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Work and Play, Night and Day?

Having an interesting and challenging job usually comes with a price. Any unfinished business you may have at the end of the day, stays with you when you leave work. Even if it’s difficult, you should always try to separate work and free time. Or should you?

Where do you draw the line between work and home? Wherever you are, you are still connected to people via email and a range of social networks. Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn? You name it, there is a digital device within ten feet that’s got it. Chances are your contacts blend into a cocktail of friends, work related connections and a few that are somewhere in between.

The hard line between work and play was always an artifical one, and now more than ever. How do you expect your brain to understand if a thought “belongs” at work or at home? It just can’t. Your mind worries about your business problems and the fact that your house needs to be painted on equal terms.

So what to do? Use GTD or similar systems to ensure that you can put a placeholder for unfinished work in a system you trust. Wether it’s related to work, home or family doesn’t really matter. Talk to your significant other about work. “How was work today?” should be more than a polite greeting. Take interest in, and talk about work related problems as well as personal issues. It’s easier for both of you to move on and “let go” of work, if you take time to discuss it with someone who has a healthy distance to your daily challenges.

I’m not saying you should think about work 24/7. It’s important to maintain some kind of balance, and preserve the sanity of both yourself and those around you. Spend some time with familiy and friends. Get around a bit by walking the dog or mowing the lawn. Maintain coordination by playing darts (on your xbox kinect of course) or building model airplanes.

I’m not telling you to actively work from home during the evening. Make sure that spending your evening hours on office problems is a choice YOU make, and not a requirement set by your boss. My main point is that you can’t expect your brain to shut down all work related thought processes the minute you park the car outside your house. Don’t beat yourself up about checking your email or being excited about an important meeting tomorrow. Hopefully you have a job you enjoy, it’s only natural for your mind to keep solving problems when you come home.

Most of us have an increasingly result oriented job. It’s less about where and when, and more about what and how. Seeing as you solve the problems of tomorrow while watching CSI in the evening, your boss surely won’t mind that you check Facebook or answer a personal email during the day. Flexible work arrangements done right, means weight off your shoulders both at home and at work.

Juggling work and play “correctly” so that you avoid stressing out yourself or your family isn’t easy. You need to figure out what works for you, within the boundaries set by both your boss and your spouse.

The bottom line is that we can’t focus eight hours straight anyway, so if you think about it: Maybe a little bit of work at home – and a little bit of play at work – isn’t such a bad thing after all?



Personal Kanban

My first post will be about a recent discovery, personal kanban.  I’ve been managing software development based on KANBAN the past few years, but it never occurred to me that I could use the same concept for personal task management.

Personal kanban is basically about two things: Visualize your workflow, and limit work in progress.

Visualize your workflow
In a process based on KANBAN, you usually throw a board up on the nearest wall, draw a flow and put the tasks into the workflow using sticky notes. Personally I prefer a digital board, and I’m using Agilezen for this purpose (for our team we use greenhopper).

Personal Kanban in Agilezen

My personal kanban board in Agilezen

I’ve got several columns on my board, but just start with “Todo”, “In  Progress” and “Done” and work your way from there. You should also have some kind of backlog (possibly outside of the board) so you don’t end up with too much in your Todo column at any one time. For some good principles for managing future tasks and todo, check out Getting Things Done by David Allen (more about that in another post).

Limit work in progress
When you’ve set up a board and figured out what columns to put on it, you need to set a limit for how many items you will allow in the “In progress” column. All work you’ve started but not finished, occupies a part of your brain. When your brain has to focus on several tasks at once, the quality of your work decreases. I know you think you are an expert multitasker, but you’re not.

These days, most people multitask like squirrels on speed. You start one task, *pling* an incoming instant message distracts you, and when you’re done chatting you start something else. Before you know it, you’ve got two half finished emails, you’ve written four lines on a document because you need feedback from your boss (and he’s out of town on business), and forgot what you were supposed to be doing in the first place. Limit your “In progress” to three, and you’ll be amazed at how quickly it fills up.

When you learn to limit your work in progress, you’ll find that you’ll get more done. Instead of doing ten tasks at once, you will be doing one task at a time. Not only will you become more productive, increased focus will also increase the quality of your work. You’ll also have a great system to keep track of all the stuff you need to get done.

This was just a brief introduction to the concept, for more information I encourage you to google “personal kanban”, follow #pkflow on Twitter or buy the book. If you have any time / task management tips of your own, feel free to share them below!