In this day and age, there are a seemingly infinite number of things that are pulling your attention to various places. With the invention of the computer and the internet, people are always trying to take your focus through texting, calling, social media, forums, and email.
You name it, there are tons of ways you can get distracted. It has made the ability to focus an extremely scarce skill to find in people, which in hand has made it all the more valuable.
Luckily, there are ways to improve your focus, such as working in time blocks. It’s incredibly important to work in focused time blocks as a programmer, and I’ll be describing how I do it so you can start getting more done in less time today!
Why Work With Complete Focus?
Most programmers work with their phone on their desk, and as soon as they get a text or call they answer right away. They completely interrupt their train of thought on the code they were working on.
Now, answering to your family or friends is probably really important to you. You are probably sitting there thinking, “What’s the harm in answering right now? I’ll just take a quick second, then I’ll pick right back up where I left off.” This is not the case. What is happening here is you are switching tasks. This comes with plenty of detrimental effects.
You end up reducing your productivity by about 40 percent by attempting to multitask. On top of that, you are not really multitasking; you are simply doing one thing, switching tasks to the second thing, and then switching back. Doing this increases the likelihood of you making errors in both tasks and also increases the time it takes to get the tasks done.
This is especially true for tasks that are complex and take more brain power, which is exactly what is happening when you are programming that project at work. As programmers, we tend to develop applications that involve plenty of math and we are writing in a different language.
If you are trying to develop anything great, you will need deeper focus which will allows you to come up with solutions faster and more holistically. If you interrupted those thoughts, you might not have come up with a solution as robust because each time your brain switches tasks you have to spend time getting back to where you were previously.
So, now you see that this constant switching between your work and social life can have plenty of bad effects. How then should we work in order to increase our accuracy and productivity while developing the world’s next best application?
Prerequisites: Set Up Your Environment
So, there are some things you should start doing right now before you get to work. First: remove distractions. This means all distractions—so don’t hang onto the ones you want to keep.
For instance, if you have a TV in your room and you love to binge-watch Silicon Valley, then I suggest you do your work somewhere else. The goal of this step is to make it extremely difficult for you to become distracted. You don’t want to make it easy for your focus to get interrupted.
I grab some headphones and listen to music to block out external noises. I take my phone and place it out-of-reach and put it in Do Not Disturb mode or Silent. I make sure that I do not have a view of something that would distract me, like a TV in the background or a window that is overlooking people playing a sport outside. Once this step is done, you can move on to getting the things you need.
As a programmer, I like to have my laptop with at least one extra monitor and a notebook to take notes on application programming interfaces (APIs) or to work through an algorithm I may be struggling with. Also, I make sure to have some water handy and a charger for my computer so the battery won’t die.
Really, these steps will differ from person to person based on the distractions in their environment and the materials they may need to work. I suggest listing all possible things that could distract you and remove them from your environment, and list all the things you need and grab them.
Now on to how to actually spend the time you are going to be working!
Set a Goal with a Time Limit
One thing I came across that changed my mindset when it came to getting things done is Parkinson’s Law. It states that the work you do will expand to fill the time allotted for it.
For example, if you are given a deadline to finish making changes on your feature branch by Friday of this week, you will find a way to get it done in that time period. I have started implementing this in my life and found how powerful it actually is.
Now, how do we use this law in our day-to-day work?
I tend to ask myself this question: “What is the one thing that I could do right now that would make the rest of my day easier?” Asking this helps you to focus on one thing that can have the greatest benefit for your entire day. Once you have answered it, pick a time period that you think you can get that task done in. Then I would suggest you try to cut that time period even more.
Now, start working with that goal in mind, and attempt to get the task complete in the time period you have allotted.
Let's say you are working on a bug fix for your company’s web application. For some reason, the user’s address is not displaying properly and it shows a different user’s address information.
If you are experienced with databases (especially the one you are currently working with) and web development, then you may think you can fix this bug within a half-hour. Then, using what you just learned, you cut this down to 25 minutes.
In three minutes, you remove your distractions and set up your environment for the day. You then set a timer for 25 minutes and get straight to work.
At the end of that time period, you solve the bug with a couple of minutes to spare. You were highly focused, never got distracted, and were able to analyze a complex situation extremely fast.
Get Focused Today!
Now, after reading this, I hope you are thinking about the different ways you can take your phone and hide it so you will not get distracted.
Can you imagine all the hours you spent not being at high productivity? You lost 40 percent of that time that you simply will not get back. Not anymore, though!
As programmers, working in focused time blocks is even more important. We solve complex problems day-in and day-out. In order to be able to solve these problems accurately and efficiently, we must focus on one goal at a time, tackle it in a timely manner, and move onto the next difficult task.
Today is the day you stop getting distracted. Go set up your environment for success, and use focused time blocks in order to become a productive programmer!