What do you need to change?
You need to work smarter, not harder
In Japan, if an employee falls asleep at their desk, management is impressed because it means they are working very hard. They are held up as an example for the other employees to emulate.
In the old days you only got one day off per week. That was Sunday (in North America's history), and you were expected to attend church. The remaining six days you went to your job and worked 10–12 hours or more.
One of my favorite historical figures in industry, Henry Ford, discovered way back at the beginning of the 20th century that paying his workers $4.00 an hour when the average wage was between $1–2.00 per hour didn't have the intended effect.
His notion was that it would build loyalty, create happiness, and allow them to purchase the cars that they were building. Despite being relatively rich, they weren't happy. He moved from the 60 hour ($240) workweek to the 50 hour ($200) workweek and saw an increase in productivity; he moved to the 40 hour ($160) workweek, and improved once again. He discovered that working long hours added nothing to productivity, caused mistakes, and actually cost him money.
He even increased wages to $5/hour for the 40 hour ($200) workweek because of better productivity and more profits. Not only was he getting enhanced production, but his employees had more leisure time than their peers and were happier and more loyal. Henry Ford had invented the 40 hour workweek!
Automate or Delegate
There are some tasks that only you can do, that require your specific skill set. There are other tasks that only you do well. There are tasks that can easily be assigned to just about anybody, and finally, there are tasks which can be automated.
Automation might be managed with a program you already have, or you might have to buy a program. You may have to pay an expert to help you figure out how to accomplish it. The point is, however, in the end these repetitive tasks that eat away at your hours per day don't need your personal attention. The most valuable commodity you have is your time.
There is no escaping the first task, so that will always be your number one priority. Any task which can easily be handled by others must be handled by others. Your time is far too valuable to be wasted on trivia. The problem is that task in the middle, which you have learned to do better than anybody else.
Time yourself completing that task. Multiply the figure by the number of times you have to complete that task in any given period. Let us imagine that it is a task that takes one hour per day, that you must complete every day. That's almost 24 hours a month, or three whole working days.
How long would it take you to train somebody else to do that job as well as you do it? They could simply observe you completing the task a few times, ask some pertinent questions and then take it over. Is that time-investment worth gaining three extra days per month to dedicate to tasks that only you handle properly? Of course it is.
The 80/20—20/80 Rule
80% of the work consumes only 20% of the effort, but on the flipside of that same coin, 20% of the work requires 80% of the effort. If we don't study a project and understand what's involved with it we might take on more work than we can manage because on the surface "it looks easy.”
[It] comes from saying no to 1,000 things to make sure we don't get on the wrong track or try to do too much. We're always thinking about new markets we could enter, but it's only by saying no that you can concentrate on the things that are really important—Steve Jobs
Keep track of what you're working on, and how much time it will consume. If someone comes to you with a project that will require more time than you have, turn it down. Even if you really like a project and it looks exciting, unless you can wheel-and-deal a solution where someone else can handle some of your current responsibilities and free up enough time for the project, say “no."
Block your time
Divide up your day by hours, or divide up your week by days. For example, try not to see clients on Mondays or Fridays. Most people are busy doing administrative tasks on those two days, and so you should, too. It's better in business when we all “mesh."
The other three days of the week can be for soliciting/servicing clients, development projects, meetings, and all the day-to-day stuff that arises. If you convert it to "blocks" of time that are (as often as possible) the same every week, you'll get much faster at dealing with it because it becomes habitual.
Psyche yourself up!
If you have tasks that you don't want to do, make a nice music mix (I like "Smoke On The Water" by Deep Purple, and "Back in the USSR" by the Beatles). You'll be amazed how quickly the tasks fly by, and the stunning ease with which you accomplish them. One cautionary note: Don't send correspondence or reports right away. Re-read material you've created in that environment to make sure you didn't get carried away by the music creating misspellings, grammatical errors, or even utilized the wrong "tone" in a document or e-mail.
Take a Break
Don't deprive yourself, and don't feel guilty. If your mind starts to drift, if you feel that you're starting to lose focus on your task, get up and go for a walk—grab a coffee or stare out the window—get away from your computer monitor or the rest of the software development team for a few minutes. Stand outside the building, in direct sunlight, and get a few bracing breaths of air inside you.
When you return to the task you'll be invigorated and ready-to-go. Failing to take breaks is a disservice to both you and your company.
Taking time to go online and learn something new, to expand your capabilities, to enhance your value to the company, is a good thing. Surprisingly much of it can be accomplished for free even while authoring a recognized certification at the end of it.
If the available material online isn't adequate for the task, speak to your employer about them financing a more intensive learning opportunity. Remember the old adage that if you are not growing you are stagnating.
Being productive at your Dallas technical job is not difficult. All you have to do is clear away the clutter of "being busy.” Get rid of those parasitic tasks that should be handled by others and focus on doing what they pay you to do—being extraordinary.
If it's your supervisor or manager who is giving you trouble, consider talking to HR about a sideways-promotion. You don't have to abandon all of the goodwill, friendships, or networks you've created just to get away from a bad boss. If your corporate ladder is missing a few rungs, try using the latter in another department. There's more than one way to the top…