Five of the Best Productivity Hacks for Overworked Programmers

Programmer frustrated with lack of productivity.Being a programmer never gets easier. Many of your tasks end up being bigger time sinks than you expected, and in the meantime a backlog piles up. Sometimes, you can even feel like every time you complete a task, two more magically appear just to aggravate you, like some sort of confounding Tribble.

Naturally, everyone has their good days where productivity is easy to come by and backlogs get knocked out fast, but we cannot always rely on those days to carry us through our careers.

So what is a programmer to do instead? You should turn to others for help, both human and digital. Thousands of other programmers and people in other industries have dealt with the same problems you have, and they have come up with techniques, apps and other tools to make your life easier.

Covering all of these suggestions could take forever, so here are five of the very best to kick your productivity into high gear and shed the dead weight of distractions and inefficiency.

1. Get Rid of Distractions

First things first. Restructure your work environment to be as work-oriented as possible. Trim down the amount of visual noise on both your physical and virtual desktop. Turn your phone on silent and disable push notifications. Turn off in-browser notifications for things like emails and Facebook. If you need to check these, schedule a time in the middle of your day to do so.

You can use apps like these two to eliminate online distractions while you work.

  • StayFocusdStayFocusd is a personal blessing to certain personalities who while away hours on sites like Facebook and Kotaku when they should have been working. StayFocusd makes it easy to set time limits for these sites, after which they will be inaccessible. The browser app also allows for a great deal of customization.
  • SelfControlSelfControl is an app like StayFocusd for Mac or iOS users that places “time outs” on your bad browsing habits. Use it to block certain apps and sites for set periods, giving you time to redirect your attention to more productive tasks.

2. Be Smart About Creating and Managing To-Do Lists

Having a to-do list to consult helps ensure that you will always be working on tasks that matter rather than the ones that catch your fancy.

Try to avoid piling tasks only onto a “master to-do list” since it can get bloated quickly. Instead, form fresh ones every day or week, possibly with your backlog to help remind you.

It helps to make a new one every single day based off of your schedule and any catch-up work you have to do. Perform a “triage” on it three times a day to rearrange it and ensure that it reflects your current situation and needs.

You can also use the following tools to help schedule and manage tasks:

  • AsanaAsana is a time and task management tool used to manage workflow and improve communication for project teams. Trello is also a popular option.
  • ToDoistToDoist seems like a simple task manager with lots of customization at first, but delving deeper will make you realize how versatile of a tool it can be for automating tasks and task reminders. This incredible post demonstrates some creative ways ToDoist can be coupled with IFTTT in order to automate tasks like sending a regular report to your boss.

Other Advice and Productivity Hacks

The internet is a treasure trove for people like you who are looking for ways to enhance their productivity and increase the odds of their project’s success. This Quora thread as well as this one, for example, have software and lifestyle recommendations to increase productivity.

Here are some gems:

3. Use the 1/3, 2/3 Rule

(From a former Army Officer) “In the Army, one of the maxims we relied on when conducting planning was that it’s not always a good idea to immediately brief your subordinates upon acquiring new orders, information etc.  […] you should reserve 1/3rd of the available time between receiving the order and passing it down for yourself. […] It allows you to better formulate the plan in your mind, to anticipate questions, and to have a more confident approach when briefing your troops. Nobody wants to look like they don’t have a handle on things, or that they don’t fully know what’s going on.

4. Set Waypoints

(From a firefighter) “Every complicated process is smaller tasks done in sequence. Small, easily-achievable goals can give you the sense of accomplishment that really drives momentum toward your ultimate goal.”

5. Make Some Headway Before Leaving

(From us) Before winding down at the end of the day as you are ready to leave, take 10–15 minutes to work on one of your biggest tasks for tomorrow. Even if you make zero progress, you have already begun to put yourself in a productive mindset that you can resume tomorrow. This practice can even re-energize you after a long day.

So what’s your secret to being more productive? Let us know in the comments below, and feel free to shoot us an email if you have lots to contribute on the subject.

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