Home › Blog › Get Shit Done – 15 practical tips to be more productive as a developer
Get Shit Done – 15 practical tips to be more productive as a developer
With the rapid development of technology and communication methods, our lives became more chaotic, demanding and hectic than ever before. There’s always an urgent thing that needs your attention. Thanks to Whatsapp, Slack and smartphones we are all reachable and online 24/7. So how to relax, keep focus and don’t be overwhelmed by this? In this article, we’ll share our personal tips and best practices on how to increase productivity as a software developer.
29% of youth people say they are “addicted” to social media
On average we spend 3 hours and 15 minutes per day on our smartphones.
Most people check their phones 58 times a day
Let’s dive into how we are dealing with this situation.
In this article, we’ll kick in some open doors that might be really obvious for you. You are probably aware of most of the things we are going to mention, but do you actually follow those rules? Secondly, these tips work in our day-to-day work, but we know that this is not a general rule of thumb. Find out what works best for you and create your own productivity system.
The big Why
In this article, we’ll try to describe our constant search for productivity optimization. We are both obsessed with getting more shit done in a more effective way. But what exactly is productivity? In our opinion productivity is about doing less stuff, but better. We achieve this by automating repetitive tasks and making a clear distinction between urgency and importance.
Some people always answer that they are “very busy” when you ask them how they are doing. But are they busy with the right things? Another question to ask yourself here: are you active or productive?
In our quest for productivity we realized that we both spent years in high school and university, however, nobody ever taught us how to work! Some food for thought: what’s your definition of a productive day? Is it getting your inbox to zero or finishing up on all the JIRA tickets? And is it productive to work 12 hours a day?
Tip 1: Urgency vs importance
For every issue that you face or every challenge, you want to solve, ask yourself first: is it important? Second, is it urgent? Eisenhower’s matrix (see figure below), shows how you can deal with this by assigning a task to one of the proposed quarters:
Important and urgent: drop everything and do it right away. This is usually a problem that needs to be dealt with immediately, like a production issue.
Important, but not urgent: plan time in your agenda to work on this task. Since this is not urgent, you can take your time to think about the issue. These are usually things concerning the long-term success of your project, for example: finding a replacement for a developer that will leave your team in 3 months.
Not important, but urgent: delegate it to someone else in the organization for whom this issue might be more important or more relevant to their job responsibilities.
Not important and not urgent: simply eliminate this from your agenda, task list or calendar and focus on the important things.
Tip 2: The 2-minute rule
This tip is just as simple as it sounds: if you can perform the task within 2 minutes, you have to do it right away. If the task will take more than 2 minutes, plan it. You either can create some time for it in your agenda or put it on your task list.
Tip 3: Take control and create order
How to prioritize all the tasks, responsibilities and jobs that need your attention? How to create order in the constant chaos of demands and notifications? Write down all the important tasks from Tip 1 in an overview and create a solid agenda for yourself.
Follow the principle of having your agenda first. Your calendar is ALWAYS leading in everything that you do. The diagram below shows the order of our priorities.
In your calendar, you allocate time to focus on the important, non-urgent tasks, like peer review, and technical research. If your agenda is clear, you can have a look at your task list (see Tip 6). Once you complete all the tasks from your task list, you can move on to reading your email (see Tip 7).
Tip 4: Go digital
We really recommend getting rid of your nice leather agenda and paper notepad and switching to a digital version. Now you can never forget your agenda and task list at home, you are always in sync on all your devices and you are able to share it easily with other people to collaborate.
Tip 5: Setting up your agenda
As mentioned in Tip 3, your agenda is always leading! But this doesn’t mean that you have no flexibility at all. Here are some good practices for dealing with your agenda.
Schedule a fixed day and time for learning new things, for example, 1 hour on Friday morning.
A meeting is more than “just a meeting”. If people invite you to “have a coffee” or “do a brainstorm”, ask in advance what the agenda is and what you want to meet about. If there’s no agenda for the meeting, it’s usually a waste of precious time.
If you have a meeting with your team or a new client, your agenda needs to reflect that. Again, a meeting is not just only the meeting itself.
Book some time in your agenda the day before to prepare for the meeting, by reading up on the topic.
Need to travel to the meeting? Book the travel time on your agenda as well.
A meeting is useless without a good follow-up. So book 30 minutes after the meeting for processing notes, following up on your actions and writing down the required actions. Write down the tasks in your task list or book time in your agenda to work out the action points right away.
Obvious but relevant, fill in the location of your meeting and send calendar invites to the attendants, along with the agenda for the meeting. In this way, everybody has the right information. It’s good practice to fill in your calendar for the next week on Friday before. You can use your task list and follow-ups for your previous meetings as input for the next week.
Book time in your agenda to work on your task list.
Book 2 times 30 minutes in your agenda to answer email. For example, Ramon only syncs with his mailbox twice a day at 09:30 and 16:00. It sounds counter-productive, but think about it: if something is really urgent, will people send you an email? There are even good apps that can temporarily pause your inbox and deliver your emails at the set time, like Boomerang or Adios.
Tip 6: Create a task list
A good task list is your second brain – it remembers everything for you and it gives you time to clear your own mind.
Here are some good practices for a proper task list:
A good task list should give you an overview of the urgent and less urgent tasks. Here you can order your tasks with different labels, like “work”, “personal”, “this week”, “R&D”, etc.
A good task list should be quickly accessible. Create a keyboard shortcut to add tasks to your task list.
A well-defined task is descriptive and defines a clear (and small) action. For example: “renovate home” is not really descriptive and is just too big. So break this task into: “ask my friend Peter for the contact details of his plumber” or “create a budget forecast for home renovation”.
Create a “pending” label, so that you have an overview of all tasks that you are waiting on somebody else’s input or response.
Add a deadline to your task. If the deadline is approaching and the task becomes more urgent, move the task to your agenda.
Here are 2 ways of getting hold of your email inbox:
We are analyzing all our incoming emails in the same way, by filtering on relevance, importance and urgency. To take you along our way of working, we created the diagram flow as shown in the figure below.
Filtering and sorting your email. With so many emails arriving at your mailboxes, it is very hard to keep track of all the communication. Fortunately, modern email clients and even email providers offer a nice way to deal with this: email sorting. With easy rules and triggers,
you can automatically move your emails to folders, mark them as read or just right away delete unwanted communication. Our top tips:
move automated emails, such as task tracker or CI/CD updates into separate folders skipping the inbox.
Create a rule moving all emails where you are in CC to a separate folder. Leave the inbox only for personal communication that is meant for you.
Tip 8: Celebrate victories
When going about your daily stuff, it’s easy to get stuck in the routine and downplay your achievements. It’s important to have a lunch, dinner or team activity with your colleagues, to celebrate a successful release, someone’s birthday or maybe even farewell.
These days not everyone has the opportunity to go to the office. However, you can still have remote drinks or online games once in a while. You can also set up informal chit-chat meetings or an always-available online room to freely hang out coffee-machine style.
Ever felt like you don’t know where to begin a task? Try to break it down into smaller, more tangible bits. This way you can avoid uncertainty and anxiety, your goals will become more clear and you will be able to assess your progress more precisely. In addition, smaller tasks mean smaller context, so you are more resilient to interruptions. Never procrastinate again!
Tip 11: Distraction from your phone
Notifications on your devices are real focus killers. Apps are designed by marketing psychologists to constantly draw your attention with clickbaity popups, like-buttons and unread message indicators. Here are our best practices to keep yourself focused and not be distracted all the time:
Turn off all your notifications on your devices. This will literally change your life for the good. It’s really simple to do this in your phone settings by browsing to “Notifications”. For each app, you can disable the notifications and number of unread messages. Our Whatsapp is configured so that you can only see new messages once you open the app. If you have a smartwatch, disable all the notifications there as well.
Turn the “Do not disturb mode” on if you really want to focus on an important piece of code.
Set screen time limit on your device. You can do this per app, app category or screen time in general. You can still overrule the screen limit, but it should make you aware that you spent too much time on your phone today.
Maybe you think: “I’m not one of those phone addicts like described in this article.” If you feel this way, check out your own screen time statistics by searching for “Screen time” in your settings and prepare to be flabbergasted.
Remove the social media apps from your phone. Ramon did this 2 years ago. It felt like a huge step and that he would lose touch with his friends and family. However, he then hasn’t missed those apps for a single second! Try to remove Twitter, Instagram and Facebook from your phone for a week and find out for yourself that suddenly you have more free time to go to the gym or play with your children.
Tip 12: Set team rules
Set up team rules at work. Some examples:
Keep a few meeting-free days, so you can stay focused for the entire day.
While working at the office, make an agreement that headphones on mean “do not disturb”.
Choose a single communication channel for your team. Slack is a good app to go with.
Tip 13: More screens – more productive
Working with a second screen might boost your productivity, however it depends on how you set it up. It will definitely help you if you use your second screen to look at some documentation alongside your code. However, if you use it to watch Netflix in the background, work is not going to finish itself faster.
There is even some scientific research regarding the productivity benefits of having a second screen, but most of it is done by screen manufacturers, so it just might be a conspiracy to sell us more screens :-).
Tip 14: Working from home discipline
Take breaks: go get a drink or just spend a few minutes looking out of the window will help you to refresh your mind.
Let your family know when you’re busy. Your home is already a minefield of distractions, so it’s important that your family knows you are occupied. No one wants their important video call to be interrupted by a family member walking into the room.
Separate your workplace from your sleeping/living area. We all have different living conditions, but try to dedicate a work space in your house. Remember: you’re always going to be “at work” if you get used to leading a nomadic lifestyle of moving between your kitchen table and bed.
Good equipment: If you manage to make up a dedicated working spot, make sure to buy good equipment. Our four top items:
You’re most likely sitting a lot, so get a good chair. Your back will thank you.
A proper desk should be adjustable in height. Even better if it has a standing option.
Laptop gives you mobility, but a good monitor gives you proper viewing position and ergonomics. Maybe even get two screens (see Tip 13)
Get an ergonomic keyboard and mouse. They will give you a more natural hand position which will reduce joint strain and muscle fatigue. There are plenty of options out there in all price ranges.
Tip 15: Stay healthy
Healthy body = healthy mind. Being in good shape is the best way to stay focused. Take a walk or even get a gym membership.
Drinking water keeps you hydrated and focused. Coffee is a really nice energy booster, but also a long-term downer.
A good night’s sleep is the best bug fixer in the world.
No devices in the bedroom: leave all devices downstairs when you go to bed. Instead, read a book or have a conversation with your partner. You will not be distracted by notifications during the night.
For the people who say: “I use my smartphone as an alarm clock”, buy an alarm clock. It’s only 20 euros and we can guarantee it will be the best money you ever spent.
Never check email before bed: focus on going to sleep, all those work problems can be dealt with the next day.
Meditation & mindfulness: try this out if you feel stressed or your mind is wandering off all the time. Attend (online) yoga classes or get a mindfulness app, like Headspace.
Our quest for improvement will keep continuing and we are more than open to hear about your lifehacks. Feel free to reach out to us and share your tips with us on Twitter: @r_wieleman and @artemy_m.
This article is also published in NLJUG’s Java Magazine – edition 4, year 2021
This article is written by Artem Makarov and Ramon Wieleman