15 minutes

  • The idea is that when scheduling work, if the piece of work takes 15 minutes or less, don’t even schedule it. Just do it right away. (This reduces a lot of organizational wheel spinning and water threading.)
  • Count every 15 minute interval when working on something – this helps increase focus.
  • You can take a break after good 15 minutes of work (also take a longer break after good 1 hour work work)

Tools for Gaining Focus

There are several tools for gaining focus, as referred to in the video “Study better, study less.” I outline some of them here.

A lot of those tools deal with time. I use a lot of counters of sorts, to focus during specific time intervals. I find 15min intervals work well. The video says that after focusing for 15 minutes, you should take a break for regaining focus. I have an hourglass, actually two hourglasses, one for 15mins and one that measures 1 hour.  I don’t take a break after 15 minutes of work, but it really helps to just count off those fifteen minute intervals. I make a note in my paper log for every 15 minutes in focus, and at the same time I measure off the hours, and mark those as well.

I use the flashlight as suggested by Marty Lobdell. As a reminder, the idea is to have a light that you turn on only when you’re working, to train yourself to have a Pavlov’s reflex to focus when the flashlight is on – catching focus, so to speak, with the flashlight. I use a battery-powered one because my desk lamp is always on.

Check out also another article about Time Tracking Tools. 

I find that turning off the phone really helps. That’s also quite a commitment – to not use the phone for 8 hours! But then you really keep your mind on what you are working on.

I’d also say that Physical Exercise is a precondition to having good focus.

And, practice makes perfect. It’s a Virtuous Circle: The more you do it, the better you are at it.

Focusing on no more than, like 3 things at a time (actually just 1 thing at a time) also really helps. I think personally I’m distracted just by the sheer number of things that I do. Cutting it down to 2 or at most 3 would be helpful.

Hunting down focus has always been a concern, a pursuit. I think it’s an ongoing one. That also means it’s a perishable skill – if you don’t practice focus, you lose it short-term. It’s not like you can achieve it once and keep it. Or maybe you can – maybe just knowing that you can focus for an entire day is surprisingly reassuring that you can do it again. Conversely, maybe if you haven’t been really focused, you may not know that it’s possible.

With that, enough rambling haha I hope I outlined some interesting tools for gaining focus.

On Spending While Learning, & on Paying for Education

A quick summary of my opinion on the topic. Education is one of the most important things to spend time on; and definitely worth strategic money investment.

Education should not be overpriced. So I can’t say that to spend hundreds of thousands on a piece of paper is worth it. It may be, or it may not.

Real education is often worth it. In the modern competitive world, highschool education is required. College education is required. There are exceptions, where college dropouts are successful, however such strategy is not generally recommended. College teaches you how to pursue a single objective (graduation) for 4 years. College teaches you social skills.

Statistically, PhD’s don’t pay for themselves: the opportunity cost and overall cost of a phd is *not* recovered throughout the lifetime of the individual, so it is not recommended. Same probably applies to Masters degrees. However, masters in business, statistics, or economics sounds generally worth it.

MBA pays for itself, and is recommended.

I generally recommend spending small amounts of money ($10’s or $100’s) on single (non-degree) classes. Examples are: salsa classes, language classes, udemy.com classes on using excel, accounting, reading financial statements, css tutorials, etc. Spending a small amount is motivation to learn, to get something out of that class. Spending also means that you hope the learning resource is of higher value than a free resource.

Planning Tools

  • Gnatt charts
  • Jira : ( or redmine
  • ffcrm
  • financial projections: breakeven analysis
  • SWOT
  • whiteboard -> wireframe -> mockup -> implementation ( back & front ) -> test -> deploy -> monitor
  • the 10 questions to ask to determine, is it worth going to market?
  • Calculating IRR & MIRR
  • marketing maillist
  • Zoho?

Core: motivation velocity

One of the tricks is to gain motivation velocity. (You need to use Belief trait to enable this.) When you know you want/need to increase your operational speed and focus, but it’s difficult for you to focus on the specific problem at hand (it’s a bias – see #Catch22.5, where you literally cannot work on the one thing you need to work on). Then, do something that is (a) unrelated, and (b) you can do pretty easily. Maybe something physical – like working out for 5 minutes, if you have your mobile workout setup (See #MobileWorkout). I usually find that I can carry the focus from the simpler task, to the more difficult one.

Also, this process can be long-term. You can help yourself for the current task at hand, but also doing this consistently for months and years will have a different kind of benefit: a unique flexibility in directing your focus.

I also find it useful to rotate 3 tasks (I’m researching the optimal number of tasks). That is, when you are doing one task and get stuck, switch to the other task for a while, and then switch back to the first one. Maybe two tasks “at once” (but see #NoMultitasking for a corollary) is ideal? Maybe 3 or 4? Maybe it depends on the person. Let me know what you think in the comments!

Some interview questions

We continue looking at asking, and answering, interesting interview questions.

In this context, PM = product manager. As opposed to a project manager.

  • How do you keep top performers engaged? Given a high-performance team, there is the challenge of keeping them around, and keeping them interested and engaged in the work they are doing – even if the work gets dull sometimes, or less than interesting. How do you motivate people, and keep them consistnetly interested in the work at hand?

I should also add here, for the benefit of the interviewee, that the behavioral questions have an implied time limit. Like in a debate. You should not spend more time than necessary answering a question. You should not spend too little time, out of fear of not demonstrating sufficient details. Effectively, I think every question is answered by two-four paragraphs’ worth of oration. Answer each question in a span of 2-5 minutes, and then wait for the interviewee to ask the nexst one.

Habitually, for me as an interviewee, it is a red flag when the first question from the interviewer is, “tell me about yourself.” That is ambiguous and uncomfortable. It is a green flag if the interviewer first introduces himself, talks about his role and functions, to make the intereviewee more comfortable. And also as the host, it is the interviewer’s task to welcome and greet the interviewee.

  • What is an ideal team size? Do you have something like that in your mind? There is a rule of thumb, the two pizzas rule: you should be able to feed your team a comfortable lunch with two pizzas. Can you comment on that?

So, in technology, for me personally, a fair team size and composition is the following: 1-2 QA’s, 1 designer, 1 PM, 4-6 engineers, one partner. The head count is then around 12. That sounds like 2 pizzas.

Look also at the organizational social science, that states the rule of thumb of 10 people. Less than 10 people don’t need a leader to agree on something. More than 10, and you’re looking at increasing communication difficulties requiring a leader to resolve opinions and be able to have good direction. Mongolian army did that before it was cool: they had units of 10 soldiers, and those were batched into units of 100. Those, of course, were grouped into units of 1000.

  • What are the challenges of hiring a good PM? What are the characteristics of a successful PM?

I think the last time we talked about it, the consensus was that a good PM offers a lot of flexibility, and understanding the business needs of the company. He doesn’t need to be very technical, but he does need to be a good communicator, making people feel comfortable, and making sure that the team is cohesive. PM is a very interdisciplinary job.

  • Have you done mentorship of junior members? How is such mentorship structured – if it is structured at all? Maybe it’s always spontaneous? Talk about being a mentor to junior team members.

I’d say, a good pattern (and therefore a good answer) is to do both: structured and unstructured mentorship. Me, for example. Anyone can come to me and ask a question (or on slack), and expect some useful response or advice. If a motivated intern sits next to me, I expect him to ask questions about how to structure code, etc. This is unstructured. On the other hand, we have a company-internal blog, to which I contribute. The blog talks about interesting challenges that the company is addressing, or the structure of things that we’ve come up with, or how things *should* be done – a theoretic discussion. In addition to that, the company hosts weekly lunch and learn, where a team member would talk about either a problem that was recently solved, or again about how things should be done in the future, or else touch on an interesting and relevant topic. So, mentorship should be a combination of formal and informal methods.

Tools For Stress Relief

* how to sleep: weighted blanket, therapeutic mattress, eye mask, melatonin, ear plugs, plenty of water, no light / candle light, two alarms, climate control.
* pets, such as two cats. I’m not in a good position to talk about relationships, but being in a relationship should decrease stress. Having sex also obviously decreases stress.
* Good diet – feel great about yourself!
* Exercise. Being fit increases confidence and decreases stress
* Dress well. That improves your appearance to everybody else, and positively impacts everything.