Starting a new project, refactoring code, or writing a blog post; sometimes just beginning one of these is like climbing a butter mountain in rollerblades. You begin to make headway, only to get distracted and start sliding down, past all the progress you have made. No one likes that. Though there are many different ways of handling this common problem, here are a few strategies that may work for you:
Maintain the machine:
You need to sleep. You are not doing yourself any favors by staying up late night after night, attempting to cover the cognitive deficiencies with caffeine. There is a wealth of academic material showing a direct correlation between lack of sleep and memory recall. Thanks Mom.
Eat a healthy meal when you plan on attempting (just being realistic) to be productive. Though the feeling you get after eating a mound of something delicious is great at the time, it tends to shroud the rest of your day in a greasy, sluggish shadow.
Get some exercise. Moving around will give you a needed boost of energy, break up monotony and relieve stress if you are trying to solve a particularly tenacious bug or problem you might be facing. Go for a walk, run or just climb some stairs.
Fight when you can win:
Break your tasks into manageable pieces and set goals for the completion. Whether they are weekly or daily goals, try to be realistic so they are actually achievable. The key is making a real effort to stick to your goals. Nothing boosts confidence and satisfaction like crossing items off a list. If you are using Agile Development, tasks should naturally be broken up, but even then, there is the tendency to make features or commits too large, because it seems easier at the time. Resist this and break task out into manageable pieces.
In the long run this will enhance your sense of achievement, as well as increase productivity .
Having shorter Agile sprints not only shows value to the client by showing progress consistently, but also makes tasks more manageable and reveals concept flaws earlier on in the project. A stitch in time...
Do it Again:
Whether or not you consider yourself a ‘routine person,” you are. Your routine may just be to routinely get nothing accomplished in the morning. Like anything in life, if it makes you miserable it's probably worth doing, so start adding things to your routine that seem like they would be good to boost focus, energy or clarity, but may be uncomfortable at first.
- Get up a half hour earlier than you normally would, or eat breakfast if you usually don’t.
- Commit to learning a new technology an hour a day, 3 days a week.
- Start small and grow confidence in yourself and your ability to cultivate or strengthen self-discipline. As Devo says: “Later is now.” So get to it.
Productivity basically boils down to Focus. Focus is that feeling when your mind and keyboard have become one and your eyes are lasers of concentration. A fleeting sensation for most, but worth pursuing.
The emphasis on focus is driven home in the book Soft Skills: The Software Developer’s Life Manual by John Z. Sonmez, which I cannot recommend enough. This book is not only for developers, but anyone who works in tech and wants to increase their productivity or manage a freelancing career.
One of the techniques to increase focus John recommends is the Pomodoro, a time management technique devised by Francesco Cirillo where uninterrupted stints of work are punctuated by short breaks. Without going into great detail, a Pomodoro itself is a 25 min block of focused work followed by a 5 min break. Tasks can be then broken into or estimated in how many Pomodoros they will take to complete. Here is a handy Pomodoro Timer . Give it a try and see if it works for you, though you might need to warn you co-workers/loved ones not to bother you when the timer is running.
If focus is what you are after, don’t juggle multiple projects or commitments. Sometimes it's unavoidable, but if productivity is most important, take on one task and Own It!
So there you have it. If you maintain your health, apply some focus techniques, and do things you normally wouldn’t for long enough, you will increase your chances of being productive. It’s just that simple.
At We Write Code we take efficiency seriously and aim to give our clients the most productive hours of our day. If you have a project that could use some efficient work, or you have an idea you want to bring into being, reach out to us. We would love to hear from you!