In my adult life I’ve had a few cycles of not working and then working again over long periods. One of the issues I have is making good use of the time that’s not managed for me. Over the years I think I might have improved very slightly, but the basic answer I keep coming back to is that I need a sense of time scarcity in order to make me value the free time I actually have. As a full-time employee, that sense of time scarcity is strong, and very debilitating.

During the times I haven’t worked, I’ve inevitably ended up getting lazier and lazier until I get to a point where I am disgusted with myself that I’m not accomplishing enough to go give in and ‘get a job’

The last year or so has actually been quite a strange sensation, because I’m doing part-time work and still have a whole load of time which, for me, seems to strike the right balance. I am ‘technically’ productive because I can point to the paid active work I’m doing and actually earn money for. This satisfies the people around me asking what I’m doing with myself and making sure I’m becoming a bum. Yet the hippy side of me is still satisfied because there’s still time and freedom to ‘do my own thing’

There is still some fine-tuning to do, and there probably always will be, but it’s the closest thing I’ve ever got to that strikes the right balance for me.

The last 4 organisations I’ve worked for have used a kanban Agile style workflow, and this I’ve found to be the best way of organising work for programmers by far. It allows the freedom of programmers to do what they want in their own time, but yet also encompasses a plan by managers to not only be able to specify what work gets done and when, but allows tracking of progress and gives better control of the overall direction of a project. Gone are the days of ‘It’ll be done when it’s done’ (hopefully)

Something I’ve found when I ‘do my own thing’ is that I have a hard time switching between different ‘levels’ of tasks that ultimately results in not getting any work done at all. Programming, on a computer, is a very ‘ground-level’ task. Trying to think about the design flow between different screens in an app is not easy when you’re in a text editor writing code, much less the overall structure and flow from a UX point of view.

From the experience of working to Agile workflows in professional companies, I decided to apply the management techniques of that to my own projects. Instead of using Storyboard in xcode to plan out the flow of my app I switched to pen and paper to sketch out userflows and screens, and use a google word document to capture ideas and features I was looking for. From that, high level user stories and programming tasks were generated and then I could then put them into a backlog in Trello. When each week would begin, I’d shift some tasks into a ‘Todo this sprint’ column, and break down the tasks into smaller tasks to give more clarity as to each task. Sometimes even planning tasks were included in the top-level plan, which themselves spawned now tasks to either add to the backlog or to ‘this week’ tasks to do.

I found the process of doing this helped me to see the work from a high-level planning perspective, rather than get entangled with ground-level work and have to shift mind-sets on the fly when doing the actual work itself. By planning out a week of work for myself up-front, it even gave me a better sense of progression as I worked through it.

One thing I didn’t really consider, but has since become really important to me, is to be able to have a mix of ‘easy’ and ‘challenging’ tasks, that I can choose between at any time that suits me. In the morning, before the caffeine has kicked in, I’m usually not in the best mindset to be solving harder challenges, but I would be able to do easier things like change the colour of the background, or bump the version number up. This is especially important these days of keeping away the distractions of Netflix and Playstation, so that I don’t end up wasting the free time I have.

It’s very noticeable the difference in weeks when I’ve planned versus the weeks I haven’t. Not just in terms of productivity, but my feeling during the days. If I have a purpose, then it really does give a better sense of the day and I feel like I get more out of it. By all means, having the freedom to sit in my pyjamas and watch Netflix and play Playstation all day is great, but no-one wants to be bored and have nothing to do except Netflix and Playstation. This is especially relevant during the these Lockdown days when so many of our physical freedoms have been lost.

Following with some of the GTD (Getting Things Done) methodology, I’ve even started to add in tasks which have nothing to do with programming, but rather just my general life. So tasks like ‘Search and buy house insurance’, ‘Vacuum the house’, ‘Send a message to a friend I haven’t talked to for a while’ are in my Trello board. The tasks themselves aren’t exactly difficult, but being able to see them in a list for me to knock off allows me to ‘cognitively distribute’ the distraction of having to remember a list of tasks and also know that they have been captured somewhere and won’t get forgotten.

App recommendation

Google Rewards –

I wrote about this a long time ago, but it’s still functional and I still make use of the app. The app uses your location history to determine what shops you’ve been to recently and then asks you questions for feedback on recent visits. Not exactly something you should consider if you value your privacy, however you do get a few pennies for each questionnaire you do, that can be used as credit in the Google Play marketplace. After enough credit has built up, you can then buy premium apps using the credit. This way you can still buy apps without having to actually pay for them. The developer will even get a kickback as the credit you spend on their apps will go to them.

I’ve been doing this for a few years, done 525 surveys and earned a total of £79. That money has gone into the app-store to buy apps that I wouldn’t otherwise have bought. Specifically, it’s helpful during this time of finding new apps to write about.

Youtube recommendation

Gaming Historian –

A Scottish-American Youtuber who makes great quality researched videos about particular aspects of the games industry. Some memorable videos have been ‘The History of Super Mario 2’ (In the west, the Super Mario 2 game we got was a very different game than the one Japan got) and ‘History of LJN’ (After years of AVGN videos lambasting LJN games, an interesting in-depth look into the company behind all those terrible games)

They are well-researched videos, interesting and well produced. I always jump on board to watch a new video from this channel when I get the notification.

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