April 15, 2019

Need to generate some new insight or product progress kick start?

Jim Pusateri @jpusateri

I have been less active on this site lately, but thought I'd dip in with a little exercise I recently performed and find extremely useful for focus and prioritization.


  • List 50 actionable items for a single current project that you need to focus on.

Sounds simple, but as an engineer type, with a propensity for working on just the interesting bits I have found it helpful. And no, 50 is not too high.

50 is enough that engineering types get past specific actionable code-centric items and stretch into the business operational tasks. I can't stress how important it is to get the business stuff on your radar and on your calendar. For non-engineering types, it's big enough that you'll need to stretch into the engineering zone, which is also important for planning and sales. Breadth of though is important. It's also helpful to make obvious (by way of a big pile of things to do) that you might need to enlist some help in certain areas.

So do the stretch, make the list, come up with 50 things, prioritize them, and spread them out on your calendar over the next 30 to 60 days....then start executing.

I'm always on the lookout for strategies.
What other periodic exercises do you do to keep yourself out of a rut? Share for your IH brethren.

  1. 3

    Everyday before starting to work, I take a brain dump with free flow writing for about 10 minutes with a timer on.

    I usually have a blank mind or it mostly becomes blank at the end of ten minutes.

    By the end, I have a list of todos detailed with steps, precautions, a bit of research work, my thoughts about how the task is going to turn out. Previous day's musings and anything basically on my mind. I then archive the note in org-mode (big fan).

    Big boost in productivity and focus. Stick to it for 2 weeks, you will see the benefits.

    1. 2

      I love the free flow writing thing. Never been able to make a regular habit of it though. It's a bit more sporadic within my overall scheduling but I always find it useful. Especially at the end of the week when I need to dump ideas and make sure I can get a weekend break but still hit the ground running when I get back.

      It sometimes helps me sleep too...dual uses.

  2. 2

    I too have a big list of to-do. However, I'm usually categorizing tasks into the normal ones (engineering), and the boring ones (everything else). Then, I'm taking 2 engineering tasks and later take 1 boring one, no matter what.

    In this way, I can progress in both areas without a feeling of doing "boring" stuff all the time. I guess it could work over way around too for different people.

    1. 2

      I sometimes prioritize that way. I like to slide the boring items between things that are sometimes scheduled too close together. Helps me maximize the in-between time. Takes discipline to get the boring thing done at the end of the day. Do you have a trick to make yourself actually start on that after several hours of the engineering tasks?

      1. 2

        Yes, I already know that after 2 engineering tasks (no matter how long they take) I'll take at least 1 boring task (no matter how long it is). And when I'm dealing with the boring job, I do not allow myself to switch into another one unless it's resolved. So you kind of have to agree with yourself and then keep that agreement unbreakable

  3. 2

    I have a 1 -hour blocker in my calendar in the morning called "clout expansion session", where i would go through some websites and read stuffs randomly, briefly. With time, i have collected enough ideas and patterns to apply to my daily work. It makes everything more efficient, easier.

    1. 1

      Is something you do every day? I was doing something similar recently, but found that doing so daily ended up with me just checking websites on a list like it was just another todo item.

      I ended up morphing that into a list of links that I shovel into a slack channel and then check in a two hour batch toward the end of the week. Actually built a little slack bot to parrot those notes back to me in a daily email for easy organization and recall later. If you're interested I've posted it publicly at ScheduledMemo.com. It's a dumb robot but it's been useful for me.

      1. 1

        almost 80% of the time. some days, some meetings landed which i cant say no to.

        To avoid browsing through like zombie :P i applied some disciplines to it. 7 articles, scanned briefly for less than 5 seconds. read 2 or 3 articles properly, and make sure one of them you can produce at least , 1 action item out of it. the action item could be ideas i transferred to my trello board, or "this is how i do xxx" transferred to my evernote.

        I now have 3 years worth of 'intels' now both in trello and evernote which i dont know whats the impact to me in the near future but im confident there are gems in there.

        While my trello divided into idea board (fantasy company), my evernote divided into quarter (note collection for fy19q2 and such)

        Sorry if its too regimented a routine.


        1. 1

          No worries, thanks for the detail. I like to cherry pick mechanisms and remix them where i can. I like the 5 second scanning technique, I do something similar with the newsletters and such, I should apply that to the internet at large more often.

          I use evernote in a similar way, though i do also make time to trim the fat there. It turned into a black hole full of ideas and knowledge gems that was too big to really get through. Now, I religiously go into evernot every saturday on a mission to take action on or delete 5 items.

  4. 1

    I love me a good mind map to ensure I'm covering all the bases!

    1. 1

      NOOOOOOOO! You just triggered a little PTSD from my time teaching high school. j/k...but not really.

      Mind maps are great, but the name gives me the heebie jeebies

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