Making a habit out of not just doing work, but doing the right work is critical to succeeding on a yearly basis. It’s easy to settle into a routine that makes each day look like a win on its own, but when you look back over the year you must be able to answer “well what did I do?”

Did you build a business from X dollars to X + Y dollars? Did you get (and figure out how to stay) in shape? Did you learn a skill? Did you get organized?

That last one, get organized, is a trick. Being organized isn’t an accomplishment on its own. Organization helps you win at other things, like better follow-through on tasks, or less time spent looking for a document. It’s important, but don’t confuse it with a goal.

Having a winning feedback loop is key. What makes a winning feedback loop?

  1. Speed. The faster you can get through one iteration, the better.
  2. Context. The loop has make sense in the context of your goals. If the feedback loop you settle on is “send X emails” you had better be an email marketer, because that’s the only profession I know of that succeeds directly by sending emails.

Without context, you will find yourself shuffling busywork back and forth across your desk. Without speed, you won’t see enough benefit to stick to the program.

For me, context is abundant because OpenStack is governed in a transparent way and makes it easy for me to see what actions I can take to help myself and the community succeed. The simplest thing I can do is to fix bugs, which is an easy process to refine into short loops.

  1. Find a bug
  2. Write a test to isolate the bug
  3. Fix the bug
  4. Commit the code

In OpenStack, there is requisite lag between step 3 and 4 due to code review. It is possible to make steps 1-3 into a feedback loop of reasonable speed and that makes sense in the broader context of the project. To break these down into even shorter feedback cycles, I use the Pomodoro Technique to focus work on a problem into small 25-minute sprints.

Really, this is two loops. The bug-fix loop above, and the Pomodoro loop. This loop looks like:

  1. Start a pomodoro
  2. Finish a pomodoro and take a break
  3. Repeat 1-2 all day
  4. Review metrics in Clockwork Tomato and TaskWarrior to compare time worked and tasks completed
  5. Repeat 1-4 tomorrow

I highly recommend trying out Clockwork Tomato as a Pomodoro timer, it’s not only configurable, but it also lets you associate tasks with each Pomodoro, so you can get a broader view of where your time is going every day. With that information, you can refine the other feedback loops you use to encourage you to spend more of your time actually moving the needle.