Let’s put some context for such a click-bait, eye-catching title I choose for this post. as I said in my introduction, I work in the last mile delivery logistic business and if you’ve been following the news at all you do the math:
Delivery service + COVID-19 + mid 2020 = developers are swamp at work right now 😰
So, how can we manage all the buzz, interruptions and life’s context in general and still get things done? I’ll share some of the habits I follow in order to achieve it.
#1: Limits and boundaries
In his book Discipline Equals Freedom: Field Manual, author and ex Navy SEAL member Jocko Willink talks about how limiting the number of available options and predefining defaults to many mundanes tasks set yourself free to accomplish your goals. Even thought this is a wild oversimplification of an entire book, it serve us kick starter to our use case: Just because you have your working machine available at all times doesn’t mean you should be able to work at anytime. You need to set yourself (and those around you) a set of boundaries in order to don’t get overwhelmed by the amount of work and errands that can come your way on daily basis.
Be discipline to set working hours, make crystal clear you are working to everyone involved (family, roommates, coworkers and manager/boss) and actually work in said periods.
#2: Interruptions = start over
Paul Graham said it beautifully in his post Maker’s Schedule, Manager’s Schedule, managers/bosses work on a different type of schedule as we (developers/makers) do so there’s a mismatch between the two preconceptions of ideal day for each group: for the former one, a day full of meetings is completely normal -and even expected-, for the later it’s a nightmare. Interruptions cause us to typically lose our train of thought, forcing us to regain that mental bubble we had in our head with a dozen of topics floating around when we were writing code or documenting something.
So my advice to you is the following: avoid meetings as much as possible and make blocks of time entirely devoted to a single task. I said “avoid” because it’s unrealistic to skip all of them entirely, for starters some of them could actually be important. Moreover, we’re social creatures and we should interact with our peers, after all developing software should be a social activity, for that reason interaction is necessary in order to gain as much knowledge for the business problem you’re solving and removing flaws assumptions from your code base as possible.
#3: Context switching = Flow’s enemy
Procrastination is the root evil we must fight on a world full of distractions available on our fingertips (literally). An UTAH’s university study demonstrated how expensive context switching is and how all of us foll ourselves when we think we’re really good at multitasking.
Be ruthless with the things that distract you: email, Slack, YouTube/Netflix, social networks and so fort; for that matter, if no real emergency needs your attention ASAP (this of course varies with everyone’s context), keep your cellphone on airplane mode during working periods. What do I mean with working periods? Since colleague I’ve been using the Francesco Cirillo’s Pomodoros technique every time I go into creative work, that is coding, writing, brainstorming… In short: anything that involves deep thinking. The TL;DR is this: you set a task you’d like to tackle, you work on it uninterruptedly during 25 minutes and take short 5 minutes break between those working intervals. Every 2 hours (4-25 minutes intervals + 4-5 minutes short breaks) you get a longer 15 minutes break. Adapt this however it suites your day and you’ll see real progress being done in no time.
This of course isn’t set in stone, for instance in case you’re cracking some deep issue and your time is up, feel free to close the idea so you don’t stop your way mid sentence. However, if repeated frequently it means you’re biting more than you can chew when you split your tasks. Be mindful about it so you can gain confidence in your estimations down the road.
Chances are you’re working from home so you need to establish some ground rules with those around you in order to avoid unnecessary arguments and discussions on daily basis. Be firm and polite when you state you can’t do other things because you’re on your workday period.
Whenever you’re on your working hours you’re not another available member of the house (unless an emergency occurs) therefore you MUST set the ground rules for this with whomever you live with. Remember what we talk above about Interruptions and Context switching
#5: Exercise and pause time - For the love of God, move!
It hasn’t yet been invented a drug that does for the body what exercise accomplishes. It’s just a fact, and the soonest you incorporate it into your life routine (if you haven’t) the soonest you’ll start seeing its benefits, not only at cardiovascular and aerobic level but also in cognitive territory.
Some of the things you could do in order to incorporate physical activity in your daily activities are:
- Every once in a while, do a Pomodoro standing in your feet (if that’s an option of course)
- Push ups and/or squats are no-brainer to incorporate during resting periods.
- If walking in open areas isn’t an option right now due to quarantine restrictions, there are endless YouTube free, in-house routines. Find one that suites you and stick to it.
- Active pause is also an easy to incorporate practice.
#Extra tip: Appropriate music selection
Game and movies soundtracks help a lot, white noise does the trick as well. This in contrast with regular music with lyrics. I personally find them (the later one) a little bit distracting and prefer enjoying it when less intensive work is happening.
At the end of the day, remember we’re in a highly evolving environment. I’m sharing what I’ve found to be useful in my particular context. Pick up whatever work for you so you can be flexible enough to allow yourself running errands and attending other responsibilities beside work.
I don’t have kids of my own but I’m a husband and a son, therefore I still devote time to spend quality waking hours with my family. So should you, unless you’re a founder a job is only a job and you’re just a number for a company therefore you shouldn’t be thinking about work every hour outside of it. Trust me, your health and those around you will suffer from it if you do.
Do you have any thoughts on this topics or recommendation I should add? Feel free to tweet me about it. If you enjoyed the article, show some love by sharing it. Until next time 👋🏽.