Staying sane and efficient as a developers
A sense of purpose
As with all things in life this story would not be worthy reading nor writing without some purpose backing it up. Working as a professional developer for nearly 8 years now has taught me a lot about many things. One would think that learning new technologies and technology stacks is a key take-away for any developer or engineer, however I would disagree there. That is just a side-effect of the industry we work in.
The key take-away for any career (in development, or otherwise) in my opinion is learning about yourself, how your mind works and why it works that way, alone and in relation to other people you work and live with.
What I would like you to gain from this story is a few tips on how to take care of your brain, while looking at efficiency as a by-product of that.
Pictures of cats
Staying focused on one thing at a time is becoming more difficult as more and more distractions are available to us. Not only are distractions available, but sometimes they also feel mandatory and as if we would miss out on important information if we don’t attend to that distraction immediately.
This phenomenon is now widely known as “FOMO”, or in full — Fear of missing out.
It could be the uneasy feeling of missing an important E-mail, an important Slack message or missing out on a cute cat picture on Instagram your “friend” from high-school posted. It affects our work lives as well as our outside-of-the-office life all the same and is becoming more pervasive as our society “evolves”.
The easiest first step in starting to getting rid of that feeling is to turn off notifications, and turn them off everywhere. Make a list (mental or otherwise) of all the applications that used to notify you, and check them at specific times instead of jumping onto each notification as it pops up. You’re not missing out on anything, if it is an important and urgent work matter, trust me somebody will either jump over to your table in the open office, or give you a call. Everything else can wait.
Not urgent, but important
Not all tasks are important and not all tasks are urgent, even more seldom are tasks that are both urgent and important at the same time.
This is a good point in this story to introduce one of my personal favorite tools — the “Urgent-Important Matrix”, also called the “Eisenhower Matrix”. I find this to be a very efficient and at the same time lightweight tool in which you can organize your work. It is much more efficient and effective than just a simple to-do list. To-do lists tend to grow out of control, overwhelm us, and tasks in a plain to-do list tend to not have any sense of urgency or importance assigned to them.
Your goal in using this matrix is to assess each thing you need to do today, or at any time in the future, decide where it lands on the urgency/importance scale, and start doing the urgent and important tasks first. However, the most long-term value comes from another sector in this matrix — the important but not urgent sector.
The tasks in this sector are usually the most important for your personal and professional development, things like writing a blog post, creating that new fancy front-end library you’ve had the idea for for a long time now, re-enlisting into your gym.
Single core processing
Another problem that prevents us from being focused or “in the zone” is the misconception that some humans are good at multitasking and that some humans are bad at multitasking. The fact is that no humans are actually good at multitasking since our brain is not a quad-core CPU. Multitasking has been said and proven to have a short and long term detrimental effect on our brains and our productivity by numerous researches and articles (1,2,3, many more..).
Using an Eisenhower Matrix and turning off your notifications can also help with lowering the amount of multitasking you do.
Some additional tips in preventing or alleviating multitasking include:
- Plan ahead — plan your time in the morning and stick to your schedule as much as possible
- Cleaning up your workspace — this lessens the pressure on your mind by preventing non-work objects from distracting you,
- Not letting small tasks interrupt your big tasks — tackling bigger and harder tasks first is mostly a more efficient use of your time than tackling the small and easy ones
A time for friends
We can help our mind by doing work in planned increments instead of in a lot of small disorganized time spans or huge chunks of never-ending work. An important aspect of being efficient is to estimate your work for the day beforehand. That approximation doesn’t have to be presented to anybody else, it can be just for you.
Estimating your own work can help you put harder and longer tasks before easier and shorter tasks, and organize your downtime for reading communication apps and emails in such a way that it is in between chunks of productive time. You can estimate your time on a scale instead of in hours in an agile manner — for example group tasks into buckets of long, medium and short tasks, or whatever granularity makes sense in your context.
Another excellent time-boxing tool for a lot of people is the pomodoro technique. It allows you to measure how many actual work increments (called pomodoros) you can achieve during your day and help with future estimations — “This usually takes 12 pomodoros”
One additional note here is that you might feel that saying “no i won’t do this now” to a colleague due to your time management schedule is a very rude thing to say, which, in all honesty, if you said it that way, it is.
Informing your colleagues of your own way of time management is not an easy task but it is very necessary to maintain a healthy relationship and be dependable. The easiest way to communicate this clearly to a colleague is actually to directly inform them that you manage your time in a certain way and that you will reserve time for them at some later point in time.
Most people don’t require every answer or piece of advice immediately, but they require a time when they will have their request fulfilled.
This has been a short glance at my opinions and some tips I think are useful in taking care of your sanity and staying productive as a result. Any of these topics mentioned can be discussed and researched in great detail, and I would be happy to discuss them with you!