Confessions of a researchaholic

March 6, 2016

About time management

Filed under: Real — liyiwei @ 4:27 pm

A collaborator asked me about time management, in particular how to toggle between multiple projects.

I am not sure if I am any good at time management or more general if I am a normal person, but here is what I do.

Rule 1: do not block your collaborators.

Rule 2: do whatever you like otherwise.

During my NVIDIA days I belonged to a tight-knit group of around 40 to 50 GPU architects. GPU design was (and likely still is) tremendously complex, so anyone could potentially block everyone. When that happened, ATI got a chance to kill NVIDIA, and my colleagues got a chance to kill me. That is how and where I learned rule 1.
In general, prioritize your collaborators over yourself. It may sound counter-intuitive, but making others happier and more productive will make the entire team, including yourself, happier and more productive as well.

Rule 2 reflects my personal style: after making my collaborators happy, I make myself happy. I cannot be productive otherwise, and life is too short anyway. I believe most people over-plan, especially for creative and non-deterministic tasks like research. This is one main reason why I never schedule regular meetings or daily routines. If you have a hard time deciding what to do first, they are probably equally important, so just pick one and do it. Trust your instincts, and you will gradually learn how best to schedule your time (this could help, which I also learned from NVIDIA).

I am not familiar with other time management techniques like Pomodoro. I just took a quick look at that and found myself violating it badly. For example, if a distraction pops into my head, I follow it, to allow serendipitous encounters (unless I am right in front of a major deadline). My distraction stack is probably around 4 layers deep, i.e. I could recurse around 4 layers of inception without getting lost.

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