5 Top Productivity Tips

Its very common to suffer burn-out on long running projects – indeed, developing a large or complicated project over a long period of time is very, very difficult.

You need to prepare yourself for this long, slow burn – most projects simply won’t be concluded very quickly. You’ll have periods where you simply can’t be bothered, you have other things to do, etc. and your project suffers because of it.

Of course, the difficulties are compounded if you’re developing your project in your spare time.

My take on it now (after numerous false-starts and abandoned projects) is to follow a few simple steps. None of this is earth-shattering or new, but it certainly helped me, so I though I’d share.

1. Organise your time

For me (working in my spare time), I try to work at least one hour per night, with about 6 hours at the weekend. In fact, this was is a minimum. Most of the time, I’ll exceed these targets by quite a bit. You do need to set a reasonable, achievable schedule though and stick to it.

2. Maximise flexible working

The most useful thing I ever bought was a laptop. The freedom it offers is incredible after years of being anchored to a desktop PC at a specific point in the house. No more scuttling off to hide away in a little room anymore.

So, although I can be working on my laptop, I’m still there in the room when my wife watches her programmes on TV or plays video games. It can be a little distracting at times (especially when she’s waving the Wii controller like mad playing Resident Evil 4…) but, on the whole, it feels much more sociable (even though I seem to have my head stuck in buggy code forever).

3. Cut down on TV

There are some great shows on TV. And there seem to also be thousands upon thousands of low-quality crappy shows that can somehow paralyse your fingers and stop you from hitting the off switch. Luckily, in this age of set-top boxes with hard-drives in them, waiting around for your favourite TV shows is a thing of the past.

I simply never watch live TV anymore – anything I want to watch needs to be selected on an electronic programme guide and can be viewed when its convenient. Just doing this filters out an amazing amount of cruddy trash. I also started dropping the shows that I watched but thought were a bit pointless; so Big Brother, property shows, etc. were jettisoned.

4. Keep an up-to-date to-do list

This really, really works. I use the power of the mighty NotePad to keep a list of everything left to do on a project. Crucially though, each major task is broken down into a series of minor tasks. None of these minor tasks are estimated to exceed 2 hours (this is very important).

5. Complete at least one item on the list each day

Then, simply start working through the list. The goal of completing a task (any task) – no matter how trivial – means that at the end of every day you get to mark something on the list as DONE. This simple action of completing a task every day is incredibly rewarding.

It’s vitally important to always keep in touch with your project, even if you’re just firing up your IDE and adding some extra comments. Otherwise, it can take an absolutely monumental effort to get the ball rolling again. Once you stop, it simply takes a whole lot more effort to start again.

It’s just a list, isn’t it? And yet, seeing that I’d completed something every day, and getting into the rhythm of working through the list each night, somehow raised my productivity out of sight to what it had been before.

Just remember to stay focussed on the list.

Using these simple little steps, I went from being one of the laziest, most inefficient, undisciplined part-time developers around, to coding at a steady, sustained pace for 8 solid months during the development of Swopster.

The amount of code I generated and the high level of motivation I kept throughout this period still amazes me today.

Of course, your mileage may vary…but I’ve heard lots of similar tales of folks maintaining motivation through similar methods.

Good luck!


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