As a web developer I quickly came to realise that not everything is about code on a computer screen. Web development is a combination of many things that require a lot of attention; and it can quickly become very stressful and challenging, if not properly managed. Understanding how you can focus more on your work, ignore day-to-day distractions and automate certain development practices can greatly help your productivity as a developer, and make the most out of your core working hours.
I have gathered together and laid out some important points below that I use on a daily basis to help me stay productive; whilst at the same time not losing my mind in stress and exhaustion.
Distractions can be a big problem in the development world, and they can hurt productivity a lot if not properly managed. Finding a way to remove them completely can be very hard, as a lot of the time they don’t seem like distractions at all. Checking emails and messaging colleagues on slack for example, whilst they may not seem like distractions at first; they can quickly become one if you’re spending too much time doing it, and you may find that you haven’t been able to accomplish many of your tasks by the end of the day.
Switching off notifications for non-important channels in Slack, or only checking your emails two or three times a day can be a big factor in ensuring you remain on task when working. Alongside this, noise-cancelling headphones and listening to music can help drown out any background noise that may be going on in and around the office.
Take Regular Breaks
Being a developer is a challenging job, and it is very hard to concentrate on the work fully for 8 hours a day without becoming stressed. This is especially the case when you’re stuck with a task and are trying to debug the problem, as time continues to go on the greater the chance you have of becoming stressed and losing morale. Taking a short break and then coming back to the issue with a clear head is much more beneficial, and you may find you solve the problem a lot quicker.
According to a study, the amount of time that you can stay completely focussed on a task is only 45 minutes – meaning after this time your workflow may start to slow down, and you may find yourself getting stuck on more tasks. This is why taking short breaks is very important during your working day, you need to clear your head and reset. Setting a timer with intervals to remind you of this is a good way of ensuring you stick to this – but try not to be too strict about this, as if you’re already in the flow of working then there’s no use in interrupting yourself just because break time has arrived.
It’s also important to remember one thing when it comes to taking breaks. Your break needs to be a real break, and that means no checking slack, emails or social media – as this won’t give your brain a rest. You need to be up and out of your chair to achieve the proper effect.
Track your time
Whilst taking regular breaks from staring at your computer screen is important, you need to make sure you get back on track quickly. Time management is an imperative skill, not only in the developer world; but in life as a whole. Keeping track of your time can help to greatly increase your effectiveness whilst at work as you’ll be able to see how long you’re spending on distractions as opposed to working.
Toggl is a great free piece of software that gives you the ability to track and manage your time more effectively, it even notifies you when your computer remains idle for more than 5 minutes and you receive weekly emails that show you how long you actually spent doing productive work.
Alongside tracking time as a whole throughout the day, it is also a great idea to plan out what you want to achieve on each given day; and give each of those tasks an estimated time of completion – this combined with the Toggl app will greatly help your productivity.
Comment your code
Leaving comments in your code is very important, and can greatly help you to distinguish certain classes or loops when you’re looking at very long and messy files. Although leaving comments may seem like time wasting, in the long run it will actually save you time – especially in larger and more complex projects. Imagine having to scroll through hundreds of lines of code to look for one thing in particular, this will slowly become exhausting and is why leaving comments is a big factor to ensure a productive workflow.
Commenting your code is especially important when other people are going to be working on your project. You may have a different style of work to your team members, and comments are a great way of explaining what certain aspects of code are actually doing – it is much easier to read and understand English, than it is a programming language.
Saving code snippets
Saving code snippets is another great thing you use to utilise your time better and become a more efficient developer. Code snippets can be very useful when you’re working on similar tasks, and they can generally just be pasted into your code editor and tweaked from there – this saves you from having to retype everything out from scratch. They’re also a great way to remind you of how certain things are created, if you’ve spent a while debugging work on a certain feature of a project then creating a code snippet for it is a brilliant idea should you ever need to use it in the future.
There are multiple programs and online resources you can use for this, but simply using Google Docs to paste your code in does the job perfectly. Cacher is another online tool that has been specifically built for this exact job – it supports many code languages and allows you to save an unlimited amount of snippets to your account.
Find the right IDE for you
As a developer, you’re going to be spending 90% of your time in front of your monitor looking at an IDE. It’s the most important tool at your disposal and so it’s very important that you find the right one for you. There are plenty of very good options out there, so you need to do your research and find which one will best suit your development style and choice of language you code in.
A lot of IDEs (Visual Code Studio for example), allow you to install plugins and extensions to further increase the functionality of the software. These are another important factor when it comes to choosing, as they too can help increase your effectiveness at work by providing you various time saving modules such as; syntax highlighting and auto-fill snippets.
It’s okay to spend some time and do research into these, as the one you choose will likely be with you till the end of your development career, and as Abraham Lincoln once said. “Give me 6 hours to cut down a tree, and I will spend the first 4 sharpening the axe”.
Don’t dismiss the importance of code reviews
Code reviews are an important process to any development project. It allows developers to check if there are any bugs in their application, and to see whether their code can be improved or shortened through the use of 3rd party libraries or other techniques. This is not only beneficial to you as the author of the code, but to the person doing the review too. You’re both able to learn and share your own knowledge with each other whilst also being suggestions on how to improve your workflow going forward.
This ties in nicely with the last small tip on how to stay productive as a developer, and that is continue learning new skills. Once you’re comfortable in a job, it’s easy to fall out of the habit of learning new technologies and keeping up to date on the latest news in the industry; this could cause your passion to diminish over time. Spending some time every now and then working on a side project, or learning a new language will help you to grow as a developer and to be more productive on future projects.
Getting used to a new way of working and picking up new habits can be a challenging process, but experimentation is a key factor in retaining a productive environment and finding which technique or tool best works for you. If you’re struggling or simply don’t like a specific technique, then move on and try something new.
Even if you follow just some of our productivity tips, you will be on your way to becoming a more efficient programmer; whilst also improving your overall development workflow at the same time.
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