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Nabil Tharwat
Nabil Tharwat

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How I Get Things Done as a Student-Developer, and How You Can Too

Being productive as a student and a developer is a hard task. Hopefully by the end of this you'll be a little bit more productive. I'll be sharing my experience with time auditing, goal setting, instant gratification, negative influences, and managing a to-do list.

Don't forget to share your time management habits and how you plan your time in the comments! 👀

What I used to do

What I used to do in the past, which failed miserably, is setting up a strict schedule based on hours, a "from-to" type of schedule. I eventually ran out of time before I could finish the tasks at hand, and would always be frustrated with having to update and maintain it. It was a lot of effort and led to less productivity.

Before you dive into applying any time-management methodology, give yourself time to try it out. There are no silver bullets.

Time auditing

How we spend time is often overlooked. How can you improve your productivity if you don't know how you spend your time in the first place? Research is the foundation. Tracking your habits can give you an idea of what you need to work on and improve, and can guarantee better productivity.

One of the very first steps is to measure exactly how you spend your time. How long transportation takes, studying, being outside, playing video games, scrolling through Instagram, meals, and even breaks.

To track your time-spending habits a simple notebook can do. There are a number of free and premium time-tracking tools out there that all do a great job. Do it for a few days, then check how you spend time and decide how you can improve.

Never categorise what you do as unimportant during the first few days. Add everything to your audit.

Fear as a friend

How many times have you procrastinated but eventually got things done because of fear? Fear of failing a course, fear of ruining a relationship, fear of missing out, etc. There's always something we're afraid of that pushes us to being more productive.

The reason why we're not as productive as we wish to be is because we fail to act; which is the result of one’s complacency in the current moment. One must leverage fear by ensuring that the stakes are too high for one to stay perpetually complacent.

Fear, in itself, is a natural, powerful, and primitive human emotion. It alerts us to the presence of danger or the threat of harm, whether that danger is physical or psychological. If we exploit our fear of the future and use it to our advantage we'll have a solid foundation.

This is what I had in mind, and is what I did. I listed the things that I was most afraid of in the future. Things like finding a job, my social anxiety when meeting new people, etc. I then set goals based on these fears and my dreams. These goals gave me purpose, a way to measure my progress, and had high-enough stakes to keep me on track.

Avoid instant gratification

Instant gratification is the desire to experience pleasure or fulfilment without delay or deferment. Basically, it's when you want it; and you want it now.

Ever woke up and went straight to your phone? Do you check your phone every few minutes at work? Do you keep your phone in sight when sitting with friends or in a meeting? Stop.

Engagement with our cell phones releases dopamine. That's why when you get a text, it feels good. It's why we count the likes. It's highly addictive.

— Simon Sinek

With instant gratification on board, we look beyond what we truly want. We choose not to do the things that help us reach long-term goals — such as job satisfaction or relationships — because they're long-term. They're boring, they take time, and we're impatient. We're reactive. Which is a terrible combination.

This is why we need short-term milestones. Goals can span years, but milestones are short-lived, and grant us enough satisfaction in the present moment that helps us avoid unhealthy addictive behaviour.

If you wait till the end of a season of your favourite TV series just to binge through the whole thing at once, stop doing that. Watch every episode when it comes out, and wait for new episodes. Work on yourself and develop your skills to reach job fulfilment. Insignificant changes add up.

Learn the art of being patient, you'll thank yourself later.

The classic: creating a to-do list

A to-do list will allow you to feel accomplished by showing you the tasks you completed, and a time-audit will tell you how long each task took. This combination will allow incremental, consistent improvement.

Now here are some hacks I use around my own to-do list:

  • Place the most boring tasks first, the most important second, and the most fun after. This will help you reach that "ah, finally, something fun" after a long day of boring stuff.
  • Use atomic tasks. Atomic tasks are tasks that take less than a few minutes to complete. For you, they may be shorter, or longer. We can usually keep ourselves focused for 30 minutes tops. Split long tasks into atomic tasks — you'll feel more accomplished.
  • Order related tasks together. This helps you remain focused.
  • Don't abandon tasks. If you couldn't finish everything today, don't feel bad! Just move it to the next day.
  • Get help. More hands on the same tasks means less time.
  • Avoid train cars. Leave a buffer time between tasks. You may want a bathroom break, a quick snack, etc.
  • Keep your mind busy with only 1 task. This helps you focus, and eliminates half-work and overthinking.
  • Less is more The more time you spend on unimportant tasks, the less you spend on the things that truly matter.
  • Make a food schedule. This will help you overview how much time will be needed to buy ingredients and prepare your daily meals.
  • Don't go back to completed tasks. Avoid perfectionism. A task done is a task done.
  • The 15 minute rule. Have 15 minutes of break at least once for every 2 hours of work.

One of the very worst uses of time is to do something very well that need not be done at all.

— Brian Tracy, Eat That Frog


Discipline is the difference between the greats and the average. Take more responsibility of yourself. Set a morning routine. Plan ahead, and stick to plans. Hold yourself accountable. And tell no one about it. The only way people should know about your progress is through results. Show discipline. Show results. Never break your discipline.

Discipline is saying "No" when those around you choose to be average. Life doesn't give you what you want, it gives you what you deserve.

— Chris Ross

Choose a suitable routine

My morning routine consists of waking up at 05:00 or earlier, taking a quick shower and meditating. I prepare my breakfast, and enjoy it in the calmness of the early morning — it's really calm then. I then check my to-do list for any left-overs from last night, fix it up and sort my day's tasks, and decide what I want to eat during that day. And with that, my day starts.

It's finally the weekend

The weekend is a whole different matter. No to-do lists, no auditing. Discipline is tiring, remaining focused all the time is tiring. The weekend helps you balance that. Remain faithful to your goals and your discipline, but breaks are necessary to avoid overwork and burnout.

Avoid the cult of productivity.

Don't let your extremely-productive self take control, and don't let your extremely-procrastinating self take control either. Burnout is a thing that you want to avoid at all costs. Accept that it's more terrifying to fail than it is to succeed, and take control of your life.

Final notes

I just want to say that there will always be a challenge. Life will never be a straight line. There will always be a mountain to climb. You'll fall. You'll get bashed in the face with the world's cruellest hammer. And just like you worked hard, you'll fall hard.

I’ve never understood that concept, having something to fall back on. If I’m going to fall, I don’t want to fall back on anything, except my faith. I want to fall… forward. At least that way I’ll see what I’m about to hit.

— Denzel Washington

Thanks for reading! You can follow me on Twitter, or read more of my content here or on my blog!

Top comments (7)

meqdad_dev profile image
Meqdad Darwish

Great advices and tips.
Thanks Nabil

kl13nt profile image
Nabil Tharwat

Anytime! :D

jschleigher profile image
James Schleigher

Great tips! Creating a daily to-do list helps keep me on track with my schedule and daily goals. I also always include a short break to take a walk and refresh my mind and body. When it comes to organizing my task, I prefer to use task management software like Trello or Quire, as I can manage everything in one place.

damjand profile image
Damjan Dimitrov

These are very good tips, backed by very powerful quotes. Thanks for this!

kl13nt profile image
Nabil Tharwat

You're welcome! :D

codelyf profile image

Which time auditing app do you use?

kl13nt profile image
Nabil Tharwat

I use a tool I built myself called AuditMyDay. But like I said, the choice is completely up to you and there are some tools that automatically log what you do on your devices.