If broken it is, fix it you should

A while ago I was looking for an easy way to explain developers how to find and fix memory leaks. During my research I’ve found this really interesting blog by a Microsoft Engineer, Tess Ferrandez.

She is constantly posting new tips and guides on .NET development and troubleshooting. I really like the “.NET Debugging Labs”, step by step guides on how to fix common issues, such as Memory Leaks, CPU Hangs, Crashes and so on.

If broken it is, fix it you should:

5 Tips for Effective Delegation

As a manager/supervisor, you just can’t do it all. To achieve effective results, you need to able to delegate projects and work to others. By effective delegation, you communicate to your employees that you have confidence in their ability to complete a job or project.

  1. Define the task and identify the outcome, not the process. The process that works for you may not work for others. Maybe you’ve been doing a job one way, because that’s how you were taught 20 years ago. When delegating, describe the successful outcome and let the person to find their best way to completion. Who knows, you might learn something from them.
  2. Give enough authority to accomplish the task. If the person receiving the task has to get approval at every or most step of the way, you might as well have done the job yourself. Turn the employee loose, with the resources to achieve the desired outcomes.
  3. Monitor the process, but allow people room to work. Don’t micro-manage! (See tip 2.)
  4. Make yourself available for support or feedback. Just because you’re not micro-managing doesn’t mean you disappear completely. Let the delagatee know that you are there to answer questions or to review milestones.
  5. Reward and recognize effort as well as results. An employee who is trying a task for the first time, may not get the whole thing correct. Make sure you recognize and reward the effort expended and the steps done well. Then, the next time you delegate, they will be able to build on the successes of the earlier effort.

Plus: Don’t dump your garbage jobs on your employees. Delegation is not an excuse to get rid of the crap your don’t want to do. You employees will recognize that strategy and will not see it as a development opportunity.

Through effective delegation, you can expand the range of what you can accomplish, as well as developing the skills and strengths of the team you manage.

Via ismckenzie.com

Top 10 Productivity Basics

There’s a core set of habits and techniques that filter and color a lot of what we write about at Lifehacker, but we rarely step back to explain them for newcomers. Let’s get back to basics with 10 productivity tactics.

10. Doable to-do lists
As our founding editor so aptly puts it, every worker of any stripe has two different hats they wear, and can switch between them often: the Boss hat, when tasks are thought up, broken into steps that can be done, and a deadline set; and the Personal Assistant hat, when work is cranked out and reported on. Gina’s breakdowns of the art of the doable to-do list and practicing a simplified Getting Things Done method are great places to start out on the path toward getting better at setting up your tasks and knocking them down. Knowing how most information workers are inundated these days, she also warns us to separate email from to-dos, and shows how to shuttle material between the two.

9. Ninja-like search skillz
A newly-licensed lawyer doesn’t know everything about every law out there, but they know where and how to find out more about them. Similarly, building up your abilities to find obscure stuff on the web, and in your email, makes you more prepared and ready to roll with whatever you have to learn more about next. Start with 10 obscure Google search tricks to make finding cached pages and specific files an instinct, and learn how phrases like “better than” and “reminds me of” can harness the power of crowds. Get the same kind of thought-to-search-result powers in Gmail with advanced filters and persistent searches, or do much of the same in Outlook with categories and search folders. Look into any search engine’s options or help menus, and you’re bound to find out a whole lot of tricks you had no idea you could pull off.

8. Remind your future self (a.k.a. tickler files)
Tickler files, in the journalism world, are date-labeled folders that reporters check every day and put documents or story ideas into that aren’t needed now, but could be vital down the line. A lot of folks have probably switched over to calendars they can access online, but the principles and usefulness remain the same. Gina traded her month-and-date-labeled paper folder system for a Yahoo Calendar tickler, but her system certainly works in Outlook, on Google Calendars, and many other places. Once you’ve got a system to jump in front of your Future Self every morning and scream “Today’s the day to start working on that project due this October!”, you’ll want to fine-tune how, exactly, you talk to Future Self. We’ve covered one specific, concise idea: write as if you were delegating to somebody taking over your jobs for the day.

7. Ubiquitous capture
Your mind doesn’t follow your schedule when it comes to great ideas. Holiday gift ideas can pop up in July, project breakthroughs come Saturday afternoons at the mall, and design inspirations show up when you’re hundreds of miles from your house. If you’re always ready to jot down or photograph an idea and, more importantly, are in the habit of doing so efficiently, you can pull your long-forgotten ideas from your secondary brain when you need them. Evernote is an increasingly popular platform that runs on Windows, Macs, most smartphones, and even on most regular phones via email; we call it a tool to expand your brain. The Hipster PDA costs about 1/8 of a Starbucks drink and gets the job done for those inclined to write rather than type. There are lots of tools available for grabbing your thoughts when you need one, and how you use them should depend on your trade, and mindset. Geek rock God Jonathan Coulton, for instance, uses a voice recorder app on his iPhone to quickly hum or sing song ideas as they come to him, as explained in our interview—he just pretends he’s calling somebody when he does it in public. Photo by Marcin Wichary.

6. Timers and working in dashes
“Crunch these expense report figures for 10 minutes.” That’s way more appealing and understandable than “Have a briefing on your trip ready by Friday.” That second command is what your boss says; the first, a little challenge you give your mind. Set up a timer on your desk or on your computer, pick just a small part of a bigger task you need to do, then hit the clock and go. Give yourself a little break, maybe 2 or 4 minutes every 10, then crank on another work dash. At day’s end, you’ve turned out way more than if you’d pretended to work “all day,” and your to-dos are swept away as you run toward the weekend. Here’s 43Folders’ original post on dashes.

5. Quick searches (web)
Here’s a little not-quite-secret disclosure: Editors at this site do dozens of Google site:lifehacker.com searches every day, tracking down old articles and (mostly) ensuring that topics and software already covered don’t get posted again. We don’t head to Google.com to do them, or even use the default Google search bar in our browsers. Most of us have instead turned those specific Google instructions into a “quick search” in Firefox, and use that to quickly find items from the address bar (this editor, for example, would hit Alt+D, then type lh productivity basics to find this article). It’s not only Google searches that can be made quicker; in Firefox, right-clicking on any search box lets you create a quick search. We’ve previous demonstrated and linked 15 quick searches, shown the easier system for Firefox 3, demonstrated that Google’s Quick Search has similar powers, and fallen for experimental Firefox extension Ubiquity as an even faster, smarter quick search commander.

4. Quick searches (local)
Your computer knows where everything is inside it. You don’t need, therefore, a cluttered Start menu, Dock, or shortcut-stuffed desktop to get to your files and applications, but a way to tell your computer what you want to do next. An app like Quicksilver on the Mac, Launchy on Windows (or just the Windows keyboard button itself on Vista), or Gnome-Do on Linux connects the first few letters of what you’re thinking about to exactly that thing. With practice, you’ll search out files you can’t even name, perform multi-step actions, and search the web from the same launcher, and never want to return to double-clicking that “Work documents” folder five times a day.

3. Inbox Zero
Email can’t overwhelm you if it isn’t there. So practicing the art and craft of Inbox Zero is kind of like clearing off a desk—you act on the items you can quickly dismiss, assign the stuff that’s actually somebody else’s job at the moment to them, and put the rest somewhere to be acted on at a specific date. The idea is just to clear it out and not let it pile up, so you can put your full brain into all that stuff you used to do before email came into your life.

2. Keyboard shortcuts
The more you pull your hand away from a relaxed position on the keyboard to move the mouse, the more strain you put on your hands, wrists, and arms. You’re also more likely to get distracted if you pull away from an alert, in-control posture. Learning and internalizing the keyboard shortcuts of your operating system and most-used applications keeps you moving in them. Over time, those muscle memories provide an effortless control that leaves you free to spend your working day’s energy on actual thought, not File, Save As, Browse, etc. Here’s a list of Windows 7 shortcuts, Microsoft’s shortcuts list for XP/Vista, and Apple’s official list; the individual programs, you’ll have to learn for yourself.

1. Text expansion
You write some blocks of text over and over. “My address is …” for example, or addresses you enter frequently into mapping web sites, or a list of email addresses. Text expansion tools instantly write those blocks for you when you write a trigger word, and are smart enough to auto-insert dates, text you’ve just copied, and then move the cursor to where you’ll be. On Windows computers, your Lifehacker editors use Texter, while the Mac writers run TextExpander (your sole Linux stalwart is tinkering with AutoKey at the moment). Save yourself a few words at a time, and soon you’ll have freed yourself from hours of mechanical typing.

Via lifehacker.com

Kick procrastination’s ass: Run a dash

Procrastination can drive most of us into a spiral of shame that’s as mundane as it is painfully personal. We know what we should be doing, but some invisible hang-up keeps us on the line. Unfortunately, the guaranteed consequence of procrastination is growth in the scale of the task you’ve been putting off—as well as the anxiety that it creates. All the time you’re putting something off, your problem’s getting bigger—both in reality and in your head, where your colorful imagination is liable to turn even the most trivial item into an unsolvable juggernaut that threatens to overwhelm you. And that means extra stress, more procrastination, and the music goes round.My favorite tonic for procrastination—which I have mentioned in passing previously—is what I call a dash, which is simply a short burst of focused activity during which you force yourself to do nothing but work on the procrastinated item for a very short period of time—perhaps as little as just one minute. By breaking a few tiny pebbles off of your perceived monolith, you end up psyching yourself out of your stupor, as well as making much-needed progress on your overdue project. Neat, huh?

Why the Heck Should This Work?

By making even the most modest bit of progress on your hated task, you’ve done what once seemed impossible: you got started. When you realize how much of the anxiety you’d experienced was created in your head, you’ll experience huge relief and give yourself the jolt needed to get back on track.

You can do a dash any time and for virtually any kind of project. The task has not been conceived that cannot be made smaller and more dash-able.

Three kinds of dashes

Plan your dash based on whatever works best for both your project and the particular block that’s hanging you up. The key is to pick a goal that’s laughably modest. Seriously, this is not the place for extravagant predictions and overly ambitious goals (that’s probably what helped land you here, right?).

  • Time-based dash – Most jobs lend themselves to a time-based dash, so pick up a kitchen timer at your local drugstore. Choose an amount of time that gives you enough room to do something but that’s brief enough to seem completely unintimidating. For some reason, eight minutes seems to work well for most of my own dashes.
  • Unit-based dash – Alternatively, depending on the tasks you’ve been avoiding, you could go with a unit-based dash, during which you agree to plow through an arbitrary number of pieces associated with your project (such as pages to read, words to write, glasses to wash, etc.).
  • Combination dash – In many cases, the best solution is a combination dash, in which you get to stop the hated work whenever you reach either the time or unit goal first.

Above all, remember that this is all about doing something, so pick a goal at which you can’t possibly fail.

Some Sample Dashes

Here are a few ideas to get you started, although dashes can work for virtually any project you’ve procrastinated—no matter how monolithic.

  • Messy garage – Goal: 10 minutes or 1 full garbage bag. Spend 10 minutes working in one area of the garage. Take out old papers, break down some boxes, or move the Christmas ornaments to the top shelf. When the timer buzzes at you, stop.
  • College application – Goal: 5 minutes or 1 page. Start by filling in the easy boxes. If you reach the bottom of the page before time is up, stop.
  • Overdue report – Goal: 10 minutes or 100 words. Just start writing, even if it’s complete crap. Just keep scribbling for 10 minutes or until you have a paragraph or two. When time’s up, stop.
  • Holiday cards and family correspondence – Goal: 5 minutes or 2 notes. Grab a pen and start making with the nice. Tell them about Tyler’s big day at Computer Camp. Brag about Ashley-Marie’s jazz and tap recital. When you’ve hit two finished cards, stop.

Feel Like Working More? Well, do ya, punk?

Once you’ve made any progress on something you’ve been procrastinating—even the ridiculously minor amounts of progress you make in your dash—you might find it irresistible to keep working at it. That’s okay. Seriously, go nuts.

Although you must begin your dash with the confidence that your life preserver is never more than a few minutes or units away, there’s nothing to stop you from paddling forward if you’re making happy progress. That’s the trick, and, believe it or not, it totally works. Give it 8 minutes, and find out for yourself.