15 Practical Productivity Tips for Software Developers

Software Development, Uncategorized | 0 comments | by Erin Quilliam

I don’t know anyone who doesn’t want to improve the quality and consistency of their work and increase their productivity.

For some people, it is driven by a desire to be the best in their field.

For others, it’s a case of wanting to work smarter rather than harder.

In either case, everyone would love to be able to be more productive and increase the quality of their work. In this article, I will be sharing a few ways that should enable you to do just that.

Lack of focus or lapsed concentration can prove detrimental to any form of work. But when you’re coding in particular, even something so small as a misplaced ; can prove to be a nightmare later on. Thus making it all the more important to maintain your focus consistently.

Don’t fancy reading the whole article? Skip to the bottom to check out our new infographic.

This Article is About Practical Advice to Increase Productivity

This article won’t be giving generic and unhelpful advice as some productivity articles do, like “eliminate distractions”. Everyone knows eliminating distractions is a key to increasing productivity, it’s HOW to eliminate these distractions you want to know. And that’s what I’m going to focus on.

I’d much rather offer practical advice on things that could boost your productivity, or benefit your work so that you’re more likely to work at your best more consistently.

Of course, not every tip will help everyone. Therefore I’ve tried to include a range of both broad productivity tips, as well as some that are specific to software development.

This means that whatever level you are at, or wherever you work, there should be something here to help you boost your productivity as a software developer. (And if you’re not a developer, there’s still value and actionable tips you can use too!)

Tips to Increase Productivity as a Software Developer

15 Productivity Tips for Software Developers

1.) Keep your priorities clear

It is important to clarify your priorities at an individual and team level regularly. For now, let’s focus now on you as an individual, and what you can do. 

If you need a helping hand to start prioritising your day or need more structure to your plans, there are tools and templates to help you. For example, Productivityist promises to help you to “Define your day. Funnel Your focus. Make every moment matter” with their free daily planning sheet.

The Eisenhower Matrix (pictured below) is another great way to work out what your priorities are. You can find out more about it and how to use it in this video from Trello. (And they know a thing or two about productivity!) You don’t need any special tools or templates, just draw out a grid like the one below and map your tasks onto it. Just like that, you’ve got a plan for your priorities.

Use The Eisenhower Matrix to Increase Productivity

That being said, even just jotting down your to-do list on a post-it note and denoting the most important with an asterisk also works. With many things, having more detail and structure tends to make things easier for you. But like I said, even a quick scribble on some paper will help you to be clear with yourself what you need to achieve in a certain time, and you can hold yourself accountable.

2.) Scrum 

Scrum helps you and your team to be self-organised. It maintains organisation and helps prioritise tasks and set deadlines in a mid-term range, such as once a week. This helps you with keeping up with point 1. (Although that point is more about your personal priorities, typically day to day.)

Setting up scrum meetings will help you to stay organised and accountable as a team, which will, in turn, help all of your productivity.

Meanwhile, from a managerial point of view, scrum will help free some time given the light framework and self-governance of those involved. Which means as a manager, you can reclaim time to use elsewhere. Additionally, you’re being more productive at a base level since you will now be organising your team in less time. Isn’t that the whole point of productivity?

3.) Find the work method that works best for you (and your team)

This is linked with the above point, and probably the tip on this list you’re already doing.

Scrum is part of Agile, and it’s just one of many methodologies to help manage your work. Depending on yourself or your team and how you work, some methods may suit you better than others.

Research the different methodologies available, and trial them with your team. Find one that enables you to work at your best and stick with it. (The most commonly used are Agile and Waterfall.)

Even if you’re already using one such system, and have been for a while, it might be time to try something new. You might surprise yourself with the difference in how you work.

4.) Don’t sacrifice your breaks and rest.

If you aren’t well-rested, you won’t be working to the best of your ability. When you’re tired it can be easy to be distracted. Make sure you are allowing yourself enough time to rest and sleep every day. 

Additionally, it is important to give yourself breaks and short rests throughout the day. This affects your performance and productivity as well as your wellbeing. Taking regular breaks can help maintain motivation, prevents “decision fatigue” and ensures you are mentally at your best. 

The Pomodoro technique has become popular in recent years and is one way to solve this problem. But you can adapt this to suit you and how you feel at the time. Some companies suggest a 10-minute break per hour to give your eyes a break from the screen, and to give your brain time to recharge. This means you can return to work a little fresher and be more creative and productive.

It’s also just as important to take breaks during the day for your health and wellbeing, not just to remain productive. Regular breaks are necessary in order to avoid digital eye strain and computer vision syndrome. These lead to issues like tired eyes, blurred vision and headaches which obviously will get in the way of your working.

5.) Don’t over-exert yourself

The second you realise you’re not achieving anything, don’t force yourself to carry on.

If you’re staring at a screen and your brain doesn’t seem to be computing, it’s a sign you need a break. Respect that. Don’t force yourself to keep going in order to “be productive”, because 9 times out of 10 you’ll just continue to sit there and produce very little, (And certainly not at your best). Whereas if you go away and come back, you’ll get more done, and at a much higher quality. 

Alternatively, if you are having difficulty with a certain section of code, just leave it and work on something easier in the meantime. That way you’re at least still getting something done and being productive, but not at the cost of cracking yourself under pressure. You can then return to the troublesome task later on with greater focus. You might have also thought of the answer in your time away, as your brain has had time to digest the information and problem-solve at a more relaxed rate.

6.) Automate where you can

There are many ways automation can help you in your work. Both in the development process itself, and in your non-dev work tasks.

Firstly, you can automate your “productivity” and time management process. For example, if you manage tasks in Jira and monitor your time in Harvest, you can use Zapier to connect both apps and automate the input. IE: If you enter “1-hour” time to a Jira ticket, it will automatically update your Harvest to log that hour spent on that ticket. This saves you a few seconds or minutes manually inputting your time, but it soon adds up. (And also reduces the menial admin tasks you have to do!)

Meanwhile, in the actual development, run automated testing while you work on another task. It will ave yourself some time and catch bugs as soon as they appear. If to carry out manual testing, try to get someone else to do it. A fresh pair of eyes will always find issues far easier than someone who’s written the code and been looking at it for however many hours or days.

If you need to revisit code, give yourself a good break between writing it and revisiting it. Enough that your brain isn’t so familiar that it potentially skips over issues or reads them correctly. 

7.) Refactor your code regularly

You might not feel productive going back over the code you’ve already written, but it is still a task you have to do. Not to mention, while you are revisiting the code you’ve already written, you could find a way to improve it or adapt it to changed requirements. Additionally, you could find the answer to a problem you face in the present or future with this or another project.

8.) Write your code as cleanly as you can, and keep it well structured
(Part of the DRY & KISS principles)

Take the time to write in clean, short code blocks. This is because if you have to revisit your code later on, you will be able to remember what the original logic was far easier. It also means that you’re less likely to get lost in a string of hundreds of lines of code if you return to it to amend something. Not to mention, it will be far easier to spot any issues. Like writing or reading anything, your brain shuts off at seeing a wall of code as much as a wall of text.

Breaking it down not only makes it easier for you. It will help anyone else to follow and understand. Be that your colleague or successor.

However, don’t sacrifice clarity for the sake of shorter code. Your primary focus should be on writing clean, clear code. Yes, keeping things short is something to aim for but it shouldn’t come at the cost of clarity.

9.) Document EVERYTHING

Breaking your code into shorter blocks helps with this process because you can name everything far more accurately and clearly. This makes your documentation far clearer and makes reading and understanding it easier for anyone who comes across it.

Documenting everything also helps you to keep track of what you have done which will help when you try to quantify your progress and define your next tasks and priorities.

Don’t forget to document useful sections of code outside your project, too. If you have a particularly useful block or a great fix for a certain problem, write it down somewhere. It means you can come back to it later. Ideally, this should be a dedicated code repository, but if all else fails, just dump it in a google doc. It will help you to increase productivity and solve problems on future projects.

Documenting everything goes beyond your documentation and even your code. Keep a notebook or an open word file to hand so if you have an idea, or need to take a note, you can with ease. A solution or idea could come to you at any time, so be sure to jot it down or risk forgetting it forever!

10.) Don’t multi-task

Block out distractions as much as you can. Don’t have tons of windows open. If you need to turn off notifications to prevent you from being side-tracked, do it. (Set some time to check the notifications when you’re done with your current task.)

Keep focused on one problem or task at a time, don’t spread yourself thin trying to solve two or more things at once. Switching between different projects or tasks takes a mental toll as your brain tries to keep up with the change of context. So stick to solving one problem at a time, or one project at a time to keep yourself focused.

If you feel like you have to listen to something while you work, maybe switch out what you’re listening to. (See below.)

11.) Block out distracting noise

When I work, I prefer to have little to no noise. Sometimes even lyric-heavy music proves too distracting, and podcasts are a no-go. But at the same time, if I am working in a noisier environment like a large office, I need to block that out.

Investing in a good pair of noise-cancelling headphones helped me a lot. As did switching out typical music for something that didn’t divert my attention, whilst still covering the bustle of the environment around me. For example, instrumental music (classical or electronic), or pink noise.

Personally, I tend to listen to video game soundtracks. This isn’t just because I enjoy them, it’s because they are designed to maintain focus and be unobtrusive as you play. Which makes them great as stimulating productivity soundtracks. Film soundtracks work in a similar way.

Music is proven to stimulate the brain, and statistically, it will make you work better. But there is definitely some music more conducive to focus than others. Find something that works for you and run with it. (There are great “focus” playlists on Spotify as a starting point.) 

Alternatively, I recently discovered Brain.fm. It’s an AI-generated music engine designed to aid focus. It’s not only an interesting bit of bespoke software, but a great aid to focus! (It sounds quite like a video game or film soundtrack. And from personal use, definitely helps me to maintain focus for longer.)

12.) Keep learning and gaining experience.

The more experience you have, the more you learn. And the more tools you have at your disposal the better equipped you will be to tackle problems. 

As you increase your experience and learn new techniques, you’ll naturally learn how to be more productive as you find methods and practices that suit you. By expanding your knowledge in both what you are currently experienced in, and in new fields, you will become a better developer, a better problem solver, and more efficient. As you well know, the more you practice something, the easier and faster it is to complete and you can work on more complex problems. You recognise patterns, discover new solutions, etc. So take the time to invest in yourself and your knowledge!

Additionally taking the time to explore new tools will help to increase productivity. As with your general working, you will take a shorter amount of time to complete a task as you become familiar with whichever tools you use. You will find shortcuts and methods of working to help you speed up your workflow. This takes time, but it also means not sacrificing your opportunities to better your skills for the sake of continuing working. Factor in time to train, work on other projects, read books, listen to podcasts, or talk to a mentor. It will make you a better developer and by extension, a more productive one.

My suggestion for this is to do something that expands your knowledge at least once a month. (Be that reading a book, or completing a course, etc.) But if you can digest podcasts easily, they’re a great way to build your knowledge more often.

13.) Spend more time thinking than doing.

This is another point that might sound counter-productive until you ponder the logic behind it.

Don’t go diving straight into writing code without first properly exploring what you are doing and how you can solve it. Spending the extra few minutes coming up with alternative solutions could provide you with one simple solution that you might otherwise have missed. This also helps you with other aspects of productivity like writing clearer code, as well as improving the quality of your work.

As the old adage goes, “measure twice, cut once”. Spend the time making sure what you’re doing is correct, so you don’t have to redo it.

14.) Ensure your workspace is conducive to productivity

The environment you are in has an effect on your productivity. In particular, the layout of your desk can have a direct impact on how well you work. But not only can your physical workspace affect you, but your digital one can as well.

This means whatever tools you are using, make sure you customise them to suit you. Customising shortcuts is one thing that will help. I consider it the developer equivalent of putting your pens in a pot on your dominant side, rather than in a drawer, or on your non-dominant side. It just makes things that bit easier, and quicker. 

Another method mentioned often, including earlier in this article, is clearing your emails and turning off notifications in order to prevent distractions.

Additionally, taking a bit of time to tweak your display to make it more comfortable and clear will work wonders. As can changing the colours of any theme or tool you are using. Little things that make your life easier, and make working a bit more pleasant, all go a long way in the long-term.

15.) Remember to reward yourself!

If you have no motivation to work, you won’t. Giving yourself an incentive is one way to help you be persistent. But additionally, you should recognise your achievements and remind yourself of the progress you have made. (It’s good for morale!)

Whenever you struggle and think you’re not making any progress, it can be good to reflect on how much you have actually achieved. It will not only help motivate you but allow you to recognise just how productive you really are.

This reflection will also help you to realise what has helped to improve your productivity, and how you work. Knowing what works well for you is key to understanding how to be more productive, and make your job more enjoyable.

A few other tips to help you increase productivity:

  • Find your most productive hours, and work then.
  • Try using focus apps. (Focus Keeper, Flora, Forest, etc.)
  • Eat the frog: Tackle the toughest task first and get it out the way.
  • Delegate where you can. Many hands make light work!

Conclusion

There are dozens of tips and tricks to try and help you to increase productivity as a software developer and in-person generally. By covering both developer specific and general advice in this article, there will be something for you to take away to help you improve in some aspect of your work or life.

Remember, productivity isn’t just about how many lines of code you can write in a given period.

Every stage, everything you do, has some value.

Bug fixing, problem-solving and planning, which can feel less productive, are all vital and have significant value. Don’t neglect these tasks, or consider them any less worthwhile or valuable. Not only are then productive in themselves, but they can also help you achieve better performance in other areas.

These tips have all been taken from our brilliant team of developers. If you’d like to work with productive, expert developers then call us on +44 207 127 4304

Check out all 15 productivity tips in our infographic below.

15 productivity tips for software developers

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