Marc Andreessen (of Netscape fame), started blogging recently at http://blog.pmarca.com/. So far his posts are very interesting and several have great depth, particularly his series "the truth about venture capitalists". My favorite though is his post about personal productivity. Among many suggestions (and a good list of references), are two personal favorites of mine: "do not keep a schedule" and what he calls "structured procrastination".
Do Not Keep a Schedule - The theory here is that by keeping your schedule as completely open as possible and committing to as few appointments in the future as possible you are better able to prioritize your time on a day by day basis. Example: Two weeks from now you are in the middle of several days of critical architecture design reviews when you get an Outlook reminder that you had accepted a meeting with a partner company to see a demo of their product. Most people will stick to attending meetings they committed to and attend the demo and thus attend meetings that are of low priority. Another example: count up the number of hours spent in status meetings, company meetings, webcasts, etc. Keeping your schedule completely open means that in the morning you look at your tasks, you look at the requests for your time, and you decide the priority. Now in a some cases this may not be possible due to job type or environment but for those with the luxury of being able to try this, give it a shot. You will likely spend a lot more time on productive work.
Structured Procrastination - This is one of my all time favorites and is a key to how I keep up with technology and training. Everyone has tasks that they don't like to do and wind up procrastinating on. Sometimes it's actually something that you normally like doing but just don't feel like it on a particular day. On the flip side, there are times when you are really interested in something tangential to what you are "supposed" to be working on. In each of these cases: Do what you feel like doing! As Andreessen wrote "While you're procrastinating, just do lots of other stuff instead." An example of this and how it comes back to learning: This weekend I was planning to do a bunch of reading on Operations Manager 2007 since I'll be attending training on it next week. I wasn't really into it Saturday morning but a couple things I read about PowerShell really got me thinking about that so I spent several hours digging into PowerShell instead. If I had forced myself to stick with OpsMgr, I would have been far less productive since I just wasn't into it at that point. Running with my immediate interest that day in PowerShell I was much more into it and learned a lot more. For me that's been the secret to keeping up with technology over the years. Whatever I happen to be interested in at any given point regardless of whether it is in my current scope or not, I read as much as I can about it until I get bored and move to the next thing. The bottom line is that while you are putting some things off you can certainly be accomplishing a lot of other things.
The two ides above can be pretty powerful. Combined they mean that your schedule is open to do whatever is important and that you will be embracing and working on the things where you will be most productive. For those with the luxury of some independance at work, give them a try and be sure to check out some of the other ideas in Marc's post.
With respect to Marc's productivity article, I really liked the 3 lists approach he advocates. I started out doing it in notepad, but that quickly because cumbersome. I wrote a small program to help keep track of it. It's free to download and use forever. It runs on Windows. Here's the link:
If anyone has any suggestions, comments or ideas please don't hesitate to email me.