Tips to stay in the zone as a developer

Keep a simple todo-list

This is a sample of my todo list:

Write unit tests for new presenters
x Test each user story manually under IE7
x Fix javascript issue
x Fix AUDIO VIDEO styles

The todo list helps you with several things.

First, it helps you fulfil all your promises and commitments by not forgetting them.

Second, it frees your mind and you start thinking less of work when you are at home. Your mind will start trusting your todo list and will stop reminding you of doing certain things when you are in your shower or about to sleep.

Third, it helps you get back in the flow. Let’s say that you are in the middle of writing a method and someone comes to ask you something. If the interaction with that person lasts more than a minute, you are likely to lose your train of thoughts. The todo list will remind you what item you were working on so that you can get back to it straight away but it will also put you in the same mindset as to when you wrote the todo list, helping with context switching.

Avoid interruptions

Communication mediums

Avoiding interruptions is obvious advice but it is hard to deal with in an open space. We are all responsible to help each other stay in the flow by deciding whether we need the answer right now or if the answer can be asynchronous (in which case we should send an email or a chat message). Using Skype or emails also reduces the environment noise.

Emails

Another way to get interrupted is by constantly checking emails. The action of checking your emails is not what cause the interruption but it happens when you receive an email you decide to reply right now.

If you find yourself easily distracted. Set yourself a rule to check your emails once per hour.

Background noise

I realized recently that I get distracted by surrounding activity: the printer, the discussions in the next aisle, phones ringing. To help me reduce these distractions, I started listening to music and it has helped tremendously.

It makes my days more enjoyable.

I don’t get distracted as much.

People think twice before interrupting me instead of sending me an email.

Ask when you are stuck

I spoke several times of avoiding interruptions and using emails rather than directly speaking to someone but I am still a strong believer that you should still ask for advice if you get stuck. Don’t hesitate to ask someone (via email, chat, directly as you see fit) if you can’t solve your issue. You could get stuck for 3 hours when someone could solve your issue in 5 minutes just by having a fresh perspective on your issue.

Make pauses

Making a few breaks in your day allows your mind to solve your issues in the background. Going to get a cup of tea or to the toilet could be enough to get unstuck.

I know some people use the Pomodoro technique. Work 25 minutes and rest 5 minutes. Repeat.

Pomodoro doesn’t work for me but a lot of people embraced it and love it.

Do you guys have any tips on increasing productivity and reducing stress?