Retrospective: Hacking my time scheduling skills

One of the pieces of feedback I’ve reiteratively got from my managers is my difficulty to say no, as well as how easy is for me to focus on new challenges sometimes setting aside key pieces of our roadmap. I want to believe that I’ve made some progress on the subject, although there’s always room for improvement. I’m here to talk about one of the techniques which have been really successful in my case.

I’ve been trying several techniques during the past years. I’m in love with Pomodoro timers, but I find really hard implementing them in a team that’s not used to it. Also, I think they shine in heavily intellectual activities (such as programming or designing), but most of my daily activities involve meeting, pairing and discussing. I’ve kept the concept of taking some chilling out minutes after long periods of focused work. For example, I still use something similar when I’m coding or performing exploratory testing sessions (see how Rapid Software Testing applies chartering in Exploratory Testing).

The moment when everything changed was when my QA lead, among other colleagues, got redundant and I lost her help prioritizing and tracking or roadmap. So I needed to take even more seriously my time scheduling skills. I started applying the quadrant technique to my daily tasks, identifying their categories and their time c consumption. As I’ve explained before we were following the Quality Assistance approach, so the four categories I identified were:

  • Automation: All time spent writing testing frameworks, tools, and scripts. Also, all the effort maintaining our current builds, upgrading, etc.
  • Exploratory: Time to run through the new features, understanding our product and assessing the Quality. It also involves reporting and verifying.
  • Teaching: Working with my colleagues ensuring that everyone’s on the same page regarding quality. Meetings, redesigning something to make it more testable, reviewing their automated tests, pairing, etc.
  • Learning: As most of my daily practices are new to me, and we’re always looking for improvements, I spend a fair amount of time documenting myself, learning new methodologies and building prototypes.

As you may assume, it wouldn’t make any sense to have an even distribution of my time, but it helped me understanding where I spent most of my time, and aligning it to our goals. Different periods need different approaches and having the data help me realising if I need to change.

As I’ve already said, one of my top priorities right now is spending more time doing the tasks I enjoy the most (or the ones where I learn the most). These categories make it simple, allowing you to invest more time in other quadrants if you get stuck on activities that you hate.

Also, I have to admit that reading this post about a similar technique has helped me retune it to get more value or of it. This is an iterative tool which is helping me a lot understanding the time spent during my working hours. I highly recommend you to step up your time managing techniques, it makes my days way more productive, it helps with our goals and my days are funnier. Knowing what you love about your work allows you to invest more time on it.

May the force be with you,
Gino

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