I’m a Senior Data Scientist, Machine Learning Engineer, Mentor, and Writer. I have worked with four different organizations (or clients) simultaneously for the past 8 months. Aside from one full-time job, the rest are all part-time, but I treat them as jobs nevertheless.
Data Science and Artificial Intelligence is a rapidly evolving field. Plenty of outstanding research gets published every month, plenty of new tools and frameworks gets released every month. More businesses want to adopt AI into their day to day operations.
If you’re in the field of data science, you would know how challenging it is to keep up and deliver. However, it's been a rewarding journey, not just financially, but in terms of job satisfaction, happiness, and career recognition. I’ve got nothing to complain about.
While I was self-reflecting during my year-end review (something I do every year, formally), I identified these four techniques that had helped me do what I do. You can use these too. If you’ve got the right techniques at your disposal, you can cope with all sorts of work challenges.
Regaining focus through deep working
Deep work is the foundation where all my pillars stand upon. And the rarest techniques of them all.
I can’t attribute enough of my success to deep work. In his book ' Deep Work,’ I was introduced to Cal Newport's technique, where he talks about focusing in a distracted world.
Deep work is the ability to focus without distraction on a cognitively demanding task. It’s a skill that allows you to quickly master complicated information and produce better results in less time.
The idea is to actively focus on one thing at a scheduled time while removing all distractions for that particular time block. To practice this over and over again for a prolonged period that it becomes a norm. The best thing about this strategy is that you get done a lot more work in a shorter time period.
Ideally, tasks that are harder and time consuming are the ones I try to tackle in this deep work time-block. Whenever I am presented with something challenging (it happens all the time), my mind is confident that “I can tackle this in my next deep work block.”
Have you ever noticed that in the end, what people care about is the results you produce and not the time you put in to obtain them? Imagine being able to get done a lot more work, demanding work, in fairly lesser time. And having more time for your other routine work? Isn’t that the best feeling ever?
How you can do it:
Deep work is mastered through practice. Practice the following.
Start planning how much work you want to get done for the week. Think in terms of the amount of work, not how long. Spread the workload amongst the days, and create time blocks of 2–3hrs. You can have up to 2 such blocks per day.
Worship these blocks. Literally worship them. Get rid of all sorts of distractions during these blocks. This won’t be easy initially as something unexpected will come up, but you’ll know how to remove all the distractions truly with some time. (Remember to be polite with your colleagues; they don’t intend to break into your time block.)
Tackle your biggest and crucial tasks in these blocks. You know the hardest task that needs a breakthrough for the day, pick that first head on and start working on it during the blocked time. Again, you might not be able to execute it well in the beginning completely. It’s very normal. I haven’t mastered this entirely yet, too, even after a year's practice. But you’ll get better and better with time.
If you’ve got the time, please read the “Deep Work” book. The book is filled with more useful tips on how to practice deep work forever.
Having an established routine
Okay, this one’s not so rare, but I’ve seen it underplayed over and over again, that it’s become rare now.
I’ve never had routines my whole life. I believed it’ll never work for me. When I was in college, my sleep schedule varied based on my lecture schedule for the next day. After I started working, it varied based on my late-night outings.
However, with the imposed Covid lockdowns, everything changed. There were very few external interferences during this period that I got used to a consistent routine. Now that I know the benefits, I’ll not trade it for anything.
I work 6 days a week. I know that’s a day extra than most of you, but it doesn’t really matter when you enjoy what you do. I have established definite check-in and check-out times for every separate job.
I write at the same time every day; I do my mentoring sessions or reply to their queries at the same time every day. I work on my external machine learning projects at the same time every day. And I do only one thing at any point in time. Absolutely no context switching.
I’ll admit it was a bit hard some days, but the results I reap motivates me to keep going.
Sunday is a special day for all of us in our family; we do something new every week. We cook special cheat-day meals and cherish family time. I mostly relax, watch movies, and go out to meet friends.
How you can do it:
You would have already heard about established routines' benefits but believed all your life that routines are just not for you.
Try to eliminate the external factors which make your routine uncertain (comparatively easier now than ever, with the remote working conditions). Do one thing (and only one thing) but at the same time every day. You may use the calendar to remind you about the time-slot and the to-do task.
Inject self-rewarding things you’d love, like delicious food, movies, time spent with loved ones to your life regularly. Work work work and no fun routines cannot be sustained for long.
Managing expectations every single time
Fail to manage expectations; everything you’ve built over the years can go down the drains in a day.
I learned this the hard way, with experience. There was a delay in project delivery (the reasons were fair and not in our control), but nobody escalated it to the CEO. We assumed everybody knew about it. I was a junior guy then, and the VP was getting roasted for not managing expectations. It was one of the disturbing meetings I’ve ever been in, but I learned my lesson.
Manage expectations every single time.
For each one of my commitments, I communicate clearly upfront. I’m somewhat a senior guy at work now, and I believe we are all in this together as a team.
I know exactly what my role is and try to be as clear as possible regarding the deliverables. In a field like data science, which is uncertain by default, communicating well and managing expectations is crucial.
How you can do it:
The moment you have multiple stakeholders, it’s crucial to manage expectations.
If you’re providing services for someone clearly ask and define what is expected from you. If you’re coaching, mentoring, writing, or selling something, establish what one can expect from you.
Remember, one mistake, and it can all go down. On the other hand, satisfied customers will keep coming back to you. They’ll spread the word for you.
Being curious and passion-driven
Not all compensation is monetary; learnings, experiences, and mental sanity are compensations too.
I don’t work extra for the money itself. Some of the roles are me volunteering. Why though? I’m curious, and I’m passionate about them. I am curious to work on different machine learning projects and improve my knowledge. I’m passionate about helping students and developers to get started with data science. I’m curious as to what these writings of mine can lead to.
Data science is driven by curiosity. Being passionate about what I do keep me going. I can’t think of doing this in the long term if I ever lack the passion or lose the curiosity I’ve got today.
How you can do it:
No matter how hard you try, you can’t sustain working extra unless driven by passion.
Some are passionate about writing—some about entrepreneurship, fitness, technology, and more. Find what interests you, and have these as your side hustles. Explore your options and be curious about what these options can lead to in your life.
That way, the passion and hunger to achieve more will help you put in the extra work and keep going.
This article wasn’t about whether you should work more or hustle, rather about a few rare techniques and shifts in mindset that enable anyone to work better and effectively, with peace of mind. Please feel free to reach out to me on LinkedIn, happy to help in any way possible.
I don’t plan on working like this forever, but I have resolved to improve how I work and capitalize on these techniques more in 2021.
Shouldn’t you too?