Keeping Track of Time – Part 1 – Recognizing the Problem

I have a confession to make.  Like many other software developers, my time estimates are seem to vary from real time.  Yes, giving accurate time estimates are a difficult task, especially ones that are over long extended periods of time.  Add on top of that time seems like an illusion at times, and you have a perfect storm for inaccuracy.  However one of the hallmarks of a good senior developer are good time estimates.  So what to do?

Well you have to fix that problem like any else.  First lets do some research on the problem:

From the looks of it, the problem consists of breaking down a project or a problem into reasonable amounts.  Then one can build time estimates on the design, implementation, integration and testing of the components.  Sounds easy, yes?  Not quite, but that is a skill that can be developed.  How?  Well track the components needed to perform a certain task, measure the time it takes to finish the task and finally do analysis on the results.  Sure you can do this by hand, with nothing more than a pen, paper and stopwatch.  However this is far too tedious and onerus when developing.  Humanity invented and built computers for tasks just like this.  Again after a bit of searching online I found the following tools:

Over the next couple of days and weeks, I will play with each tool and try to figure out which works for me.  Finally I will write about which worked out the best for me overall.

Its Been a While

Wow, its amazing much one can do if one sits down and just concentrates on a single task.  Yesterday proved a rather productive day, in terms of writing correspondences.  Also I managed to get a fair bit of writing and coding done too.  I apologize for everyone who expected me to answer back sooner.  Some days just become busy for no reason.  Some days you put off everything, wishing that somehow procrastination will make the problem go away.  Some days you can finally go forth, wince, and tackle that pile of work that just stacked up.  Tackling yesterday’s pile of put off correspondences was not pleasant.  It was not because I had write anything less than pleasant or controversial.  It just felt that way since I let things slide for the past couple of days.

Anyways, I’m still working to reconnect with people.  I’m still trying to churn out writing that I should of done ages ago.  But now I’m actually seeing some hope that I can get to cracking on one of the big projects.

I have reconnected with Siobhan who I haven’t talked to in ages.  I did sorely miss talking to her.  I’m keeping in touch with old friends, university acquaintances and ex-co-workers.   Or at least trying to.  The hardest people to keep in touch are the ones who I need to communicate in Polish or Italian.  Language can be quite a hurtle, if you don’t feel 100% fluent in it.  But things have to be done, and I’m taking pains to do so.

Clubbing In the Courthouse – Part 1

Today I had to go to a summons.  I’m grateful for living in a country with a “fair” judicial system, and I’m not going to try to avoid my “civic” “obligations”.  But it bothers me, why our dear tax-money fed bureaucrats can’t organize things properly.  I see no valid excuse why to flagrantly wasting people’s time by asking until the judges and lawyers graciously call us in.  Could such a waste of time and productivity not be fixed with a bit of advanced scheduling?  For one this would help the economy, and social morale.  It this waiting seems something of a hangover from ancient times, when the nobles could simply “ask” the peasants to put their lives on hold.  Or am I missing something?

Why not small pools of potential jurors?  Or calling them in at appropriate times?  Why ask to place things on hold in a systemic manner?

I’ll Be Right On It

It is a bit early in the morning to come up with material to write about.  And I did not get much sleep this night.  Today I probably wouldn’t be able to stop yawning.  And insane amounts of coffee will only keep me from trying to take a nap on the new office’s couch.  All that said, I am on track with my current work: personal, professional and long-term.  I’ve even managed to get to those much delayed tasks.  Yesterday I restarted my coding projects.  Today I will dedicate some time on building a portfolio: in writing, graphics and coding.  And I really need to clear the dust off my resume too.

The key statement for expressing the feel of these past few days should be: I’ll be right on it.  And I will.  Things get done and on time.  The only thing missing is sleep, but I’m sure that will return if I keep at it.

As an aside, I played Alpha Centauri this morning.  What a difference lower the difficulty a single level makes.  At the moment I’m kicking ass and taking names.  I can also verify that what they say about state theory is true.  It is all about power and domination over a territory.  It takes incredible restraint to not exercise aggressive military power, especially when you know you can get away with it.  Hmm… that should prove a great uncurrent theme in my novel.

Final aside: I have to rewrite the first chapter of my novel.  I can’t adapt any of my previous writing to it, in any real degree.  I can use some ideas and elements here and there, but regretably it looks like the first chapter needs a rewrite.  The overall plot and characters feel strong.  The setting needs some thought, since the terrain in reality does not work a 100% with my idea.  Anyways, I plan on just writing the rough drafts first.  Then I brace for painful edits later on.

The Day After

Today marks the first day of my 26th year of existence.  So far I feel quite pleased.  I have some progress in my various goals.  I go out more often.  I talk to more people.  I have found a few girls who have taken some sort of an interest in me.  Life goes on without missing a beat.  In my mind, my writing is shaping up nicely.  Programming is left to the side, for now.  But I plan on working on that fairly soon.  Getting a license and a car is within my reach.  For once I can see myself living an ordinary independent adult life.  For various reasons I’m doing anything crazy like moving out.  Or spending vast amounts of money, or doing silly things in general.  My time management, project management and organizational skills are far better than they were a year ago.  And most importantly, I still see a glimmer of hope of my eeking out a prosperous existence on this rock.  My situation is not the simplest or the easiest, butI still I have room for maneuvering.  All in all, the day after and the coming days looking promising.

Measuring Progress

I apologize for the lack of an earlier update.  A writer with a mindnumbing case of writer’s block, is  a terrible thing to behold.  Hence I put off writing until I regained my bearings and inspiration.  Thinking before writing should apply to all who write.

I want to touch upon something I write about often: time management.  The question that often comes to my mind, is how effective are my techniques.  Do I gain anything from them?  Or do they simply hinder me from achieving what I planned to achieve?  How can I judge if a technique that I apply to my life hinders or helps?  I claim there is a manner in which one can measure if a technique works or not.

But how should measure effectiveness?  I rather not use the metric of amount of free time.  The simplest way to attain free time, is to get rid of work.  Rather we need a metric of work achieved.

Measuring work in general is a tricky business.  If it were a simple task, we could then attempt to measure the value of work.  And then we could base a sane economic model on work performed based various criteria.  Regrettibly the Austrian school of business shows that this is a difficult if not impossible task.  Also work for the sake of work is foolish.  And one of the root causes of the present economic crisis, is the fallacy of Keynes, that so long as people and capital work and are consumed, all will be well.  Hence, we indirectly valuate work by pricing the services rendered and good produced by said work, against other goods and services.  I propose we approach our original problem in a similar, indirect fashion.

Lets measure effectiveness not only by the number of tasks completed.  We could weight the task by their complexity, size and difficult in realization.  But even such a weighing is not the true cost of a task.  I noticed an improvement to simply measuring tasks.   We include measurements how quickly one can work on those important but oft-put off projects and goals.  If a technique lets one approach more such long-term projects and goal than before, then the technique is effective.

I am happy to report, that I put effective time and spatial organizational techniques into practice.  The ones that I could maintain or could help me, I stopped using.  And I know they are effective, since I can finally get to work on all those important projects and goals.  And all those projects I put off for months and years, I can now approach.  So I can comfortably say that progress is being made.  And these techniques do pay off.

That Subscription Did Pay Off…

Mind Tools logo

In January I decided to that I need to work on my time management and organization skills.  Especially with the amount of different projects and events happening in and around my life, I need to find scraps of time here and there.  Not to mention I need to remember tasks, people, the locations of miscellanous small items, and other important bits of data.  In the past one of my friends, Lina–she is who helped get me on track in university–pointed out the Mind Tools website as a great resource.  So last month, lured by the prospect of free e-books I subscribed to the Mind Tools website.  Even with the little time I have to read all the Mind Tools resources, I still found that the subscription definitely paid off.  Now I probably do not need the more managerial material.  But the time management, communication and project management resources already proved useful.  Heck I did not know that I have started implementing the concept of kaizen and reducing mud.  I highly recommend the Mind Tools site as a valuable organizational and time management skills training resource.

A Review of January 2009

1day.pngEvery so often I like to look back and review my achievements.  In the past I did it so rarely, that I just looked my current work and the few things I remembered made it look like I achieved little throughout the year.  So I’ll try to do a quick review for January here.

In writing, I started to edit a bit of chapter 1 of my book.   I planned on writing substantially more, but this didn’t occur as I didn’t work on my novel systematically.  However I did manage to restart more or less daily updates to my blog.  Now with the move to the new blogging application, I feel more productive and more in control.  I still need to clean up and improve my blog since my migration from Blogger to WordPress.  This next month, I plan on adding regular writing sessions for my novel.

In computing, did manage to purchase a new personal domain.  I set up this WordPress blog on this too.  I tried to setup clean URLs on my Drupal sites.  But for all my attempts, I could not setup my Drupal multi-site as planned.  Aside from a bit of maintenance, I still need to organize a good chunk of my files on my desktop at home.  The Internet Tablet still needs to shine in terms of really boosting my productivity.  For the time being, I use it more as a MSN client on the run and as a podcast-capable MP3 player.  This month, I will need to set some time aside and add GTD task management as something I can do on my tablet.  Also I plan on spending time organizing my desktop and digitized life.

I won’t get into my personal achievements.  However I will mention that I am keeping up with regular communication with old good friends and some new ones.  And I try to respond in reasonable amount of time.  I still need to get a cellphone though.  And the wintery weather prevented me from doing any driving.  But I am keeping up with my resolution to eat my own cooked food and being ready for work consistently.  And my finances are in check and all accounted for.  This February, I need to keep at it, better controlling my stress levels and making sure I continue growing.

On the professional side, I haven’t achieved my goals of learning Qt, GTK, C++ or maemo development.  Did however reviewed and strengthened my UML diagramming skills.  I am becoming a better, more visibly calm and upbeat consultant.  I still need learn to exude more calmness and in-control feeling.  I am managing to avoid most potential disasters at work.  So this month, I plan on brushing up and acquiring new programming skills.

Overall, I would consider January a month of personal growth.  I can’t say I achieved 1/12 of everything I want to achieve this year.  But I managed to get a sound base to start expanding upon.  Some major projects still need to get off the ground.  I will postpone and spend less time on a certain project, since it might not provide enough reward for the amount of effort put in.  I still need to clear off the majority of minor tasks from earlier months.  But on the whole I find myself a better, more approachable person and if nothing drastic happens in the next month, I should be able to continue on moving forward.

Self-Motivation Pre-Game Pep Talk

I went off-topic with my posts a while ago. You’re probably asking, “Dude, nice blogs where are the gamer posts?” Fair enough.

I’m no great shot in FPS matches. My aim often deviates from my target. And missing another player just gives them a reason to exact gruesome retribution, usually with an overpowered rocket or shower of plasma. So why don’t I leave after a few respawns, and call it quits? Why do I instead rush back into the largest battle in the arena?

Not because I’m addicted to gaming. Not because I’m an aggressive bastard. Nope. I’m self motivated. Faced with a problem or challenge, I try to surmount it. And persist in trying until success or the realization of futility sinks in. I challenge myself to get better. It makes for an exciting game and for a fulfilling life.

So here is a challenge for you: how self motivated are you? Take this test from I got a score of 44. What about you?