Productivity for developers: hacks, tools

If you like your job (and we believe you do ;)) sooner or later you will face the question what is productivity and how to improve it. Then you will read countless articles and books about time management and motivation but most probably won’t feel any changes. The biggest part of the methods is too difficult to implement or totally inconvenient. Here we gathered several hacks that work for Ralabs team and may well be good helpers for you too.

Previously published by Ralabs

89% of developers worldwide believe that there are good metrics to measure their productivity, but over 90% of engineers also want to know what exactly these metrics are. So, basically, even developers themselves not fully understand how to measure their productivity. Most of the respondents of this Software Developer Productivity Survey sure they are wasting time because of non-technical reasons. Developers say they are losing productivity during unnecessary meetings and waiting for other people.

Factors that bring down the level of developers’ productivity

Some of these reasons do not depend on us, but a good part of them can be changed or at least improved. But do not forget one of the most important factors — all our suggestions will work only in case of the regular use. Repeat actions, turn them into a habit, and that habit will definitely make the difference.

Not just a schedule

This option seems to be so obvious, but in practice it usually remains underestimated. Too easy to be distracted from tasks that don’t have any clear timing, especially when you have no fixed office hours and can work any time you want. Before drawing up a schedule, try to answer these questions:

  1. When I can’t work? (Can you do night shifts? Do you hate starting at early morning or working all night long? This taboo-hours will push you on an idea of your perfect schedule. Just remember, to burn the candle from both sides is always the worst thing to do.)
  2. When I most productive? (From hours that remained choose the most comfortable for you. Are you an early bird? Do you need split shifts? You can choose time periods or even exact hours.)
  3. How your ‘best hours’ are correlating with your team’s schedule? (There is always a way to improve both of them. Try to not appoint any meetings during your productive time, for example.)

Having made you first schedule sketch, think realistically on how to associate it with your tasks. Of course, it is a great idea to make a list of your tasks, but there is an advanced strategy. Try to write down not just specific assignment and deadlines, but your ideas, thoughts, plans too. You can never guess when they will be useful. In this case, you won’t overload your brain trying to remember everything you need and will easily concentrate on the tasks.

Tools

Trello is free and easy to use tool that will help to organize all your thoughts and tasks and not lose any of them. Here you can organize assignments by topics, by time, by projects, and much more. All cards can have comments, extra files, pictures, etc.

If you haven’t tried Pomodoro technique yet, the application Pomodoro.cc will be perfect for beginners. The idea of this approach is to focus on the short periods of work (25 min) and take 5 min rest after each of these periods. This tool allows to try the technique without registration or to create an account and save your to-do list if you need.

Deep work

You’ve drawn up your schedule with an accent on your most productive hours, made a list of the tasks with allocated time. What next? The great strategy for actually focusing on the things was suggested by Cal Newport, an author of the “Deep Work”. He’s using this term for an activity when you’re really locked into doing something. Newport said this technique is necessary for everyone who wants to learn and do hard things quickly and more effective.

“The Deep Work Hypothesis: The ability to perform deep work is becoming increasingly rare at exactly the same time it is becoming increasingly valuable in our economy. As a consequence, the few who cultivate this skill, and then make it the core of their working life, will thrive.” — Cal Newport

The conception is in a total focus on the current task. When you’re switching from one task to another, some part of your brain is still thinking about the previous task. For a while, your attention is divided and you lose a part of productivity. Do you think you are not distracted from your work? What about open spaces, unchecked emails, conversations with colleagues, social networks? To have a real deep concentration, try to minimize distractions and work on just one task at a time.

Deep work is a skill that must be trained. The ability to concentrate intensely comes with practice. The more you practice concentrating of your attention in everyday life, the easier you will dive deep in your tasks. Cal Newport offers four kinds of routines for practicing this technique:

  1. Monastic Philosophy, when you are cutting yourself from all the world to do your job;
  2. Bimodal Philosophy, when you use ‘monk mode’ during your working day and enjoy social life after that;
  3. Rhythmic Philosophy, when you choose specific hours (8–10 A.M., 4–6 P.M.) or days (Monday, Wednesday) for deep work;
  4. Journalistic Philosophy, when you practice deep work when a situation asserts.

Try to practice at least one of them to see the better results. Usually, Rhythmic Philosophy works perfectly for standard IT company. You know the time of your stand-ups and meetings, your most productive hours, and can choose several hours for deep work.

Tools

Cold Turkey is perfect for developers who can be easily distracted by social networks or any other exciting things on the internet. With this app, you can restrict your access to specific websites or internet in general, set your own schedule and daily limits for social networks.

Book “Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World” by Cal Newport tells about all advantages of high-level concentration. It is some kind of calisthenics for your mind to keep it fit and ready for new achievements. The book includes a lot of practical advice and exciting stories from real life.

Easily testable code

Have you ever been confused by your own code? Sometimes even the simplest programs can look like a mammoth. How often do you think about the cleanliness of your code? It’s like a time machine: creating an easily decipherable structure of code now you are making your life easier in the future. Thorough testing will increase your productivity later.

It is a good idea to do Test Driven Development (TDD). While writing tests for your code, you will think about edge cases to test and uncover unexpected issues. For TDD, it is critical to use component mocking and fake data. Also, it is a good practice to focus on very few code components at a time. It will make them more maintainable and help you to organize interacting units logically.

Tools

There are numerous tools for testing, you can choose the one that will be perfect for you and your conditions. For example, Cypress.io for automated frontend testing, continuous integration solutions such as Jenkins or Travis CI, JavaScript test frameworks like Mocha or Jest, and many others.

No, seriously, take a rest

You don’t have time on a rest? That means you don’t have a time on the improvement and reaching of your goals. If you training too much, your muscles will collapse sooner or later. The brain has the same operating principle: it can get worn out and fatigued if you overuse it. Without relaxing, we can’t analyze the situation, make plans, look for a new motivation, maintain your ability to concentrate. That is why you need to schedule time for rest as well as a time for work.

“A good idea doesn’t come when you’re doing a million things. The good idea comes in the moment of rest. It comes in the shower. It comes when you’re doodling or playing trains with your son. It’s when your mind is on the other side of things.” — Lin-Manuel Miranda, creator of the blockbuster “Hamilton”.

This idea is confirmed by researches. The University of York and the University of Florida’s study found that over 40% of creative ideas come when we’re whiling away. Mary Helen Immordino-Yangfrom the University of Southern California said during the rest our brain has an opportunity to make sense of what it has recently learned. These moments are essential to mental processes that affirm our identities, develop our understanding of human behavior. Brain downtime let us analyze ourselves and people around us, to find solutions.

Also, researches show the more we rest, the more we live and the more productive we became. How to switch off during your working time — it’s up to you. Walk around the block, eat healthy food, just sit in silence — there are a lot of variants, just choose what will be better for you and put it in your schedule.

Course

The MOOC “Sit Less, Get Active” is a great resource for inspiration on how to become more active. This course teaches on how physical activity could be increased in different situations and settings such as your home, neighborhood, work, and gives you ideas of ones that could best fit your lifestyle.

Book

Using scientific research with numerous real-life examples, Silicon Valley business consultant Alex Soojung-Kim Pang explains why the rest is the true key to productivity. “Rest: Why You Get More Done When You Work Less” is perfect for everyone who needs more energy for better ideas and better lives.

Read more: