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A Developer's Guide to Focus, Flow, and Productivity!

The software development field is a very fast-paced and dynamic work environment. With all the projects, tasks, tight deadlines, meetings, and constant Slack pings, it can be a challenge to keep our focus on the important stuff and not get bogged down by the little things.

Especially with the shift to remote work, it feels like we need to be on call 24/7! It's tough to balance it all and make sure we're not spending our precious focus time on things that don't really matter. Our work quality and efficiency depend so much on how we manage our time and keep our focus intact. Personally, I've been struggling a bit with blocking out time for different activities and staying in the zone during those times. But hey, I've got some tips and tricks that have been helping me out, and I thought I'd share them with you.


Let's start by discussing the main things that can steal a developer's focus during the workday. While meetings play a crucial role in collaboration, let's face it—they can sometimes be unproductive and eat up our precious time. It's a good idea for developers to aim for meetings that are brief, to the point, and involve only those directly relevant to the agenda.


Another big distraction, at least from my experience, is the constant checking of emails and Slack messages throughout the day. It ended up derailing my concentration, making it a real challenge to get back on track. I also noticed that multitasking was a major energy drainer. Despite seeming like a time-saving approach, it often leads to lower productivity and more mistakes. Consider this scenario: fixing a bug while listening to a podcast or responding to a colleague while trying to absorb information about a new framework. It might feel productive, but in reality, it's not as effective as it seems.


I also noticed that multitasking was a major energy drainer. Despite seeming like a time-saving approach, it often leads to lower productivity and more mistakes.

For a period, I didn't really have any solid time management strategies. I basically had only mandatory meetings in my calendar, and the rest of the time, I just went with the flow. It worked fine when I only had my job to juggle. However, when I started exploring new hobbies, hitting the gym, taking on side projects, deliberately spending time with friends and family, and attending conferences for networking, suddenly, the hours in a day didn't seem enough. That's when the realization hit, and I naturally felt the need to start planning my day in advance. I delved into researching various apps for task scheduling and checked out different routines people followed. After trying out a physical calendar, a notebook, Notion, Apple Calendar, I eventually settled on using Google Calendar.


Let me walk you through my time management routine. Every morning, before diving into work, I map out my day. Since I work with clients across different time zones, my inbox tends to fill up overnight. So, my first order of business in the morning is checking Slack and emails. After that, I schedule time blocks in Google Calendar. I make it a point to reserve 2-3 hour chunks for deep focus coding. When it comes to meetings, I group them with checking Slack and emails right before the meeting starts, creating blocks of time for shallow work activities. Additionally, I tackle the most challenging task of the day first when my mind is fresh and ready to tackle tough problems. During those precious 2-hour focus sessions, I go all out—I block all notifications and even leave my phone in another room. It might sound a bit quirky, but trust me, it does the trick!


Now, you might be curious if I'll bring up the Pomodoro technique. Honestly, it's not my cup of tea because it tends to break my flow of thinking. It takes me about half an hour to really dive into the zone, and once I'm there, I can power through a solid two hours without needing a break. That's when I'm at my most productive. Still, it's worth experimenting; who knows, the Pomodoro technique might just click for you! Give it a shot and see how it feels.


There are moments when I find myself procrastinating, especially when faced with a challenging ticket that's been sitting in my queue for a while. The way that I tackle it is by writing the problem or bug down in a physical notebook. Then, I draw arrows out of it, breaking it down into smaller tasks that I need to accomplish to solve the bigger problem. This method makes the task more approachable, and once I start working through those smaller tasks, the once-daunting challenge becomes much more manageable.


 The average software engineer spends about 10.9 hours per week in meetings. Spread across a 5-day work week, that's around 2.2 hours per day.

Another thing that takes up a chunk of my time and energy is teaming up with others—whether it's in meetings, pair programming, or just catching up. Sometimes, we end up going off on tangents, which can be fun but might not be the best use of everyone's time. Having a game plan with meeting agendas helps keep things on track. I read this article that said the average software engineer spends about 10.9 hours per week in meetings. Spread across a 5-day work week, that's around 2.2 hours per day. Can you believe it? Pretty wild, huh?


There are days when my brain just feels a bit foggy, and focusing becomes a real challenge. On those days, I've learned to cut myself some slack and not push into deep focus work. Instead, I plan for lighter tasks—things like reading and responding to emails, tackling documentation that's not code-related, setting up meetings, handling minor refactoring, or breezing through straightforward code reviews that don't need too much analysis. It's all about being kind to myself and adapting to what my brain needs that day!


To wrap it all up, making the most out of your day starts with a bit of planning. Whether you're a fan of the classic notebook or prefer an online calendar, the first step is picking a tool that suits you. Consistency is key, so make it a daily ritual to plan your day either in the evening or the morning. Remember, grouping deep work and shallow work tasks together is a smart move to keep your brainpower focused and not all over the place. And hey, it's totally okay to take a day off and stick to shallow work or even no work at all. Finding that perfect balance is unique for each of us. But here's the thing – you won't know until you give it a shot.


So, I'm giving you a friendly challenge: why not try planning ahead for your day? Group tasks based on how much brainpower they need. You might just discover a game-changing routine that works for you!


 

Guest Writer: Alja (Alya) Čekada


A digital nomad passionate about sharing thoughts on personal development and building things on the web.

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