In today’s fast-paced and competitive work environment, managing time effectively is more important than ever. As a software developer, you likely have a long list of tasks to complete and deadlines to meet, making it essential to make the most of your time. The good news is that there are a variety of tools and techniques available to help you maximize your productivity and reach your goals. In this post, we’ll take a closer look at six essential time management tools and techniques that every software developer should know about. Whether you’re just starting out or you’re looking to improve your existing skills, these tips and tricks are sure to help you work smarter, not harder. So sit back, relax, and let’s get started!
- Parkinson’s Law
- Eisenhower Matrix
- The 80/20 Rule
- Time Blocking
- Eat the Frog
- Tight Bubble of Total Focus
This is not necessarily a tool or technique, but a principle that, when understood, can help you increase your productivity.
Parkinson’s Law states that “work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion”. Knowing this, you can set up specific procedures in your planning to help mitigate this.
- Set earlier deadlines for your task, so you complete it sooner.
- Set up artificial time limits to complete your task.
- If using a Pomodoro (more on that later), set a limited number of cycles to complete the task.
The Eisenhower Matrix is a tool for prioritizing your list of tasks into various quadrants of a 4-cell matrix. To do this, start by rating each task as important or unimportant. Then, rate each task again as urgent or non-urgent.
When I rate tasks, I use the following metrics:
- Important vs. Not Important: Does the task lead toward fulfilling my long term goals or core values?
- Urgent vs. Not Urgent: Does the task need to be done within the next day or two?
Once you have your ratings, drop your tasks into the matrix and that will dictate what you need to focus on. Spend time in the top two quadrants first. If you are able, delegate the important, but not urgent tasks. Anything that is not important and not urgent, simply drop from your list. You don’t need to do those tasks since they don’t contribute to your goals nor are urgent.
The 80/20 Rule
The 80/20 rule simply states that 20 percent of your actions yield 80 percent of your results. This is also called the Pareto Principle, after the Italian economist Vilfredo Pareto.
Similar to Parkinson’s Law, this is less a technique and more a rule of thumb. You can use this to help you prioritize your tasks. Look at your task list and determine which of them will have the most impact, ranking each one until you have a prioritized list from top to bottom. This rule states (roughly) that by accomplishing the first 20% of your tasks, you’ll achieve 80% of the results you are after.
If you don’t have a clean task list, or are trying to break a task down into smaller pieces, try following these steps:
- Identify the major problems you are trying to solve, or identify the major building blocks of the feature you are developing. Within each block, try to identify high level concepts of what needs to go into it.
- Assign a category to the problems or building blocks. For example, if writing a library you could have the interface, internal logic, unit testing, and build system as various categories.
- Now, assign a score to each high level concept within each problem or building block category. For the example given previously, you could assign scores to stubbing in the build files and filling in details for each module for the build system category.
- Once you have scored everything, simply total the scores for each category and then rank the categories in order.
- Execute! By focusing on highest scoring categories first, the 80/20 rule says that you will arrive at 80% of your functionality by completing the top 20% of your tasks.
Clearly, you cannot use the 80/20 rule to complete a project after one round. However, I have found it to be very useful when tackling problems that I have been resisting because I don’t have a clear vision of the end solution. Application of this rule helps me to break down the problem into digestible chunks that I can work with.
Also, successful application of this rule will also give you a nice shot of dopamine from seeing your success, which can provide the necessary motivation to move from the 80% complete to 100% complete sooner!
Time blocking is a straightforward technique that involves allocating specific chunks of time to various tasks on your to-do list. These time slots can be customized to your preference and could range from 15 minutes to an hour or more. This method is especially useful for larger tasks that take considerable time to complete, such as creating architectural or interface designs, writing requirement specifications, etc.
The secret to successful time blocking is to stick to the designated time frame for each task. If you have assigned yourself 1 hour for a task, it’s crucial to stop working on it once that hour is up, save your progress, and move on to your next task. Although some tasks may require multiple time blocks to complete, time blocking guarantees that you are making steady progress towards completing them all.
The Pomodoro Technique is a closely related method to time blocking, and I often incorporate it into my time blocking practice. A Pomodoro is a focused work session lasting 25 minutes, during which you work without distractions. Once the timer goes off, you take a short break of 5–10 minutes, and then return to another 25-minute work session. After four full Pomodoros, take a longer break of 20–30 minutes.
It’s crucial to make the most of the breaks and not skip them, as these breaks provide the necessary time for recovery. By taking a break and doing something refreshing, like grabbing a drink from the water cooler, chatting with a colleague, or having lunch with a loved one, you’ll come back to work with a renewed sense of creativity and cognitive focus.
Eat the Frog
“Eating the frog” is a phrase often used in time management to refer to tackling the most challenging and important task of the day first thing in the morning. The idea is that by completing the most difficult task, the rest of the day will feel like a breeze in comparison. It’s a straightforward and effective strategy for increasing productivity and motivation throughout the day.
The origin of the phrase “eat the frog” is attributed to Mark Twain, who famously said, “If it’s your job to eat a frog, it’s best to do it first thing in the morning. And If it’s your job to eat two frogs, it’s best to eat the biggest one first.” This quote encapsulates the idea of prioritizing and tackling the most challenging tasks early in the day, when you have the most energy and focus.
If it’s your job to eat a frog, it’s best to do it first thing in the morning. And If it’s your job to eat two frogs, it’s best to eat the biggest one first.Mark Twain
By eating the frog first thing in the morning, you’ll start your day feeling productive and motivated. This sense of accomplishment will carry over into the rest of your day, giving you the energy to tackle the rest of your to-do list with ease. Additionally, when you eat the frog first thing in the morning, you’ll have the peace of mind that comes with knowing that you’ve accomplished the most difficult task of the day.
In contrast to this, is the advice from Admiral McRaven, who talks about making your bed in his famous commencement speech at the University of Texas in 2014. According to Admiral McRaven, making your bed, even if it’s just a small task, can set a positive precedent for the rest of your day and is thus, incredibly important. Despite it not being the most difficult task of the day, a perfectly made bed can help lay the foundation for a productive and successful day ahead.
Make your bed.
Change the world.
Tight Bubble of Total Focus
I save the “Tight Bubble of Total Focus”, a term from Robin Sharma, for last because I find it is one of the most powerful. Many of the techniques described previously rely on eliminating distractions, and this technique is a way to do that.
It is a concept that refers to the ability to fully immerse oneself in a task and eliminate all distractions. When you’re in a tight bubble of total focus, you’re able to give your full attention to the task at hand, allowing you to achieve maximum productivity and efficiency. This technique is especially useful when working on complex or challenging projects that require a great deal of concentration and attention to detail.
Entering into the bubble requires discipline and the ability to tune out distractions. This might involve turning off your phone, closing your email, or working in a quiet place where you won’t be disturbed. It’s important to eliminate as many distractions as possible, so you can give your full attention to the task at hand.
The benefits of a tight bubble of total focus are numerous. For starters, you’ll be able to complete tasks faster and with greater accuracy. You’ll also be less likely to make mistakes or miss important details, leading to a higher-quality output. In addition, by giving your full attention to a task, you’ll be able to experience a deeper level of engagement and satisfaction in your work.
Effective time management is crucial for software developers who want to be productive and achieve their goals. By incorporating the tools and techniques discussed in this post, such as time blocking, pomodoro technique, eating the frog, tight bubble of total focus, and others, you can optimize your time, increase your productivity, and achieve a better work-life balance. Remember, it takes time to implement new strategies and habits, so be patient with yourself and keep trying until you find what works best for you. With these tools and techniques in your arsenal, you’ll be able to tackle any task with confidence and ease, and reach new heights in your career as a software developer.