Tag Archives: productivity

Episode 72 — Getting Stuff Done

personal_kanbanCarmen, Adam, and Jeff address a few methods by which engineers can track, organize, and prioritize the tasks for which they are responsible.

  • Jeff admits that he often struggles more with deciding what to do than with getting something done.
  • Even though Chris is not with us this week, we reference once of his favorite books, “The Dip,” by Seth Godin.
  • On a recent weekend, Jeff got the chance to meet listener Ioannis Andrianakis, founder and technical director of Plex Tuning.
  • Phone calls are dead, except for those who believe that phone calls aren’t dead.
  • To-do lists have been around for a long while, although not everybody is a fan.
  • One variation on the todo list, the 1-3-5 rule, suggests writing down one big task, three medium-sized tasks, and five little tasks to accomplish during the day.
  • Another scheme for improving todo lists is the Auto Focus system, created by Mark Forster.
  • A book titled “The Progress Principle” contends that managers should ensure their employees achieve steady forward progress in meaningful work. Jeff has reviewed the book elsewhere.
  • One of the best-known productivity systems is the Getting Things Done (GTD) method, outlined in a book of the same name that was authored by David Allen (and not Paul Allen as stated in the podcast).
  • The five steps of the GTD method are:
    1. Capture everything on your mind.
    2. Clarify the meaning of each task.
    3. Organize your efforts.
    4. Reflect on your progress and process.
    5. Engage in getting tasks completed.
  • An extensive review of the GTD method can be found in Episodes 95, 96, and 97 of the Back to Work podcast by Merlin Mann and Dan Benjamin.
  • At one point Jeff used the Franklin Planner system for staying organized at work.
  • The Pomodoro Technique is a means for improving one’s time management.
  • Many apps are available for implementing the Pomodoro method.
  • An analog note-taking system for staying organized is the Bullet Journal.
  • Jeff is currently using Nozbe for keeping track of his “To Do” items.
  • Most people dislike being told what to do.
  • Carmen recently came across an article about the power of checklists.
  • Kanban is a method for controlling inventory flow within a production facility.
  • Personal Kanban is a means for completing one’s tasks without getting too overloaded.
  • A whiteboard is often used to implement Personal Kanban.
  • Carmen references the Pragmatic podcast episodes titled “Maximum Erasability” (23 and 23a) that discuss whiteboard use. (You can also listen to our prior interview with fellow podcaster John Chidgey, who produces the Pragmatic podcast.)
  • The Trello web app can be used for implementing Personal Kanban in a digital manner.
  • One method for overcoming procrastination, made famous by comedian Jerry Seinfeld, is called “Don’t Break the Chain (DBTC).”
  • Demetri Martin described his implementation of DBTC in an old episode of the Nerdist podcast.
  • Jeff references “A Cranky Pessimist’s Guide to Getting Things Done.”
  • Evernote, Dropbox, and Google Drive provide useful tools for storing information on the web.
  • Jeff uses pocket-sized Moleskine Cahier notebooks for jotting down information during the day. Carmen prefers the memo books from Field Notes.
  • Adam uses an Excel file for tracking tasks, and prints out a copy of the spreadsheet to carry with him when he is away from his desk.
  • Windows users can use Notepad to track activities, generating timestamps by pressing the F5 key.

Thanks to Dennis Hamilton for use of the photo titled “Productivity: Wrapping up the First Stage of a Special Project.” Podcast theme music by Paul Stevenson.

Episode 45 — Success

mountaintop2We talk with civil engineer, author, and coach Anthony Fasano about steps one can take to ensure a successful engineering career.

  • Although Jeff’s engineering career hasn’t led to huge financial success, he considers it to have been successful, as he has gotten to work on a lot of interesting projects, and meet many fascinating people.
  • Our guest for this episode is Anthony Fasano, a professional engineer who has authored the book, Engineer Your Own Success: 7 Key Elements to Creating An Extraordinary Engineering Career.
  • Anthony started as a field surveyor in high school, which led him into a career as a civil engineer.
  • Coming out of college, our guest focused his professional efforts in the area of site development while working for Maser Consulting.
  • Young engineers are often not aware of the numerous sub-disciplines that comprise the engineering profession.
  • Sensing that his work routine was falling into a rut after a few years on the job, Anthony started asking other engineers what it took to develop a successful engineering career.
  • Having leveraged non-technical skills en route to becoming an associate partner, Anthony was asked by his employer to share his insights with other engineers.
  • Our guest credits Tony Robbins with influencing his decision to become an executive coach.
  • Having been successful in coaching engineers at Maser, Anthony left to start his own firm, Powerful Purpose Associates.
  • Seeing that his “true” clients were engineers, rather than engineering companies, our guest started the Institute for Engineering Career Development.
  • After writing his book, Anthony spent three years touring the United States, with books in the trunk of his car, talking to engineering associations about achieving career success.
  • From Anthony’s book, the seven keys to achieving success in an engineering career are:
    1. Setting Goals
    2. Obtaining Credentials
    3. Finding a mentor
    4. Becoming a great communicator
    5. Networking
    6. Becoming organized
    7. Being a leader
  • Our guest recommends getting involved with an organization like Toastmasters International to improve speaking skills.
  • Anthony credits Dale Carnegie’s book, How to Win Friends and Influence People, with improving his understanding of how to interact with other people.
  • Dealing with e-mail overload is a subject Anthony addressed on his blog, in an entry titled “Engineers: Are You Having Trouble Getting Out of Your E-mail Inbox?
  • A quick mention of productivity methods arises, including The Seven Habits, and Getting Things Done (GTD). Anthony recommends the book, The Power of Less, authored by Leo Babauta, for its simplification of GTD concepts.
  • Anthony currently serves as Executive Director for the New York State Society of Professional Engineers.
  • Anthony has written a number of articles about career development on his blog for the Institute of Engineering Career Development.
  • A recent project for Anthony has been launching a podcast, The Engineering Career Coach, in which he advises engineers on how to advance their careers.
  • Our guest can be found online via LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube.

Thanks to Paxson Woelber for the untitled photo. Podcast theme music provided by Paul Stevenson

Episode 10 — Software Carpentry

Software is an important component in the toolkit of nearly every engineer. Chris and Jeff talk with Greg Wilson about how engineers and scientists can improve their programming skills.

  • Jeff’s first programming language was Pascal.
  • Intended to encourage good programming practices, Pascal gained wider acceptance as the basis for Borlands’s Turbo Pascal.
  • Programming in the 1970’s was not carried out at a terminal, but required punching data cards on a keypunch machine, then feeding the cards into a card reader. Yes, that huge stack of spinning “magnetic disks” at the 1:14 mark is an early hard drive.

  • Our guest for this episode is Greg Wilson, who is the founder and director of Software Carpentry, an outreach and training program that helps scientists and engineers be more effective by teaching them “best-practices” for software programming.
  • Greg’s work with Software Carpentry is currently funded by the Sloan Foundation in the United States, and he is an employee of the Mozilla Foundation.
  • Software Carpentry seeks to reach the majority of researchers, scientists, and engineers who build “small” data projects, rather than the relatively few that work on “huge” data sets using supercomputers.
  • A typical Software Carpentry workshop consists of a two-day course, with blocks of instruction addressing the Unix shell, Python, version control, unit testing and SQL. The two-day workshop is often followed up with about six weeks of online instruction.
  • Greg says that if participants come away with nothing else, they should learn the value of version control, so that the provenance of scientific data can be tracked and analyzed.
  • The Software Carpentry team has found screencasts to be “a lousy way to teach,” as personal interaction is an important component of learning.
  • Greg has found engineers to have a bit more “hands-on” experience than scientists, and to be more MATLAB-oriented, but perceives relatively little difference in their understanding of software issues.
  • Considerable empirical research has been conducted about programming effectiveness, but little of this information is shared with students in college courses.
  • Greg has co-edited a book about software programming practices, titled Making Software: What Really Works, and Why We Believe It.
  • One of the most critical indicators of how well individuals can work together in a corporate programming project is not their geographical separation, or language differences, but how far apart they are in the company’s organization chart.
  • Pair programming is an effective method for reducing software errors, but it has an important caveat: it only keeps working if you keep shuffling the coding partners.
  • The single most effective way to find bugs is code review. Don’t compile the code, or run it, but have someone else read through the code. You’ll find 60-90% of the bugs in the first reading. Review Board is an open-source web-based tool designed to help in such efforts. A commercial product for this purpose is available from Smart Bear Software.
  • Mark Guzdial has been using “worked examples” to teach programming at Georgia Tech, and has found it to deliver more learning in less time.
  • A flipped classroom has students watch instructional videos for homework, and then spend class time working problems.
  • In a 2009 blog post, Greg talked about “real” engineers becoming more like software engineers, rather than the other way around.
  • Greg believes that higher quality software is possible, if the right incentives are offered to programming organizations.
  • Even if we can’t review code line-by-line, we can at least verify the methodology and processes used to create it.
  • There is a comprehensive reading list available on the Software Carpentry website.
  • Greg is suspicious about the effectiveness of self-guided learning programs like Codeacademy.
  • On the horizon are programming tools such as Mozilla Towtruck, which allows for collaborative editing of web pages.
  • As an introduction to programming methods, Greg recommends the book Facts and Fallacies of Software Engineering by Robert Glass.
  • Greg can be reached by email at info@software-engineering.org. You can find more information about the programming workshops on the Software Carpentry website.

Thanks to Jon Lim for granting permission to use his image of Greg and a young programmer at the Hive Toronto Youth Hack Jam in February 2012.

Untitled Photo: Jon Lim © 2012, all rights reserved.