What is being productive?

Is it writing lots of code, is it getting through all the tickets in the tracker, is it releasing on time?

The answer is, it’s all those things and more, because being productive means different things to different people. You may feel you had a great day if you got in 8 solid hours of coding, or maybe you completed a particularly tough task and helped a colleague.

What we are going to talk about covers a some of the things I see that will help with being productive the three main points are:

  • Deep Work
  • Distractions
  • Your Attitude

Being productive is something that is hard to measure, it really does depend on how you see the world, or what your goals are. There are lots of tool and techniques out there and I will try and outline a few I like to use.

Deep Work

Also known as Depp Focus or Flow, it is the ability to focus without distraction on the task or tasks at hand. It’s a skill that will allow you to comprehend the complex information about the task and produce better results in less time. Deep focus will help improve what you do, and can be applied to other things not just software writing. Flow is a little like having a super power, but it’s a super power you must flex, train and control, and it takes time. To get into a state of deep work can be hard but this is how I like to do it.

I have two routes which work well for me, the first is The Pomodoro Method and we covered that in Episode 17 – Get Promoted, I’m not going to cover it in detail here, so if you haven’t listened to that episode, make a note of it and be sure to go and have a listen. In short, I stick on my headphones, put on some music, which we’ll talk about more later, I set the timer and away I go. I often miss out some of the breaks because my flow is just pouring, but I can only maintain that for at most 2 hours, any longer and everything starts to slow down, I take a break BOOM! Back into the flow after that. I normally use this method when I am working in a noisy environment, such as the office.

The other method I use to get myself into a state of deep focus, when I am working from home is lock myself away in the home office, shut the door, sometimes I will stick the heads phones on and dive in, and just keep going until what I am working on is done. This is a little less controlled that using the Pomodoro technique as sometimes I can sit there for a full 8 hours and not move, and I crank the code out, other times I get distracted by phones, email, Slack, Skype, Facebook, Twitter… the list goes on.

Using the Pomodoro often means I have better time management and I know I will finish my day job on time, and but when I don’t use it and the flow is left to just carry on then I often work through my lunch break, and way past my normal finishing day without noticing. This is both good and bad, I did this last week and ended up putting in 4 hours more time into the working day than I intended to, yes, I got the task finished, and yes I enjoyed, but I didn’t get paid anymore for it, what I was doing wasn’t urgent and it could have waited until the next day for completion. Will I get any extra praise for finishing the task the day before? Probably not, so, why do it? It’s something you need to decide on the answer for yourselves, I cannot say if it’s a good thing for you.

A great book I recently read on deep work is Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World – by Cal Newport and I suggest you go check it out on Audible, if you don’t have an audible account, if you go to CynicalDeveloper.com/Audible you can sign up and get the book for free!

So I mentioned music, how can music make you productive?

Well different types of music work in different ways, depending on my mood effects what music I want to listen to while working. I often listen to calm and relaxing music like Zen music when working, just to block out the background noise. Carl Franklin of DotNetRocks and 2KetoDudes has produced a set of tracks you can buy from his website Music to Code by Carl Franklin which has been scientifically crafted into 25minute instrumentals, which tie in nicely to the Pomodoro technique.

Other days I want some rocks, rap or metal to bounce around in my chair to while I mash out some code, I normally listen to these tracks when what I need to work on isn’t that complex so I don’t need to space in my head to think as much so I can sing a long and look like an idiot, thankfully I normally do this in the home office, but from time to time I will do it at work.
There are a lot of music streaming services, but I use Amazon Music, mainly because it came with my Amazon Prime account, but I now subscribe to the full music package, it has a good selection on there and works for me, you can get a free trail for it at CynicalDeveloper.com/AmazonMusic if you’re interested…

Reducing Distractions is a must for being productive at work, how often are you pulled away from what you’re working on because you heard someone in the office talking about something you have an opinion on or something you enjoy talking about? Are you often distracted by just general noise in the off? If your office allows it then noise cancelling headphones are a MUST for you, and get some of that zen music in your ears.

I talked about the noise of people being a distraction, but people in general are also distracting, have you or do you work with someone you really can’t deal with, they talk crap all the time and just knowing they woke up fit and healthy this morning puts a downer on your day? I have worked with people like that and they can be a distraction, ignoring them can help, or try stepping to one side, and thinking “What is all this hate doing apart from affecting me and my job?” The answer is nothing so stop fretting, if they are truly as awful at their job and as a person they will eventually come unstuck, so be the better person and concentrate on your goals, you’ll be happier for it too.

Hunger is a MASSIVE distraction, and it’s hard to combat. I personally eat through boredom, or just for something to do instead of working. I now eat what is known as a KETO way of eating, I am not going to go through it all here, but the basis is that is a low carb, under 20g a day, enough protein to maintain muscle mass and as much fat as I need to meet my calorie requirements. When eating this way, I have found I get less hungry less often, but for all you carb burners out there making sure you had a filling breakfast is a great start, and don’t overdo it with the carbs at lunch otherwise when you hit 14:00 you’re going to smash into that wall and be done for the day.

Drinking plenty of fluids

During the day make sure you drink enough, Anything coffee, water or tea, it’s a must but try and stay away from fizzy stuff, for fear of the sugar roller coaster they set you on.

I briefly mentioned attitude with regards to other people, but your work ethic has a HUGE effect on your abilities to be productive. If you come into work every day with the “can’t be bothered” attitude, then you aren’t going to get anything done. I get laughed at lot for what I am about to say but this puts it all into perspective, at least for me, and it’s about personas. Why would you want to be Eeyore, sad, depressed, unmotivated and just a pathetic person to be around? You want to be Tigger, you want to be that over enthusiastic, in your face, get stuff done person in your team! For those who don’t know who Tigger and Eeyore are then go GoogleBing Winnie the Pooh and have your life turned upside down!

Be more Tigger!

Your Attitude

No matter if its positive or negative has a knock-on effect with those around you, you being a stubborn and depressed person is going to make those around you not want to work with you and make them feel the same when they must!

So be Tigger, not Eeyore!

I hope this has given you something to think about, and maybe it will improve your next day in work, let me know if it has helped, let me know if you didn’t agree, come chat with me on Twitter, or in the comments for the show on the website.

Make sure you subscribe to the podcast and leave me a review, until next time thanks for reading the Cynical Developer blog,and we’ll catch you next time.


Please leave a comment, positive, negative or just something weird.

James Studdart

James Studdart

James Studdart is a full stack .NET developer, solutions architect and team leader based in the UK. He has experience in a wide range of markets from tropical fish and domestic services to international freight and the holiday industry, to name but a few.

He doesn’t know the meaning of downtime…

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