People often praise me for my seemingly unending motivation and energy. But often, I come back at night, spend time with the children, grab something to eat and by 8pm, I sit down at the computer and just think, god it would be so much easier to turn on Netflix or something and just sit and do absolutely nothing for a few hours.  I rarely give into this temptation though as there are so many things niggling at the back of my mind that I want to achieve or get experience in. Not because I’m massively motivated to be productive, but because I just really enjoy the result of working  on something and knowing at the end that I made it.  But at the beginning of a project or when something goes wrong it’s damn near impossible to get that motivation back.

There are two things that suck the motivation out of me. noise and sometimes just not knowing where to start. so, here are a few tips from a busy person.  These might work for you. They might not.  All I can say is they work for me.  Most times.  Some have been very recent changes. Some have been there for years.

Firstly, let me pass on something very profound that my mother said to me about five years ago.  It was one sunday evening while standing in her kitchen.  She was walking around putting things away when she came up with this and it gave me the start I needed.  She said that no major change happens over night. It happens in bits.  You decide what you want then you break that goal up into little parts. You take the pressure off yourself by not restricting yourself to unmanageable deadlines but you aim to change those parts of your life that you don’t like in little stages until one day, you wake up and you realize that it’s all done.  That day will come and for me it came much faster than I expected once I figured out where to start. I’m not saying I have everything right. I’m hardly that conceded. But I made the change that I needed to make at that time.

There was another piece of advice given to me by a friend of mine. Sean Conway. It was late on a saturday night and a few pints were probably had but the advice really rang home to me. It related to music but the same can be said for many other parts of life.  He said find out the absolute fastest you can go where you can fit all the technique you want in. Then ease off the throttle and go a little slower. You’ll be more comfortable, your technique will be even better because you’re not struggling and you will always have that bit more to push if you need to.

I’ll give you the last bit of wisdom that this time my father imparts quite regularly.  His commonly used quote is “You can’t put an old head on young shoulders.” I’m 37. So I have a few years of experience by now. But I don’t know everything. I’ve lived through some very weird situations and found my self in environments where even at the time I thought, “wow, I can’t believe it’s me here that needs to handle this”. But still, I’m by no means an expert on anything so this rambling meandering torrent of words should be considered within the bounds of my fathers quote.  You can’t put an old head on young shoulders.

So, how do I get and stay productive.

The honest answer.

  1.  I love recognition. Cat, a friend from years ago said in a comment on this blog when Darragh does something, he does it right. I don’t know if that’s absolutely right but I like to aspire to live up to that expectation. Again, let me draw from an experience with my father.  When I was 16 I worked in his factory. I couldn’t understand why we were sanding down the back of head boards.  Surely if we did along the top and a tiny bit of the back, no one would notice that the rest of the headboard wasn’t sanded as it would be up against a wall. Stephen, the person spraying at the time commented with admiration that Ken, my father had high standards. It was those high standards that the customer was buying. They could buy furniture in other places but Alpine did it right.  I like the idea of that recognition.  Being a person where the job would be done right.
  2. Typically I do things that I really enjoy. I’ve often said it.  I play music and I absolutely love being able to make people happy with a tune, or letting people reflect as well with another. It might sound really cheesy but it really is an honor to play music for people. I get as much enjoyment out of it as others do. Then, when I’m not playing music, I@m working.  I’m in an organization at the moment where I’m challenged every day by technical solutions to find but most importantly, I get to design and implement systems that make a difference.  It might just be securing user accounts or making it more efficient to deploy updates. But it also could be a new way for students to onboard for the first time or making it easier for students to print.  I’m not one for talking to people, I’m honestly more comfortable at a keyboard, but it gives me a reason to get out of bed in the morning when I know that what I do makes things better for people. It’s an added plus that I often get to design how these systems work.  I’m a really creative person. I like that opportunity to let that side out. It’s not something that happens in technical roles very often.  So this is all a long winded way of saying, find something that you enjoy doing.  My father is coming across as a fountain of knowledge in this post but again, something he said to me when I was trying to decide what direction to take in life always stuck and it’s something I try to pass on when I can.   He said do something you love when you can. But do something that you can like to pay the bills.  That way you always have your first love to go back on.  I’m lucky. It turned out that I retained a great interest in both music and technology.  Many people after 15+ years working in technology for their 9 to 5 would get home and not touch a computer at night.  Which is absolutely fine.  But I think that when what you do to pay the bills is as important to you as your hobbies, motivation and sustained energy is easier to come by.
  3. Private office. Showing 3 computers on a very clean desk.My next suggestion is a new one. It’s find a space. In my opinion, open plan offices are the work of the devil and they should be swept away as one of the massively bad ideas of the 20th century.  I have recently moved into a private office and the sense of calm is so energizing that I’m finding myself less tired even at 9pm at night.  Noise! I said it earlier.  It’s one of my major obstructions to good productivity. In open plan offices, people are constantly talking and there’s always movement.  Just when you get into a flow and the right frame of mind to really get stuck into a difficult task that requires serious focus someone starts a conversation that you can hear and your mind wanders again. Or someone walks by you and tips off your desk or even worse, your chair.  It’s infuriating!  Now, this is because I’m not necessarily a people person. Don’t get me wrong please. It’s not that I dislike people.  That’s just not true at all. But I like getting things done and I like getting into a focused frame of mind where I can really get hold of what I’m working at and think hard about it.  Open plan offices get in the way of reaching that clarity. I have also designed a space at home that is really conducive to creativity and productivity. It’s really open, there’s space to pace around, I have a few different types of keyboards and I can move into different seating positions when I’m working on something for a very long time. I also have a great sound system and an equally good pair of headphones.  I listen to my computer speak through the headphones so I can always focus on that but then if I’m into something that is not too difficult but requires sustained focus, I turn up the music to an outrageous volume. I enjoy the boom of the sub so even when the computer is talking, I can get into the beat of what is playing.
  4. Have someone that you can rant to. All that person needs to do is show surprise, annoyance, a laugh or just empethize.  Because sometimes it’s just good to talk through something.  Especially if what your working on isn’t going quite to plan.  Often I finish at 12am at night and I go in to my wife and spout what must just sound like verbal diarrhea mixed with one of those technical bullshit generators that can be found online. But while spouting on about some weird thing that’s not working right today, sometimes the answer just comes to me.  More times than not the answer doesn’t come to me but it’s just good to get that frustration off my chest If I don’t talk it through and explain to myself more than anyone else why it’s not working, I’ll try to go to sleep but the problem will continue to eat at me and it will take what seems like an eon to finally find some sleep. But also sometimes, it’s important to note that my wife will hear me say something and pick up something else from a previous conversation and give me a nugget of that back that triggers a completely different line of thought. I’ve been known to have one of those rants, sleep for an hour, wake up with a new idea and go back to the office to write it down and even try it to see what would happen.
  5. don’t ever let someone put you down. I mean it. If you let someone put you down and I hear about it, I’m going to be really annoyed at you. If you know me, you’ll know that I’m a reasonably confident person. But for years one particular person put me down. To the extent I actually started believing him.  I was on the bus this morning and reflecting that around this time quite some time ago, I had upgraded a server. I had absolutely no documentation to go on and I was re-implementing software that hadn’t been installed on a new server in about 8 years.  The whole project was doomed from the beginning.  There should have been an appreciation among everyone involved that this would fail and equally, an appreciation of the time that would be needed to recover from that failure. Instead of that very reasonable approach, I was hailed a total ignoramus. Questions were asked about my suitability and my qualifications. At the time I blamed myself.  I privately hated myself for making this mistake.  But looking back on it even with a critical eye, there was absolutely no way I could ever have known about the undocumented dependencies of that software.  Basically there was a set up file.  This was run but there was a DLL in the software directory that was never registered.  The reason for this was that the DLL was added years after the installer was created. The software started correctly and all functions except for one worked properly. One failed. It was used for card payments.  When I finished the upgrade, people had gone home and I didn’t have a card to test payments.  Why would I.  I wasn’t expecting a problem with a specific part of the application let alone card payments!  The day after, alarms bells went off and I stayed with it until the problem was resolved.  But I just could never have known that one DLL among hundreds was included with the software but the installation process didn’t install it.  Years later, I understand that although there were things I could have done differently, the problem still would have been encountered and that person still would have found a reason to put me down. Soemtimes I’m wrong.  Sometimes we’re all wrong. But if you are getting put down even sometimes in work, go look for a second opinion. You might be doing an absolutely crap job. But you might not. Don’t stay in a situation where you are treated badly regardless.

That’s all my tips.  Not many as it turns out but keep them in mind.  Something might make a difference.

IN summary:

  1.  Make small changes.
  2. You aren’t expected to know everything all at once.
  3. Work within your own pace. find your fastest speed then slow down just a little. You’ll last longer and do a better job.
  4. find what motivates you.
  5. Do what you enjoy
  6. Work in a good space.
  7. Don’t let anyone put you down.