Managing time, managing life

When I look at where I’m at today, it’s impossible not to feel profoundly lucky. I’m married to a super-hip lit-craft goddess, I work for a company full of smart people I genuinely like, I enjoy the work I do (from the comfort of my home, most days), and I have cookies.

That’s right. Cookies.

The trick, though, is that my work has slowly evolved from “Go to the office, code, come home” to “Wake up, work on stuff you enjoy, fall asleep.” That’s awesome in a lot of ways, but it also means that I’ve had to build new skills to keep life sane. Come evening, it’s often tough to figure out how the transition from “work coding” to “play coding” happens, precisely – let along the transition from “coding” to “family, reading, kittens, etc.”

To some extent, all of us at Lullabot have been working on this one. Years ago, the company got its start building classic web-apps: get specs and mockups, pound through designs and wireframes and code and content importing, cram for the deadline and have a party when the site launches. Today, our workdays rarely look like that. The majority of our time is spent communicating with clients, researching tricky problems they’ve encountered, fixing obscure bugs to eliminate roadblocks in their projects, and so on. It’s classic consulting rather than “dev work,” and it allows us to focus on solving problems that we’ve got specialized expertise in.

The problem, of course, is that it requires juggling a lot of different tasks throughout the day. In addition, when the projects you “work” on are similar to the projects you “play” on, it’s easy for work to blur into a 24/7 parade of things you enjoy but still burn you out. As a hardcore ADHD puppy, it’s also easy for me to surf the nonstop stream of questions, code tweaks, news, and architecture discussions that go on in the Drupal community while never focusing on he things that require dedicated attention.

One of the things that’s helped quite a bit in recent months is working to break my day into explicit blocks. Rather than treating it as an undifferentiated mass of time, filled with IMs and emails and debugging and calls and wireframe reviews and pick-up games of MarioKart, I’m trying to divide things into more discrete chunks. More importantly, I’m working hard to protect those chunks! If 10:00AM-12:00AM is time to review wireframes and sketch out an implementation plan, it doesn’t matter that someone else needs input on a patch. It can wait!

In a consulting business where clients pay us for our experience, our input, and our perspective, it can often be easy for a gig to expand, filling every minute of time that you allow it to. By the same token, working in an open source community can consume insane amounts of time – there are more good ideas to work on, critical bugs to fix, and important decisions to be made than any individual can manage.

By being more conscious, I’m trying to help prevent the tyranny of the urgent from pulling me away from things that are important-but-not-in-flames. I’ve been stepping aside from some OSS tasks (like championing new Drupal patches or arguing about proposed logo redesigns) that I could easily be passionate about. And Catherine and I have been spending more time together without the ever-present twiddle-beep of incoming email and IRC pings.

Obviously, I still geek out hardcore. In the past week or so, I released two new Drupal modules, I relaunched my blog, and helped a Lullabot/Treehouse Agency team launch Washington Post’s new financial site, The Big Money. But the new effort to protect my time is paying off, I think. Perhaps someday, I’ll even manage to start using GTD…

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