Only plan for 4-5 hours of real work per day.
― David Heinemeier Hansson, 37signals
This quote has a lot of truth in it, at least as far as my own work day goes. I once read (not sure where) another good piece of advice I tend to stick to: plan only what you can fit onto a post-it. This is also very useful to keep realistic goals.
Whether working on small scale or large scale projects, keeping things in perspective is very important for me. I can sometimes lose the perspective, especially during projects that I work on for extensive periods of time, if I don’t keep proper track of my work. In that case, it often feels like I’m standing still. It’s not a particularly nice feeling, busting your ass for weeks and weeks, and not have the satisfaction of feeling good progress.
My day usually consists of 4-5 hours of actual work I plan in the tickets. The rest gets filled with meetings, research, correspondence, and so on. I try to avoid longer work days because I don’t think they are particularly healthy. Your relationships might suffer, your body might, but your future work might, as well. Leaving enough room for reading and learning is imperative in the web industry.
Planning my tasks first thing in my work day is a good strategy. Besides using a ticketing system (my frontend team usually uses the feature-packed Assembla, while I sometimes use Trello), I like to keep a private, simple todo.md file, where I keep track of my own stuff (idea via Carl Sednaoui). Here’s what might be inside:
# 05. 04. 2014. - Project Name [x] - first todo item [ ] - second todo item
Simple, but effective. A list like this helps me review my work (and remind me what to write in git commits!). I simply add an “x” when I complete a task. At the end of the day, I have a clear idea of the stuff I did. Whatever I did not manage to complete, I switch to the next day. A system like this teaches you what you can fit into your work day and not go overboard.