Getting Things Done – The Action Machine

Just one more round of Call of Duty and then I’ll start coding…

Anyone who is working on a project outside of work hours knows how tough it can be to actually get work done. There are a lot of distractions when you’re at home, lots of things you’d like to do, and it may actually be nice to take part in some relaxing activities to kind of wind down (for me, that’s video games). This is doubly true for coders with families: the kids are finally asleep, you spend a little time with the spouse, and before you know it, it’s 10pm.

Finally, you trudge into your office, sit down in front of your monitor, and open up your favorite IDE. Except, you don’t really want to. If you’re like me, you still want to kind of unwind, watch some TV or play some Xbox 360. So you throw on the TV, and before you know it, it’s 12:30am. Your night is now shot and no quality code is going to get written.

We all know the feeling. You’ve got three or four things that you’d like to do, and two or three hours to do them, but there’s a strange mental block. What should you do first? Don’t you deserve a little time to relax? Oh, and your blog hasn’t been updated in weeks! You really need to post something.

If that sounds familiar to you, let me suggest a little software product that has helped me: The Action Machine (not an affiliate link, don’t worry). The website for the product is now one of the long form sales letters, which is too bad, because the software itself is solid and straightforward. It’s actually a pretty simple idea. It let’s you create time boxed tasks and lay them out in the order you wish to complete them. There’s some videos at the website showing more of the functionality, but the simplicity kind of masks what makes this thing so great.

I’ll try to explain: Tonight, by the time the kids and the wife were asleep, I had about three hours until I would normally fall asleep. In that time I wanted to do four things:

  1. Do some dev work on a project
  2. Play some Modern Warfare 3
  3. Write a blog post
  4. Knock out some small tasks for a company I advise

Now, none of these tasks are that complex, but what order do I do them in? And there’s definitely I am going to enjoy the most which could end up sucking up my entire night if I let it (just one more round of Team Deathmatch, I swear!). So, here’s the solution:

The Action Machine

I created time boxes for each task and activity that I wanted to complete tonight. Doing this in kind of a Work/Fun/Work order seems to be easiest for me, that first bit of work ends up going pretty quickly, since I know I only have a fixed set of time before I can do what I really want to do. The interesting thing is that, for me, this makes it much easier for me to mentally comprehend the completion of all my tasks, and shows that there is time for all of them. It also helps kind of break through that weird mental impediment that will sometimes stop people from doing anything at all.

If you work from home, or are an entrepreneur, which usually equates to an infinite number of tasks you could be working on, this is also a great tool for scheduling your next work day. One of the tasks I will frequently schedule is fifteen minutes to lay out my schedule for the next day. That way, you can simply wake up and get working.

Anyways, it’s worth a shot, it’s only $47, and some of the materials that come with it are actually kind of worth reading (at least they were when I bought it).

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