Thoughts on philosophy, productivity and software development

The IV-gears method: I, 2, III, IV

clock_gears (4)

Using a time management technique (e.g the Pomodoro technique) is a popular way to fight against procrastination. I developed a custom method that works reasonably well for me and I want to share it with you. The four gears method is a simple method that helps me get going when I don't feel like working. As you need different gears to driver the car, in the same manner, you start your work in Gear I and progressively, as you gain momentum, you shift to higher gears to gain efficiency. The gears define time windows within which you have to give everything you've got. Maximum concentration without any distractions around you. It still amazes me to this day, how short the lifetime of laziness-mood is. The Gear I never failed me to get going, even when I was sleep deprived and demotivated. Surely you can work for 5 minutes, no matter how demotivated you are. The 5 minute window is the Gear I. Below is the description of the full set.

  • Gear I: [5 minutes]. If you do a couple of session in Gear I you'll be ready for some deep work. It is like warm up for the brain. I experience the same thing with physical exercise. When I don't feel like exercising, and I force myself to start warming up even for a couple of minutes, very soon my mood changes and in the end I do my full routine.
  • Gear 2: [15 minutes]. This is the gear that I switch to when I'm starting getting annoyed by the 5 min limit of Gear I. It is also an ideal Gear to wrap-up some tasks, clean up leftovers.
  • Gear III: [25 minutes]. This is the "workhorse" gear. Once I'm in the zone, I stay on this gear for as long as I can. It is totally okay to stay on the Gear III and not go to the next one. You can get a lot of work done in this mode.
  • Gear IV: [90 minutes]. This is the "magic" gear. If I get 2 session of those in a workday, I am sure that it was an exceptionally productive day. If you shift to this gear you can achieve amazing things. You can bulldozer over complex problems, that usually would span over multiple days.

Now, the time windows of the first couple of Gears might look too short. You might think "what valuable work can be done, in 5 or 15 minutes?". Well, if you devote your full undistracted attention to the task at hand you can create value in this time window (needless to say that multi-tasking is not a thing, and you should never switch to a different task in the middle of a session). On the other hand, If you check social media during a work session, that is not working my friend. There is no system in the world that can boost your productivity, if you are trying to "work" when you cram junk into your brain. Read about Deep Work by Cal Newport to know more about how you should be working, if you want to get a chance to get some work done.

If you're motivated for work, I think using this method can still be beneficial because it provides a structure to take regular breaks and also keep a tally of working sessions done to measure the performance at the end of the day. Is such days, when you're motivated to get some work done, you can directly jump to Gear III if you want to.

The breaks between sessions are important. Even if it is just for a minute, don't skip them! A moment of mindfulness usually does the trick. You clear up your mind, relax your mental muscles, and try to get presence of mind. A couple of minutes of meditation will do wonders to your ability to focus, in the long run. There is one more argument in favor of breaks. Don't worry they will not destroy your momentum (unless you start bing watching youtube clips, and call it a "break"). The brain works in either the Focused or the Diffuse mode. Both are very necessary to solve complex problems and to integrate knowledge into your mind. Look for Barbar Oakley's work to learn more about this topic.

Anyway, I hope you can put this into some good use, and let me know if you have some thoughts/experiences about the IV-gears method.


What this blog is about

I was considering to start a blog for many years. In the end I was always backing off because deep down in my mind I wasn't convinced that it worth the effort. After a long internal debate, finally it is on!

In this blog I will share my notes and my thoughts about philosophy, productivity and software development. Expressing what I learn in my own words, has multiple benefits. For me, it consolidates and integrates the knowledge into my mind and also exposes the weak points in my thinking. For you it can be potentially beneficial because you can read about valuable concepts from my point of view that might be closer to your way of thinking, therefore easier to digest. Anyway, time will tell if this effort will bare any fruit. I do hope that there will be others that find this blog useful other than me.