It’s so easy, especially in this day and age, to procrastinate. Between conversations on various Slack channels, a phone with endless scrolling potential and a propensity to check my inbox, there always seemed to be something to distract me. My work, as such, became unbalanced. I could spend hours doing bits of interrupted work before focusing intently on something for an hour or more. It wasn’t healthy, nor was it sustainable, so I took it upon myself to reflect and consider how I could learn to be more productive.
My aim was to learn how to be more consistently productive throughout the working day whilst also staying mindful of the fact that we all have varying levels of energy as the day goes on. I didn’t, however, want to have to work longer to produce the same results because that would render my mission pointless and make me all the more fatigued.
After considering my routine, and thinking about how I could seek to reach my potential, I’ve collated a selection of the changes that I implemented along the way in order to improve both my time management skills and my productivity levels.
Allow yourself time away from conversation, when appropriate, in order to really focus all of your energy on the project at hand.
Mute your Slack notifications, stay away from your emails and hide your phone during these work sprints.
In this digital age, it’s easy to feel as if you have to be switched on and available 24/7 but it’s actually quite healthy to embrace quieter stretches of time. You can always set aside a specific time outside of your sprint to catch up on communications.
Try a new technique
Time management isn’t a one-size-fits-all deal. Spend some time thinking about how you work best. Do you prefer short sprints on various projects as opposed to spending larger stretches of time dedicated to a sole project? Do you prefer to be more spontaneous with your scheduling or would you like to be held accountable for the actual time you spend on things? Work out what works for you and organise your time from there.
When considering time management techniques, on my quest to become more productive, I cast my mind back to a few years ago when I was working for a company that utilized the Pomodoro Technique.
The Pomodoro Technique, according to Wikipedia, is a time management method developed in the late 1980s by Francesco Cirillo. Users of the technique break their work down into intervals, typically of 25 minutes in length, that are then separated by short breaks. These work intervals are referred to as ‘pomodoros’, the Italian word for tomatoes, after Cirillo’s tomato-shaped timer at university.
The aim of the technique is to reduce the impact of interruptions – an aim that is particularly useful when working in an office environment. My colleagues would adorn a hat during their work intervals to signify that they were not to be disturbed. When the 25 minutes or so were up, they would take off the hat and turn their attention to their notifications and any enquiries that their co-workers had. I trialled this technique for myself (albeit without the hat) and found that it worked so I have since implemented it into my schedule.
Don’t exhaust yourself.
The key to perfecting your time management skills is working out the right work/life balance for you.
I sometimes find myself working overtime, whether that’s over the weekend or during my commute to and from work, and that’s fine to a certain extent but I have also learned to appreciate balance and have taught myself when to stop working and thinking about work-related issues.
I find exercise particularly useful as it helps me to completely switch off from both my work and home life responsibilities for a set period of time.
Set priorities but be realistic.
Be realistic with yourself and your abilities. As productive as it may feel to create a long to do list to complete by the end of the day, it’s not realistic. Estimate how long tasks will take and create a schedule that’s mindful of that.
Concentrate on what you want to achieve, consider your priorities and don’t let minor things affect you too much. Remember to check in and review your priorities on a regular basis in order to stay on track.
Get feedback during projects.
As a developer, I sometimes find myself falling into a bit of a perfectionist trap. I’ll hang onto code, hoping to keep improving upon it, and as such I won’t necessarily deliver on a frequent basis. Whilst it’s fine to want to hand over the best work possible, perfectionism can often have negative effects on time management.
Nowadays, I will often try to delegate a certain amount of time to a task. If I think I’ve managed to create something quite good in the allotted time, whether or not it’s finished, I’ll hand it over to a colleague for review. In the meantime, I can turn my attention to a different task so that no time goes to waste.
The more you share, the more you learn. Feedback, whilst daunting, can often vastly improve whatever you’re working on and it can cut down a lot of time where you might find yourself deliberating over the finer details.
By asking for feedback from one another, you’re acknowledging your collective desire to achieve good results and you’re considering not only the quality of the finished product but also the experience of the end user too.
Learn to sometimes step away from the plan.
During your career as a developer, you’re going to learn to expect the unexpected!
Projects can change drastically throughout the development process, either due to industry pivots or through personal preference. It’s important to know when to re-calibrate and work in a different direction, even if it means veering away from the original planned outcome.
You’ll save yourself a lot of time and energy if you know when to head back to the drawing board.
If you’re juggling too many tasks at once or you feel a little overwhelmed by a particular job, it’s good to learn to delegate tasks to your colleagues.
Leave your ego at the door and accept that you aren’t always going to be the best person for the job.
By managing your time on a team level, as well as individually, you’ll promote much more successful outcomes and you’ll all be on the same page when it comes to expectations.
If spontaneity is feeding into your ability to procrastinate, you could try being more specific with your time to see if that helps.
Look at your weekly schedule and block out time for specific activities. For example, you could dedicate time to your emails on Monday, Wednesday and Friday afternoons. You could write blog posts on Tuesday mornings. Think about the most appropriate times to dedicate yourself to recurring tasks and you may find yourself settling into a neat little routine.
Things will crop up from time to time that clash with your scheduling, however, so make sure you make allowances for any unforeseen issues.
Reap the rewards!
Lastly, don’t forget to reap the rewards of your productivity.
If you find yourself with more free time, use that time wisely. Don’t forget to spend time thinking of ways to sweeten the deal.
You could, for example, use some of that freed up schedule to make yourself a tasty and nutritious lunch or you could head outside and embrace some fresh air. It’s up to you!
Those are just some of the ways that I have been working on my time management as a developer. I hope you find these tips useful and, if you implement any of them, I hope you enjoy your new-found productivity!
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