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Reclaim.ai Blog

Productivity tips, calendar hacks, & product updates from the Reclaim team.

How Engineers Improve Productivity via Reclaim.ai - w/ Jade Rubick
March 14, 2024

Jade Rubick is a “VP of Engineering as a service”. He advises engineering leaders, founders, and CEOs on how to build great engineering organizations, and works with startups as an interim fractional leader to improve their product development. He also writes the free Engineering Leadership Weekly newsletter about the craft of building high-performance engineering organizations and is starting a podcast on engineering leadership.

Jade is contributing this article to share his professional experience on how engineers and engineering leaders can make the most out of their productivity and defend their work-life balance without sacrificing the quality or quantity of their work. 

As engineers, we work on a maker schedule. Typically, we try to focus as much as we can on the work that happens outside of meetings. 

Today, I’d like to share a tool that is useful for engineers who want to have better control of their time. It has an unusual approach to organizing your time that I haven’t seen anywhere else. This tool is Reclaim.ai. I have been a Reclaim user for four years, and here’s how I use the tool to  improve my focus, productivity, and work-life balance.

Create a productive weekly plan with declarative programming

Reclaim is declarative. Declarative programming is a paradigm that focuses on describing what the program should do rather than how it should do it. In other words, instead of giving the computer a set of instructions to follow, you tell it what your goal is and let it figure out the best way to do it.

In practice, that looks like telling Reclaim what you’d like to get done, the parameters of how long you need, and when you want to do it, and Reclaim figures out the best time around the rest of your schedule.

So for example, if you’d like to spend 30 minutes every morning on code review. You can create a Habit, set scheduling rules to tell Reclaim you’d like to complete it sometime between 9am and 12pm, and declare the ideal time would be 9am. Reclaim will then defend time for it in your calendar, around your preferences and existing meetings. If someone adds another meeting to your calendar, it will automatically move this Habit to another time. 

If you decide you’d like to skip the Habit for today, you can delete the calendar event or manually move it to another time. 

Having a declarative calendar for Habits and Tasks turns out to be a very handy way to use your time more effectively. It’s like creating a budget for how you want to spend your time. This is something managers do all the time, but most engineers underinvest in. 

Here are a few examples of how Reclaim's declarative scheduling can be helpful for busy engineers.

4 benefits of Reclaim for busy engineers

1. Preserve your focus time (& still be a good teammate)

If you’re finding that you’re not getting enough contiguous blocks of time to focus, you can use Reclaim to block out time on your calendar. After all, for the average individual contributor, only 53.5% of planned tasks get completed every week.

The typical way you’d do this is to block out a recurring event in Google Calendar. Say, two hours every morning, and three hours every afternoon. 

The problem with this is that it doesn’t offer much flexibility and makes it hard for people to find time to connect when they need to talk with you. What if someone from another team needs to consult you on something? You seem unavailable.

From an organizational perspective, the ideal balance is a mix of focus time and collaborative time. After all, we’re generally building things together as teams. You need your focus time to be personally productive. But others need your time occasionally to be productive themselves.

Reclaim can give you the best of both worlds: you declare that you’d like two hours of focus time in the morning. And you specify how aggressively to protect your time. Reclaim will then put it on your calendar, without actually blocking it as unavailable for others. BUT, when someone adds something to your morning calendar, it will then block off the rest of the time.  

2. Make it a priority to improve your craft

Depending on your company culture, it can often be a good practice to spend an hour or two each week learning and improving. Practicing code katas, reading code in other parts of the organization, or learning new architectural patterns. Maybe set up pairing time with other engineers or read up on engineering leadership.

You can set up regular and flexible Habits for these kinds of routines each week, and have that  time stay adaptive as your schedule changes. 

3. Stay on top of tech debt

I often see organizations that agree to spend X number of hours a week on technical debt. But nobody actually works on it. In simple terms, technical debt is the accumulation of shortcuts and quick fixes taken during the software development process. These shortcuts may work in the short term but can lead to long-term problems and additional work down the line. As technical debt builds, it can slow down productivity and lead to work-life imbalance as developers are forced to spend more time fixing problems rather than creating new solutions.

Declaring that time in Reclaim can help you build out an actionable plan so you can stay on top of tech debt. Create Tasks for specific work. Or create Habits to regularly spend time improving your codebase, or optimizing your deployment process. Let Reclaim automatically block time on the calendar for you to actually get it done. 

4. Make time for life & breaks

I’m unusually good at focusing on what I’m working on. The downside of that, however, is that I can ignore my own needs. I won’t get up to walk around, eat lunch, or take breaks. 

While Reclaim helps you defend time for productive work, it can also help you establish better balance in the busy week. You can add your personal habits, like “Take a walk”, or “Walk the dog”, and Reclaim will schedule these around your existing commitments so you have time for the personal routines that are important to you. 

Another way to improve work-life balance with Reclaim is with a nifty feature called Calendar Sync that syncs your work and personal calendars. For example, when I have a dentist appointment, it will copy that event to my work calendar. The contents of the calendar entry aren’t copied to my primary calendar (unless I want them to be) for others to see, but it marks that time as ‘Busy’ so I don’t get overbooked. 

To avoid back-to-back days that leave you drained, Reclaim also can schedule time after your meetings and even Tasks and Habit events to decompress. 

Helping engineers

I’m not an employee of Reclaim, and have no stake in the company. I’m just a big fan of their product, and have been using it since it was a prototype. I encourage you to try it out and see if it improves things for you.

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