Effective time management tips and courses are usually pretty popular in the fast-paced world today. I guess we all have so many things to do but so little time. I have read and finished a bunch of them and here is the list of my favorite tips from a dev point of view. Some of those courses advise how to be productive to do more (and squeeze just one another task/activity in between). I strongly advise to do the opposite - be productive to do less and just relax.

I will split this post into few parts. Today I will briefly describe:

  • few tips about tasks and activities
  • focus and a flow.

To not waste more time:), here they are. Hope you find something useful.

General about tasks and activities

1. We are single-core: multi-tasking is evil

Multi-tasking was and probably still is a buzzword met pretty often in job requirements, perceived as an asset of a personality. I do not know why. While there are sometimes situations that demand us to juggle multiple tasks, we are single-core by nature. Context switches are inefficient even for machines, and we shall avoid them at all costs. If you have to do multiple things at once, just write them done and do them one by one. Eventually, you will perform much better than trying to “multi-task”.

2. Do the most important thing first thing in the morning

Doing the most important thing right away in the morning will not only ensure that important things are done but will give you a great feeling of accomplishment for the rest of the day. The worst idea is to do the opposite - complete all meaningless stuff and get tired to do the meaningful one.

3. Follow your body

Try to understand your body and how you feel across the day and week. Understand at what hours and days you are full of energy and do not waste them as they give you the maximum potential for creative and effective work. Conversely, there are hours/days better suited to more relaxed work. It is better to allocate some easier tasks or non-engaging meetings in that time. For example, if you feel empowered in the morning and relaxed in the afternoon, do the hard work early and set up meetings after lunch, if possible. If you are a night owl, discuss the action-plan in the morning and get your hands dirty later on. The most important is to find your rhythm and follow it. Fighting with your body does not make much sense.

4. Have a “master” list of tasks

Whatever you have to do, at work or in your personal life, put this into a general TODO list immediately (I called it a “master” list, but over the time it became a “perhaps” list:)). You can forget tasks after they get on the list - you are not going to miss them anyway. Review the list regularly (daily or weekly) and put things to do into your calendar - now it means you commit to them. The beauty of this approach is that it does not only free your mind, but you can be sure that you will never forget to do what has to be done. Additionally, some tasks tend to get solved by themselves after some time.

5. Do short tasks right away

If the task requires no more than a few (2-3 mins), do it right away as putting it into a list will take a significant amount of time for the task completion. Unless you have plenty of such tasks that will jeopardize getting more important things done.

6. Learn how to procrastinate

Procrastination is not necessarily evil if used wisely. There are some tasks that it is better to do later than earlier. When there is a chance that you get more information about the task that will improve the overall result or a thing will resolve by itself, just put it into a todo list or in a calendar in a remote period.

7. Batch similar tasks together

Another good solution for context-switches. Batching similar tasks will allow you to remain in the flow and do things quicker and with more pleasure. And maybe it is also possible to automate them?

8. Put a limit for a task

Agree with yourself to dedicate only some realistic but still a tight timeline for a particular task. This will make you focus on what is the most important and prevent trying to make it “perfect”, which is actually the worst thing we could try to achieve, at least in my opinion.

9. Learn to say “no”

To be performant, we have to say “no” sometimes. It is always good to explain why we cannot handle yet one more “small” task and provide an alternative solution (like redirecting to people who can also help). Saying “no” is not always easy but probably this is one of the most important things to master. With a proper approach, we can do it tactfully and still protect our time. Practice makes perfect!

10. Do less - apply Pareto law

Review your tasks or assignments periodically and understand what activities give you the most value. Usually, 20% of them are responsible for 80% of outcomes. If something does not contribute heavily to the output, stop doing it without any hesitation (or at least consider that).

11. Use sharing capabilities of tools

Tools and sharing capabilities used at work are also great in family life. Share a calendar, important notes, or tasks with your spouse. Google Calendar works great for planning visits and events, Keep or Evernote to share notes and Trello can help in different areas of planning, even like a shopping list. Your imagination is the only limit.

Focus and flow:

12. Take brakes often

Brakes are as important as doing productive work. Take them often to reset your eyes, muscles, and mind. Relax. A walk outside a building, quick ping-pong session or just a tea in the kitchen - something that drags you out from the screen. They help to maintain focus and boost productivity. Have you noticed that great ideas often come in the break time (like in a toilet:) )?

13. Pomodoro for the rescue

Using the Pomodoro technique does not only help to maintain the focus. It also ensures (or a better word - forces) that you take breaks regularly which is as important. Additionally, with Pomodoro, it is much easier to understand how long we really can work focused. A bitter truth is we usually work attentively only a few hours per day and this can be improved with this technique. In my personal opinion, the Pomodoro is especially useful in tight projects/schedules to keep pace while protecting ourselves from burnout. It requires a bit of discipline to start using, though.

14. Declutter your desktop to declutter your mind

The less you have on your desktop, the better. The same applies to organizing files and information on your machine. It is much easier to work in an organized environment without any unnecessary distractions. Additionally, if you organize your things in advance, you will be able to find them much quicker.

15. Schedule a time to… do nothing and stop thinking

It is good to reboot every device from time to time. The same rule applies to our brains. Spending some time, even a few minutes without thinking or doing anything is not a waste of time but a quick restart we all need. Once again - less is more!

16. Powerful power naps

Another thing that incredibly works for me is short naps. A quick nap, no longer than half an hour in the afternoon, can gain additional few hours of boosted performance in the rest of the day. A great investment, isn’t it? Of course, it is not always possible to have such a luxury (working from the crowded office, kids at home, etc.) but this is the only drawback of naps I can find.

17. Kill the distractions

Be cruel to almost all notifications you get to all your devices. Leave only the most important ones and do not make them disturb you. Use the pull approach rather than push - check them sometimes but only when you are out of flow or focus. The same rule applies to the corporate email and communicator. Usually, it is enough for a developer to check emails twice or thrice per day and reply to the corporate communicator after the Pomodoro ends. Most likely, nobody will die and the company will not collapse because of your slightly weaker responsiveness. There is also an added value in that - I guess everybody is asked simple questions from time to time. Usually, when we defer the reply, the person already finds out the answer on his/her own.

18. A good playlist and headphones with ANC (Active Noise Cancelling) can do miracles

I think my comment is useless here. Anyway, I think the best playlists are in a language we do not understand - or are just instrumental. Our brains are not absorbed by translating/listening to them. A playlist that contains songs we like is also useful to prevent skips of tracks - this not only disturbs but also annoys :)

19. Invest in a good equipment

Having a decent laptop or at least a good mouse and keyboard pays off. Yes, sometimes we are forced to use the machine or OS (Windows…) from the company we are not happy with, still, it is good to change something we have the power on. Having equipment comfortable to use makes us happier and therefore - more performant. The same is with other stuff, not only at work. It shall be reliable and fast. Losing temper because of the laggy device does not make much sense.

20. Experiment

Hardware and software and the world overall evolve as we do. Experiment with new devices, configurations, plugins, IDEs, languages, even routes to places you visit regularly. It is not only the joy of exploring new areas but also an opportunity to start making things better. The only drawback is that sometimes a migration to a new tool or device can be time-consuming. It is still worthy in many cases, though.

That’s all for today. In the next post I will talk about:

  • working effectively with notes
  • handling meetings
  • automating stuff … and few other cool things.

Thanks!