Time is on my side,
Yes it is.
Mick Jagger first sang these words for The Rolling Stones back in 1964. Somehow, some way, time still remains on his side some 48 years later as he maintains his mainstream relevance today.
But what about you? And I’m speaking specifically to my developer friends here. Is time on your side?
A lot has changed since 1964. Back then, it was easier to manage time because there were fewer omnipresent distractions to wrestle with.
And time gets harder to manage seemingly by the year.
So, if you answered yes to the question above — if you can confidently say that time is on your side — then chances are you have more than a few proactive strategies and productive habits that make it so.
And if you answered no, fret not.
This post is going to outline a few critical strategies and habits developers can utilize that will reduce distractions, save time, and have a positive impact on your bottom line.
1. Tame The Attention-Disrupting Email Beast
So many of us have become slaves to our inbox. This is not something to feel shame about however.
It’s a subservient relationship that has developed steadily and organically as so much of our business and non-business communication have moved online.
Acknowledge this reality, forgive yourself for succumbing to it like 99.9% of the rest of us have … and then do something about it.
Dr. Thomas Jackson is a leader in researching the deleterious impact email interruptions can have on productivity. His essay “Email and Organisational Effectiveness” is a worthwhile read.
He proposes the following four-step process for reducing the impact of email interruptions:
- Learn about the nature of email interruptions — most notably, that the average interruption time for an email is about two and a half minutes.
- Change the settings of email software — rather than the default setting of five minutes, choose an interval like 45 minutes that coincides with the research-proven amount of time most people can effectively concentrate on a single task.
- Change the method of incoming mail notification — a less intrusive method like a small icon in the corner of the screen should encourage you to check email on your own time as opposed to more intrusive methods like loud dings.
- Encourage the use of one-line emails — get rid of the verbosity; and if the crux of the email can be communicated just in the subject line, use only the subject line.
To this last point, the Email Charter — which I’ve had in my personal email signature for almost a year now — provides additional guidance that is useful. For example, it suggests giving “gifts” in subject lines like EOM to signify “End Of Message” (so people do not needlessly click through) and NNTR to signify that there is “No Need To Respond.”
Read and implement the tips in the Email Charter yourself, then pass it along to friends. It will have a positive impact on your inbox.
Getting back to Dr. Jackson’s advice, it’s important to note that phone interruptions are actually worse than email interruptions. Thus, reconfiguring your daily communication schedule and habits in a way that encourages more phone calls is not beneficial.
One person at our office does not answer his phone during the day. Instead, he uses his voicemail to encourage people to text him if there is an emergency or to leave a voicemail message, which he responds to in batch at day’s end. This reduces the amount of distractions and interruptions during the day and makes him more productive.
2. Corral and Conquer Your Code Snippets
I have been taught a few very basic lines of code by the Synthesis Technical Overlords that allow me to be of assistance in the help desk for basic tasks. Finding an effective way to keep just these few snippets organized has been a boon to my overall productivity.
So I can barely imagine how important this must be for actual developers whose entire days revolve around code.
This post by Terrance at OneXtraPixel does a terrific job of explaining the issue and providing solutions for it from the perspective of a developer.
The key is to utilize an actual code snippet tool that is more than just a repository for copying and pasting. Anyone can do that into Notepad or Word over and over again, but what about when you want to actually recall or reuse what you’ve stored?
In addition to getting organized with respect to code snippets, general organization is always a good idea:
- Do you have a calendar system that works for you?
- Are your hard drive and desktop cleaned up and easy to navigate?
- Is your workspace optimized for your personal efficiency?
The little bits of time throughout the day we spend searching for a code snippet or locating a file on our hard drive add up. By reducing these bits of time, and the distractions that result from them, we give ourselves more time for the work that actually moves productivity forward.
Take Control of Time By Tracking It Relentlessly
The time savings of effective email management and cleanly organized code need not be nebulous or unknown. Some of the most productive people on earth track their time and do so relentlessly.
For example, Cal Newport of Study Hacks is an MIT postdox who has written three books, a PhD defense, and 6+ peer-reviewed papers … all while finishing his days, without exception, at 5:30 pm. How? He is relentless about his time management.
While Newport, and other people featured in this article from the aptly named website I Will Teach You To Be Rich, are not developers, their stories are still very relevant to this discussion.
Another example from the post is Jim Collins, author of the revolutionary business tomes Good to GreatBuilt to Last.
Not only does Collins have oddly specific and uncompromising percentages attached to the time he will spend on different chunks of activity (53% creative, 28% teaching, 19% other), “he tracks his time with a stopwatch and monitors his progress in a spreadsheet.”
That’s being relentless.
For those of us who spend most of our days at computers rather than white boards, the stopwatch approach might not be optimal. There are plenty of mobile time-tracking apps compatible with organizational tools like BaseCamp, and Rescue Time is a general time-tracking program many people have had success using.
Another great way to take control of time, especially in the developer world, is to prioritize meetings and calls.
It is not difficult to pre-qualify meetings and minimize tire kicking by asking questions like, “When do you want to launch your site?” People who have questions but who have not yet even decided that they want a new site are good candidates to table for a later date.
Once meetings and calls are granted, take control by ensuring the discussion stays within a certain established scope. A good way to fight “scope creep” is through billing and iterative releases.
By being proactive about being organized and relentlessly limiting distractions, you save time.
And by having more time on your side, you can have the only “moves like Jagger” that anyone in our world really cares about: consistent, long-term, maximized revenue and profit.
That’s why we’re all here, that’s the main goal of doing business. Getting there is all about taking control.