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Artem Makarov

Get Shit Done – 15 practical tips to be more productive as a developer

Introduction

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.

This article is written by Artem Makarov and Ramon Wieleman

Some facts first

Let’s start with some mind-blowing red flags to highlight the current impact on our lives:

Let’s dive into how we are dealing with this situation.

Disclaimer

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:

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.

Pro tip

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:

Tip 7: Email rules

Here are 2 ways of getting hold of your email inbox:

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.

Tip 9: Pomodoro technique

Pomodoro is a time management method that works by timeboxing your work into short repeated intervals. These intervals usually last around 25 minutes, where you commit to being focused for the given period and have breaks in between. For timekeeping, you can use a cheap kitchen timer or a (web) app.
There are also advanced Pomodoro techniques that propose longer intervals based on some scientific backing. Experiment to find what works for you!

Tip 10: Break it down

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:

Tip 12: Set team rules

Set up team rules at work. Some examples:

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

Tip 15: Stay healthy

Conclusion

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

Artem Makarov

Artem Makarov

Senior Software Developer