productivity | sleep
Bethany Soule is the co-founder of Beeminder, a commitment tool which she characterizes as “goal-tracking with teeth.” She and Daniel Reeves, the other founder, has spoken on how they tracked the development of the tool and integration it with other QS tools. In this talk, Bethany shares how she was inspired by Nick Winter’s “Maniac Week“, to focus solely on working and sleeping while documenting a person's face and screen with a time-lapse video for a week. She shares what she learned from it--the accomplishments, the failures and the side effects of the project.
Beeminder | Google
Hi, thanks for coming here to my extreme productivity. I am the co-founder and CTO of Beeminder, which is itself a kind of extreme productivity tool, and I use it to drive a lot of my own productivity methods itself.
So just quickly, Beeminder is a Quantified Self tool that uses your data to fuel behavior change. So you pledge money towards your goals, we collect your data, send reminders and make a graph and if you don’t do what you said you were going to do we take your money.
So we built this tool because we were sort of looking for a way to combat procrastination, and what we came up with was Beeminder. Now, a couple of years ago, my co-founder Danny, showed me Nick Winter’s blog post, the 120 hour work week. So Nick did 120 hours of coding in one maniac week by as close as possible doing literally nothing but coding and sleeping. And that involved like 6.38 hours of sleep per day, 402 unanswered emails commits, and 99 Trello cards.
So I read about this and thought that's insane, I want to try it. So last fall I finally got a chance to give it a try. And so for a proper maniac week, you need to do more than just try hard to stay focused.
The first thing is publicly pre-commit. This lets everyone know that you are essentially off the grid for a week, and it gives you a strong incentive to stay focused on your work.
Second off, remove distractions. Right, so take a vacation from your job if you need to, send your kids to summer camp or out of the country. Get an Airbnb in the middle of nowhere, whatever it takes. I was lucky enough to send my kids off to Canada for a family reunion.
And finally, this is probably the most important thing is to document it. So take screenshots of your work and your face, and hopefully, you are studiously looking at that work, and create a time-lapse video and post it to the public record for awesomeness and glory afterwards.
So, I really enjoyed this, so much so that I actually followed it up with three more variations in like the following roughly 6 months period. Looking at some stats, I more than doubled my usual 40-hour working week and put in 87 hours where I was unambiguously on path. I pushed 69 commits to get hugged as opposed to the 16 that I pushed the previous week, and I did 37 hours worth of Pomodoro’s.
As to efficiency, you will hear programmers talk a lot about how costly it is to switch tasks because you have to kind of load this new context into your head every time you switch to a new task or get interrupted. So having those big uninterrupted blocks of time felt really productive.
As for the bad, one of the most common negative reactions I’ve heard from people is you know this concern about burning out, and if I was doing it every week. I certainly would burn out, but I’m not and there were actually even things that were really relaxing about it like getting sleep as much as I wanted every night.
Other surprising things, sitting is really hard. A standing workstation would have been great, and I was also really surprised to find that the variations I did with company I enjoyed a lot more than the ones that I did completely solitary.
Overall, my biggest failure, the hardest part was insufficient preparation. I found that I didn't have a well-developed task list, and deciding what to work on next was really costly. Or in some cases, I might not have a solid spec to work from, so it was hard to figure out what to work on next.
Lately, I have been using Mark Foresters final version to help me prioritize my task list, and I find that that is really working well for me so I recommend it.
So moving onto what else did I learn and why was this maniac week so effective, and is it possible to bring some of those principles back into the day-to-day. So obviously, the public pre-commitment and that screenshot of your face and your work more is a really big motivator to stay focused. Normal people do this by like having a boss or doing peer programming, agile style stand-up meetings, these kinds of things.
The way that I do this is using Beeminder. We have, for example, user-visible improvement goal, where if we fall behind on our Beeminder goal, we pay the user $1000, and I have several other personal goals that are pledged back to users as well.
Emails; this was another one where it was really surprisingly attention freeing to be able to just sign out of Gmail and not have to think about it for an entire week.
The Internet has a lot to say about different strategies you can use for dealing with email, these are two that I know and have tried in the past. But looking at my data I discovered that I actually spend not much more than an hour a day on Gmail on average. So I just decided to care about it less.
Living in your office, although we can’t actually do that, but it felt like there was a lot of value starting my day like without any friction and just getting up first thing in the morning and just getting straight down to work. So there are probably things you could do with like starting with a Pomodoro first thing in the morning or something.
Distractions; obviously, a maniac week is really an extreme way to get rid of distractions by effectively going off the grid for the week. You can, of course, use force in your day-to-day life to do this, by like forcefully shutting off distracting Internet sites for yourself. I also sort of the old FT host trick you can just Google that or if you know what I'm talking about.
I've also noticed that for me and my own biggest distraction is usually if I am getting distracted by something like Facebook, it is because I am on autopilot. So if I just sign out of Facebook when I close it, next time I sort of on autopilot and go and launch Facebook I get a login screen instead of the news feed. And so that's just enough to stop me because I don't usually want to be going to Facebook. So if I have to think about it, that's enough and I close the tab and I’m back on task.
And finally, Pomodoro’s. So if you haven’t heard of the Pomodoro system, the basic idea is to set a timer for a manageable amount of time. Colonelcy it’s 25 minutes, but I happen to prefer 45 and then you just do focused work until the timer goes off and take a brief break, rinse, and repeat.
So I find that my most common failure mode with Pomodoro's is failing to start the next one. So, of course, I Bee mind it, and that just keeps my momentum going, because it forces me to keep starting the next one, and I get this great like productive drive throughout the day.
Of course, doing focused work that’s a hard event in itself, but there are some things you can do to improve on that. So for one thing, pick concrete tasks rather than saying I’m going to do some reading. Say, I’m going to finish reading 25 pages, and if possible announce it publicly. Use that sort of public pre-commitment idea to get yourself on the hook.
And finally, I don’t actually have time right now to talk about Pomodoro poker, but if you want to talk about extreme Pomodoro’s, I have office hours and a breakout session tomorrow. So if that sounds intriguing to you, come on by and we can talk about extreme Pomodoro’s.