [36] 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. http://www.flickr.com/photos/jdlasica/9004450494/

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 ASP.net … 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.

Multitasking

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."

Homework

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.

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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. I am a failed stand-up comic, a cornrower, and a book author.

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Productivity vs. Guilt and Self-Loathing

August 2, '12 Comments [56] Posted in Productivity
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Pomodoro TimerThe guilt can be crushing. Everyone seems to be getting stuff done, except you. You drag yourself out of bed, go to work, start checking email, start deleting, then poof, it's noon. Lunch, perhaps at your desk, then some awful meetings, then it's 3pm. You start REALLY working, then you start feeling decent but then it's 5pm or 6pm. It's time to start getting home. You feel like you didn't really get a lot done today so you'll work late - just tonight - to catch up.

The not getting stuff done sucks, but the guilt and self-loathing is where you really get into trouble. You likely don't say it out loud, but you think it. You might not tell your spouse, but you think it. I suck. Man, I suck. I'm just not getting a damn thing done.

Sometimes I feel like this. I've talked about feeling like a Phony before. Folks say that Einstein felt like a phony and that was motivating. I'll let you know if that's true next time I revolutionize science, but for now, I still get down on my self for not getting stuff done.

I don't have the answers, nor do I have a proper "system." My system is always changing, and I've decided that THAT is the system. I adapt. If it's not working, I'll change it. I encourage you do to the same.

At WebStock I did a talk that I'm mostly proud of called "It's not what you read, it's what you ignore" and I like to point people to this video as a decent place to start when thinking about productivity. My system is a combination of thinking from Stephen Covey, David Allen, and J.D. Meier's Getting Results. All of these systems are highly recommended and I've pulled much of what I know from them and then synthesized my own ideas.

Here's what I do when I'm feeling non-productive and guilty. Again, watch the video for more details, it's not selling anything and I go into more detail. I need to just write a small book on this..

Stop Checking Email in the Morning

The quickest way to time travel into the afternoon is to check email in the morning. Time-box your email. Set aside an hour for email, and do that hour. Try to get work done before lunch in order to set yourself up for success and feel better about your day. Getting something awesome done before lunch is a great way to stop guilt. Email is the thing that we turn to because it FEELS like we're getting work done but unless it's truly focused project email, it's usually just pushing bits around.

Don't make Guilt Piles

You know that pile of books that you'll never read that sitting next to the computer you are reading this blog post on? That pile is too tall. You'll never read all those. That pile of books is a monolith of guilt. It's a monument of sadness and failure. Pick the book or two that you can read this week and put the rest away.

If it's important, Schedule It.

If you really want to read a book, catch up on HTML5, watch a video on Python, or learn to cook, schedule it. You schedule an hour for a  meeting at work and you show up, why not schedule an hour in your work day to read. If you boss asks you what you're doing, you're doing technical research on a project. You're sharpening the saw. Schedule time for you rather than trying to find time for yourself within a schedule you've setup to help everyone else. Make time for yourself as well as relationships.

Measure, then Cut

You can't decide what to stop doing unless you know what you're doing. I recommend Rescue Time as a great lightweight way to measure what you are up to, and when you review your numbers you can hold yourself accountable. If you know where you spend your time you can decide what your time is worth. We thought that hiring a guy to cut the lawn was too expensive, but when we realized that it was totally stressing me out, we measured, then cut and we're all happier. Are there meetings you can NOT go to? Are there projects you are unable to do to the best of your ability? Are you over-committed? Hope is not a strategy. Make appropriate cuts - saying No is your most powerful tool.

Do smaller things

Paint House is too big and too stressful for a single item on your TODO list. Break it up like Select Color, find Paint Store, Buy Paint, etc. Focus on the Rule of Three. Three Successes for the day, for the week, for the month, for the year. Have a Vision for your week on Monday and Reflect on that Vision on Friday. Find a small thing that you can do in a small amount of time and do it. Accomplish something small, anything and that will buoy you forward to the next thing.

Let go of Psychic Weight

List out all the things that weigh you down and find out how to let them go. I used to  get stressed by the shows I wasn't watching or the books I wasn't reading or the blogs I couldn't keep up with. Seemed like everyone else was able to keep up but me. But I let it go. I don't argue on Twitter and I don't try to read every blog post. I have never watched Lost and I don't worry about watching the news. Doing less - and more of it - is the only way to scale.

Schedule Work Sprints

It's hard to focus all day. You don't have to and stop being mad at yourself for not being able to. Rather than beating yourself up, trying focusing for just 25 minutes. Just focus on one thing for 25 minutes. When you're done, you'll get a 5 minute break to do whatever you want. Sprint. Run your day like a mini-Scrum. Try the Pomodoro Technique. It's free and easy and it is a great tool to increase your focus.

Stop Beating Yourself Up

Don't feel so bad about not getting enough stuff done. Eat well, sleep well, say NO more often and try your best. Remember you can always make a small change in your system and try again tomorrow.

About Scott

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

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It's not what you read, it's what you ignore - Video of Scott Hanselman's Personal Productivity Tips

April 9, '12 Comments [55] Posted in Productivity | Speaking
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I've done a number of talks on Productivity in the past. Lots of folks ask me what my tips are for being productive. I've taken all those tips as well as tips from Kathy Sierra, Stephen Covey, David Allen, The Pomodoro Technique and many more and aggregated them into a system that works well for me. I talk about how to effectively handle large amounts email, sorting your personal data stream, how to conserve your keystrokes, the "one email rule" that you need to be effective

I'm giving this talk in a few places in the coming months like StirTrek in Ohio, DevCon in Russia, and possibly "That Conference" in Wisconsin. If you will be attending one of these events, you might want to wait and see it in person. ;)

There's a few jokes in the beginning of the talk that refer back to some discussion about Gamification and a funny back and forth that Kathy Sierra and I had. If they don't make sense, that's the context.

I hope you enjoy it. It's about 42 minutes long. There's lots of other great talks from WebStock '12 up at their event site. Do check them out. http://talks.webstock.org.nz/events/webstock-12/. I particularly like Lauren Beuke's talk on Kinking Reality, Matthew Inman (The Oatmeal) and his talk on getting people to read what you write, Adam Lisagor (the world's quietest pitchman) and Rob Malda on the Rise and Fall of Slashdot.

Of course, feel free to share this post with your friends. I hope it helps them.

About Scott

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

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The Sweet Spot of Multiple Monitor Productivity: That Magical Third Monitor

October 2, '11 Comments [85] Posted in Musings | Productivity | Remote Work
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Al Gore with Three MonitorsI finally took the time to install a monitor bracket this evening to support my center Dell 30" monitor. Installing a monitor bracket is one of those nice little things you can do to really spruce up your workspace. I had been avoiding it because I though it would be expensive but I found a bracket that would support 50 pounds for under $40. It was easier to install than I thought and I'm considering installing two more to support my other two monitors.

Yes, three. After blogging about multiple monitors for more than eight years (!) and going as far as hooking up five monitors, I've decided that three is the real sweet spot for productivity. Any more is overkill and any less cramps my brain. I admit five was insane. Fun, but insane.

I've always wanted more than one monitor. I remember sometime in the mid-eighties being thrilled when I discovered that I could install a monochrome "Hercules" card alongside my existin  g VGA card and type 'mode mono' from the DOS prompt while running Windows, Desqview or OS/2 and effectively run command line batch processes on one monitor while doing Windowy stuff on the other. This was 25+ years ago and I've never looked back.

Three really old CRT monitorsI've said before on Twitter, and I'll say it again, if you're a developer you need to spend money on a great computer, an awesome monitor, a fantastic chair and a good bed. And food. But the other stuff first.

Bill Gates has three monitors, Al Gore does, Larry Page does. Even Jeff Atwood. ;)

Many years ago Darrell Norton moved everyone on his development team to two monitors from one with amazing results:

After multiple monitors were introduced:

  • Productivity in lines of code per day increased 10%.
  • Defect levels decreased by 26%.

The New York Times said this about multiple monitors in 2006:

Adding a second monitor turned out to be the easiest, most cost-effective and significant improvement in my work since I replaced my modem with high-speed cable.

It's true. Once you get more than one monitor, you can't stop until you get to three.

Why Three Monitors and not Two?

I think three monitors is the perfect number because the center monitor is where your primary work happens. I usually run Visual Studio or my blogging software on this monitor. The second and third monitors are like rear view mirrors in that they are about 30 to 35 degrees angled in a wrap-around configuration and I glance at them for information while I work.

For example, here's some typical scenarios with me and my three monitors.

Development

Left Center Right
Documentation/PDFs/Browser Development IDE, Text Snippets Target App Browser, Application being Debugged

Blogging

Left Center Right
Browser with articles being referenced Windows Live Writer (blogging app) NetFlix, Hulu

Deleting Email

Left Center Right
Calendar Outlook Mail/Gmail Twitter/Facebook/G+

Without three monitors, you will be task switching, and I maintain that it's always going to be easier (read: lower effort) to glance to the side or turn your head than it will be to ALT-TAB and switch to the other apps. The more apps you run the more you'll be ALT-TABbing around.

I actually find with Windows 7 and three monitors that I use WINKEY+LEFT ARROW or WINKEY+RIGHT ARROW to move applications left and right on a single monitor or between monitors with SHIFT+WINKEY+ARROWS which means nothing is every obscured. That's the key with multiple monitors.

When using computers, out of site isn't out of mind. If it's not visible on the screen then it's you that has to store it. I propose that the amount of your memory that's used to keep track of what apps are running and what state they are in is less with multiple monitors.

Installing a Bracket

Installing bracket was somehow intimidating to me. Turned out I just needed to make sure that the bracket was exactly positioned such that the bolts went into the center of the stud. I had laser stud finder and used blue painters tape to mark off the edges. I used a small level to make sure it wasn't torqued, although since the monitor bracket I got supports rotation there's more room for error than I realized.

Then I was concerned it wouldn't support the weight a 30" Dell Monitor. Turns out that this "giant" 30" Dell Monitor is actually only 25 lbs without the stand. The bracket can support 50 lbs so I had lots of room for error there as well.

Seems there was really no reason for me to be concerned about installing a bracket. I debated using a desk mounted bracket, but my desk is chrome and glass and won't handle any kind of clamp.

The only downside to this operation and the bracket is that it only moves horizontally (with 15 degrees of vertical tilt. So, if I get another desk or change the height of this desk, I'll have to move it.

 Multi Monitor BracketsMulti Monitor Brackets

I have another motorized up/down standing desk to the right of my main workstation, so when I get tired of sitting I can move over to the other desk. That desk has a fourth monitor (it's disabled in my current configuration) that I often hook my laptop up to. That way, even if I'm at the standing desk using my laptop, I've still got a second large monitor.

The Result

Here's my setup as I sit in my chair. That

Three monitors is love

Here's a cheesy panorama of my setup I as swivel in the chair 180 degrees. The white table is motorized so I can sit and stand. It has another 24" HDTV/monitor with a Cisco Umi Telepresence system connected to it. I use it for LiveMeetings, NetFlix, Xbox or Cisco/Skype.

Panorama of my setup

I just can't think of any reason why a developer shouldn't have at LEAST a second monitor. LCDs are plentiful, low power and inexpensive. Most computers and laptops can run a second monitor and even a $100 video card can run three monitors.

Do you run multiple monitors? Why?

You don't? Why not?

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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. I am a failed stand-up comic, a cornrower, and a book author.

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Productivity and Continuous Improvement - Measurement (and RescueTime) makes it happen, both Personally and at Work

June 14, '11 Comments [20] Posted in Productivity
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The RescueTime Dashboard with charts over each hour showing my productive timeI was chatting with a friend recently about my recent diet and she commented that I seemed to measure everything. I realized that measurement and logging was a theme in my lifestyle, specifically as applied to productivity.

As a Type 1 Diabetic logging and measurement as a precursor to success is not just required, it's darn near mandatory if you to live succeed. I check my blood sugar as often as 10 times a day. Now that I'm also on a continuous blood sugar meter as well, I am able to measure hundreds of times a day and make small adjustments.

It's this core idea of measure often combined with small adjustments that I believe is the hallmark of success in nearly anything one does.

I have been dieting of late (I'll do a separate blog post on this soon) using an application called LoseIt and a pedometer/metabolic activity meter called a FitBit. These two small and inexpensive (LoseIt is free so far!) measuring devices have enabled me to lose 21 lbs in a short amount of time with minimal effort.

The old adage is "measure twice, cut once." In the computer age, my new agile adage is "measure often, cut often."

One of my favorite tools for measuring personal productivity (and making adjustments) is called RescueTime. It's a little app that runs in the background and keeps track of the application running in the foreground, as well as if you're interacting with it. You can categorize applications with various levels of productivity. For example, for me, reading CNN.com is not productive, but if you're a journalist, perhaps it is very productive. You can categorize from apps down to websites, as well a ones you want it to ignore. They even have a lovely Data API that you can access programmatically and do whatever you like!

Once you've run RescueTime for a while, maybe a week to a month, things become VERY interesting from a data perspective. You can pivot the data any way you like, focusing on Productivity, Efficiency, or by Category.  If you're an hourly worker or consultant, you can even upgrade and us it as an effective time-tracking tool.

Here's some examples of the kinds of insights you can get when you measure, and what you (or I, in this case) can do about it. I'll pick a random day in May, the 17th.

My daily productivity as logged by RescueTime by hour

There's some uncategorized data in there where I'm using an application or website that RescueTime doesn't recognize. Notice that I don't really hit my stride for Software Dev until lunch time. If I look at the week or month views, I find this to be true consistently. I'm garbage with analytical work (development) until lunch. What can I do about that? Well, I can totally avoid that kind of work in the morning. Did you realize that you can be more productive by actually avoiding work at times when you know you'll be lousy/unfocused/suboptimal? If you rock at a certain kind of work at 11pm, then well, organize your day so you can be successful that those times.

If I dig in on an hour, for example, noon to 1pm on this day, I can see that I was developing software (in Visual Studio) for 35min, using utilities for 10min, and googling around for a few minutes. Other distractions used up only seconds.

My productive time for a single hour in May

I can dig in and categorize my programs and their relative productivity/distractedness (it's like Mint.com, do the work once, and it'll add up over time!) and that makes my reports easier to read at a macro level. You shouldn't need to spend much time doing this.

Categorizing my time by program

Then, once a week, during your Friday afternoon "Reflection," go look at your reports and see if you find patterns. Then, make a list of the 3 things you'll do on Monday to make your week more productive. Repeat this each week and you'll find an LEAST 4-8 hours of wasted time. I'm not saying don't read the news or go on Twitter.

I'm saying this:

  • Be deliberate.
  • Time is finite, treat it as a resource.
  • Know what you're doing.
  • Be aware of what the trade-offs are.
  • Measure everything, otherwise you have NO idea what you're doing.

If you don't profile your program, you don't know where it's spending it's time. If you don't profile yourself, you're just hanging out.

Hope this helps, Dear Reader.

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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. I am 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.