Short term creative momentum without reflection can cause long term productivity loss. Here is how to steer clear of that trap.
When working, many of us are forward-thinking and focussed on doing. We have our blinders on, pursuing the task at hand with some level of tunnel vision. This is great for making progress rapidly. Yet without hindsight, and some degree of foresight, the work can get disorganised very quickly.
Imagine putting 1,000 unlabelled boxes haphazardly into storage in a warehouse, and six months later needing the contents of one specific box. It would be a massive pain to find. Even if you somehow remembered where that specific box was located, what if you were off sick and someone else would need to find it?
Instead, imagine all the 1,000 boxes labelled and sorted in a system where anyone could find any box needed. There would be an upfront time cost to set this up, but the cost savings from there on out would end up being greater. Hopefully this all seems logical, and you agree the latter is the better course of action in this scenario.
Yet many people do not apply the same logic in comparable situations. You may be dealing with a number of things on a daily basis, such as:
Folder structures and file naming.
Inevitably, other people will have to take over your work. The easier it is for them to hit the ground running, the better. You may even have to return to the work yourself after an extended period of time, and the same applies.
I would argue that it is disrespectful to your colleagues, not to mention counterproductive, to leave them to figure out your mess.
“Clutter is nothing more than postponed decisions.”
– Barbara Hemphill
Passing on disorganised work forces your lack of decisions onto others, creating more work and frustration.
What To Do About It
Throughout the day, regularly look back at your work and simply tidy it up. Course correct. Label as you go, explaining briefly what something is or how something works. It does not need to be a whole tutorial, but it should give another person picking it up a good idea of what is going on.
Document your code, label your boxes, annotate, comment, and describe your work.
At the same time, also look ahead. Do you foresee any issues that can be prevented by putting a better system into place? Like sorting the boxes in the first example. Building a better system is, again, an upfront time cost which pays off over and again in time.
“You do not rise to the level of your goals. You fall to the level of your systems.”
– James Clear
Mr Clear is onto something here. Consistency is key for being productive, and building consistency means building dependable systems to fall back on. Remember, it is easier to keep something clean than it is to make something clean.
Future You is a different person. Organising your work to be easily readable and understandable by other people means that Future You will have an easier time picking it up as well. Have you at any point returned to your work after some time and thought, what the hell did I do here? How did this work? Shooting yourself in the foot this way is perfectly avoidable.
Not to mention, in order to explain concisely how something works, you need to have a good understanding of it. And so it furthers your knowledge and your understanding to organise your work and explain it to others in a simple way.
Not only that, keeping your work organised literally saves money. You will make fewer mistakes and have a much easier time troubleshooting in an effective way when you do. Which means you will spend less time doing unnecessary work.
I hope you found this insightful. For more productive inspiration, see Productivity.