How to be more productive

Being productive has always been appreciated, but the productivity hype now is just amazing. There are numerous techniques and tricks that are allegedly going to make your life easier by showing you how to be more productive. And there’s even a separate advice segment aimed at developers. They should be even better at that.

Though I have to say that some of the trends don’t make much sense to me, there was a time when I got into the topic of productivity just to see whether I could actually improve mine. As I Googled the question “how to be more productive”, I was overwhelmed with the number of answers the internet had to offer. And boy, was it an adventure. As I then found out, productivity is especially important in the IT industry. I get it: we need to deliver. That’s just a fact. Productivity plays a pivotal role in the process – there’s no room for procrastination or overthinking. Developers in particular need to be able to do whatever has to be done as efficiently as possible. While there are some Agile elements encouraging their productivity, such as daily scrums that help organize daily work, or user stories that break tasks into smaller, more approachable units, they still need to find their own ways to remain productive and focused for long periods of time.

But why does it matter? And how do they do it?

How to be more productive 101 – useful techniques

When you look for productivity advice online, very often you’ll find a variety of techniques recommended to you. I’ve gone through a bunch of lists of these and chosen some of the widely recommended (or new to the market) techniques.

Pomodoro

The name should ring a bell. It’s one of the best-known productivity techniques that is praised by many. The technique was created in the early ‘90s as a way to make use of the power of focused work and frequent breaks to be more productive.

How does it work?

  • Set the timer for 25 minutes – during this time, make sure to focus on your work and nothing else, don’t allow yourself to get distracted.
  • After 25 minutes, take 5 minutes of a break.

This 30-minute timebox constitutes 1 pomodoro. Repeat the process and take a longer (15 to 30 minutes) break every 4 pomodoros.

Pomodoro technique infographic

Flowtime

Flowtime is not as famous as Pomodoro, but it aims to provide similar benefits, at the same time leaving you space for more natural flow of work. Instead of relying on strict rules on the duration of work vs rest, Flowtime allows you to work for as long as your brain wants to. It also helps you track how much time you spend on individual tasks and find out at what time of the day you are the most productive.

How does it work?

  • Pick a task that you have to do.
  • Start working and record your start time.
  • Stop when you need a break and record your stop time.
  • Set a timer and take a break.
  • Repeat the process.

Autofocus

While most productivity methods focus on getting you to be more organized overall, the Autofocus technique is more about getting things done. In Autofocus, you make 3 lists:

  • new,
  • recurring,
  • unfinished.

Begin by filling the “new” list and drawing a line underneath. From now on, if you add another task to the list, it will be even “newer” – its place will be under the line. Once you’ve finished a task, cross it off the list. Any recurring task should go to the “recurring” list and if for some reason you’ve failed to finish some task, write it down on the “unfinished” list.

Stoplight

The Stoplight method is a little similar to Autofocus, but its great benefit is that it simplifies the process. Start  by making 3 lists:

  • RED list for tasks that require immediate attention,
  • YELLOW list for tasks that you need to complete within 2 days,
  • GREEN list for tasks that are less urgent.

First, you should only focus on the red list. After you’ve completed the tasks of the highest priority and the red list is all crossed off, you can proceed to take on tasks from the yellow list. When you’re done with those, move on to the green list. This method is not only good for organizing your work, but it also helps you learn to define priorities.

Journaling

There are many methods of journaling your tasks: you can do it in real time or summarize your day before going to bed.

Real-time

If you want to see what you do during the day and how much time it takes (and at the same time identify the time-wasters that limit your productivity), make a list with 15 or 30-minute slots and fill it in on the go. This does seem like a gruesome task, but it also helps you be more mindful of what you do. When you make sure to note what you’re doing in a day, you may discover what tasks are the most troublesome, what kind of distractions steal the most of your attention, etc.

Summary

Another approach is to summarize your day by writing down a list of the things you’ve accomplished during a day. This way, you will learn what a productive day means to you. It can also keep you motivated when you feel like you haven’t accomplished much but in reality, you’ve completed a lot of tasks.

A productive programmer

Though there are countless articles on productivity for programmers, a lot of the advice given is rather generic. Not that it’s a bad thing – we all want to boost our productivity and some of the tips and tricks are really helpful, but the profession doesn’t make any bigger difference.

But! When you work with a programmer, you should bear in mind one crucial thing:

You should never disturb a programmer at work.

I know, we’re all busy, we all live in the era of instant contact, we want answers right here, right now. But really, just leave the programmer alone. The work they do relies on their brains: they need to be really focused and creative. Often they don’t need much help with their productivity, all you need to do is just leave them alone and let them work. As simple as that.

So can a programmer get any more productive?

For sure. After all, a programmer, though having some superpowers of turning caffeine into code, is still a human. Any human can improve. There are some general rules that can help become more productive, like:

  • getting up early and starting your day with doing the difficult stuff,
  • using music to help you stay focused,
  • clarifying your priorities,
  • focusing on one small task at a time,
  • never multitasking,
  • deconstructing the tasks to win with procrastination: finding a small task that will be difficult to say no to and, at the same time, will trigger momentum,
  • evaluating your day,
  • dumping, automating, and delegating as many tasks as possible.

There’s one more thing: if something works, it works. Some rules may state that doing X makes you more prone to procrastination but if you’ve tried and it helps you get things done – what’s wrong about that? As individuals, often through trial and error, we discover our own productivity hacks and that’s awesome. Try different techniques, mix them, add your own elements and you’ll surely find what gives you the productivity boost that you need.

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Written by:

Kaja Polachowska

Communication specialist in love with the English language. A people person who loves to learn about others. An avid reader of paper books.

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