As a software developer, managing your time effectively is crucial to unleashing your productivity. Whether you are working on a tight deadline or juggling multiple projects, having good time management skills can help you stay focused, productive and avoid burnout. In this blog post, we’ll explore some of the best time management strategies and techniques that optimize your workflow to get more done in less time. From prioritizing tasks to taking breaks, we’ll cover everything you need to know to help you take control of your time and increase your productivity as a software developer.
Over the course of my career, I’ve come across many unique styles of managing time. In my first position out of college, I worked at a company where we would support multiple contracts at once with various customers. This meant that I was bouncing between multiple projects all the time, never really able to focus on just one of them at any given moment.
During that period, I had to look to my mentors and other senior software engineers for how to best manage my time because I was feeling overwhelmed! I began to study and research how to most effectively utilize my allotted time to accomplish everything that was required of me. I’ve tried to distill the most effective strategies down to their essences here to share with you. I’ve also included some information on specific tools and techniques that I have found support these strategies well.
- Tools and Techniques
In my view, time management strategies serve as frameworks for structuring your tasks. These frameworks help you get a clear understanding of what needs to be achieved, and allow you to divide your work into smaller, more manageable pieces. It is important to have a solid strategy for several reasons:
- Increases productivity
- Reduces stress
- Improves focus
- Achieves goals
- Promotes work-life balance
Here are the three solid frameworks or strategies that I have found useful over my career.
Weekly and Daily Planning
Robin Sharma, Chapter 61 of The Everyday Hero Manifesto
- The things that get scheduled are the things that get done.
- Vague plans produce vague goals.
- World-class weeks soon morph into the sensational quarters that lead into spectacular years that generate sublime decades.
My weekly planning system to get myself organized follows these five main steps:
- Connection: Reconnect with your life vision, long-term goals, and deep core values.
- Reflection: Review the last week and how things went. What went well? Where can you improve? What were your key victories?
- Prioritization: List out the key actions you will complete this week. These are actions that draw you closer to your goals, and also specific actions that you know yield incredible value and huge results.
- Templatization: Map out each of your days for the week, roughly. List a few of the actions you prioritized for the week for each day.
- Execution: Now go and do it! Each day, review your template and adjust as necessary. Map out your tasks for each day first thing in the morning to start your day organized.
This has been the number one habit that has helped me manage my time. By making these 5 steps a sacred part of my week, I’m able to keep all my plates spinning and execute each of my projects at the top of my game.
The idea of mini-sprints is a way for software developers to apply the concept of sprints to their daily work routine. This involves dividing the week into day-long mini-sprints and focusing solely on the tasks defined for that period of time. To implement mini-sprints, plan out the tasks for each day and allocate the time accordingly. During each mini-sprint, give full attention to the tasks, while still allowing some flexibility for unexpected distractions and support requests.
The key to making mini-sprints successful is focusing on the tasks at hand, resulting in increased productivity. Tools such as Kanban boards or issue trackers can also aid in keeping track of tasks and staying on track.
Take Time to Recover
Recovery time is just as important as working time for peak performance. Working long hours to increase productivity is not always effective and can even lead to burnout. Instead, balance focused work with intentional rest and recovery. Productivity expert Robin Sharma suggests working 5 hours a day with intense focus for maximum results. Taking time for rest and renewal is essential for a healthy mind and body. Engaging in activities such as nature walks and disconnecting from technology can provide rejuvenation. By taking the time to recharge, one can work more efficiently in the long run.
Tools and Techniques
When working with those strategies to manage your time, these additional tools can be helpful in your planning and dealing with your load. You can read more about these in detail in my other post.
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 organizing tasks based on their level of importance and urgency. To use the matrix, you’ll need to rate each task as either important or unimportant, and then as either urgent or non-urgent.
The key is to focus on tasks in the top two quadrants first, delegate important but not urgent tasks if possible, and eliminate tasks that are neither important nor urgent. This will help you prioritize your tasks and focus your efforts on what’s most important and urgent.
The 80/20 Rule
The 80/20 rule, also known as the Pareto Principle, states that 20% of your actions result in 80% of your results. This can be used to prioritize tasks by ranking them based on their impact, leading to a prioritized list from top to bottom. The rule can be applied to breaking down complex problems into smaller chunks by identifying major problems, assigning categories, and scoring high level concepts within each category. By focusing on the highest scoring categories first, the 80/20 rule says that you will achieve 80% of your desired results by completing the top 20% of tasks. The rule has been found to be useful for breaking down problems and providing a clear vision of the end solution, leading to increased motivation and success.
Time blocking is a method of allocating specific time slots to tasks on a to-do list. This is useful for larger tasks that take time to complete and helps ensure steady progress. The Pomodoro Technique is similar, consisting of focused 25-minute work sessions followed by 5-10 minute breaks, and longer 20-30 minute breaks after 4 sessions. Breaks are important for recovery and returning with renewed focus.
Eat the Frog
The phrase “eating the frog” is a time management technique which means starting your day by completing the most difficult and important task first, to set a productive and motivated tone for the rest of the day. The phrase originates from a quote by Mark Twain.
Another similar piece of advice, given by Admiral McRaven, is to start your day by making your bed. Even if it’s just a small task, as it can set a positive precedent for the rest of the day and lay the foundation for a productive and successful day ahead.
Tight Bubble of Total Focus
The “Tight Bubble of Total Focus” is a concept that emphasizes the importance of eliminating distractions in order to maximize productivity and efficiency. This technique requires discipline and the ability to tune out distractions by turning off your phone, closing email, and working in a quiet environment. The benefits of working in the bubble include completing tasks faster, with greater accuracy, and a deeper level of engagement and satisfaction in work.
Sometimes the tools and techniques listed here don’t apply to all situations. For example, I can’t always apply the Eisenhower Matrix and simply delegate certain tasks because they have to get done and there is no one else to delegate them to. In that case, I need to choose a different technique to get everything done. Time and experience with these techniques will help you decide which is appropriate for the given circumstance.
Effective time management is crucial for software developers as it allows them to increase their productivity and efficiency. By utilizing the tools and techniques mentioned in this guide, software developers can streamline their work processes, prioritize their tasks, and minimize distractions. Whether it’s detailed planning, time blocking, or the Pomodoro Technique, each tool serves a unique purpose and can be customized to fit your specific needs. Remember, productivity is about finding what works best for you, so don’t be afraid to experiment with different tools and techniques until you find the ones that resonate with you. With the right approach, you can unleash your productivity, accomplish more in less time, and achieve your professional and personal goals with ease.