The Odd Hours Solution

For many years, when I worked out in the center of the triangle of runways and taxiways, I would get up at around 4, swim a mile in the indoor poor (36 laps), shower, grab breakfast, run by base weather just to check the bigger pieces of equipment out (mostly the RADAR system), and then I’d head out to the shop. We could mostly only get downtime on the airfield equipment (particularly the VOR, TACAN, and glideslopes) in the early morning hours — unless, of course, there was a war on. Then we couldn’t get downtime at all. By 2:30 I was done with my work day, and I headed home to get whatever else done.

When I left the USAF, after being trapped in some 9–5 jobs, I joined the cisco TAC. Our shift started at 8 or 8:30, when we took over the 1–800 number from Brussels, and our shift lasted until around 2 in the afternoon (it varied over time, as the caseloads and TACs were moved around). Freed from 9–5, I started getting to work at around 5:30 again. I could spend the first two or three hours following up on cases (did you know that no-one in the US answers their phone before 8AM ET?), take cases during shift, and then work in the lab or do “other stuff” before going home around 3 in the afternoon. Another time management trick I used while working in TAC was converting every case to email; the phone, while often pleasant, is an inefficient form of communication when you’re dealing with a high caseload.

Okay — so why am I telling you this? It’s not like you care what hours I’ve worked in my life, right?

Because controlling your working hours is one of the most effective devices I’ve found to both force myself to macrotask, and to stem the tide of multitasking for at least a few hours out of each day. Getting up early in the morning is only one way I work to control the amount of time I’m multitasking. Another for instance — I normally work from home. It’s easy right now because I’m a remote worker (okay, honesty time, I’ve been a near remote worker for the last ten to fifteen years, starting from the time I joined engineering at Cisco for the most part). When I go to the office — say I fly to SJ for the day — I don’t take my laptop into the building. My laptop stays in the hotel room. I’ve recently (within the last two years) extended this to conferences like the IETF — when I’m out talking to people, I focus on the people. Focus works both ways — it’s either the computer, or it’s people, it’s never both at the same time.

I’ve taken this idea of controlling my schedule for optimal time use farther than most people would, of course — my wife and I homeschool our children, in part, because we like to just go and do without asking for permission from the local school. There’s no absenteeism when you’re kids are with you.

But the point shouldn’t be missed. When I start working in the morning, I often don’t even check email, or the news, or anything else. I start in on whatever project I’m working on, pushing two or three hours of solid work in before anyone can even call or email me. Most of my books, blog posts, and other things have all been written between 6 and 9 in the morning.

Now, mornings might not work for you (though I can tell you everyone has a lot more energy in the morning than they do after dinner — late night just isn’t as effective as the early morning for anyone I know). But whatever the time of day, the general idea is this: divide your days into times for specific things. Set aside time for projects, and time for talking. Don’t let the two overlap. It’ll greatly improve your efficiency.