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What productivity tools/hacks do you find most effective for your day-to-day?

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Hello Devs,
I'm looking for insights to improve my workflow and be more productive. I've recently been trying to adopt the Pomodoro technique and found it helpful. I commit to a task, work for 25-30 minutes uninterrupted, and then I'll do a sort of Retrospective where I reflect on what worked and what didn't.

  • What methods do you use to stay productive?
  • How do you overcome mental blocks?
  • How do you measure your productivity?
  • How have you iterated on your workflow?

Lets discuss!

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I keep a daily "captain log" that I update through out the day.

Everything from conversations I have with ppl to details of a project and my personal opinions. It's super helpful to keep your head clear since it's a form of exporting your thoughts. I'm adding to that log on average every half hour.

I can work on multiple projects at once with multiple teams and still have a grasp of what's going on in each project.

 

This seems like a great idea! Where do you write your thoughts, and do you use any special tools to do it?

 

I was using Evernote a lot. Nowadays I just use Notion. Anything with a bullet list should do! I have a date bullet and indent under that to write entries for that day. Repeat each day. I usually have a couple dozen bullets per day. Especially on crazy days.

 

Great idea! I'm going to start implementing this today. Thanks for sharing Darryl.

 
 

I use Trello a lot to keep track of my tasks, it's quite helpful to see what I have to do, but also what I have actually done. It's also nice when you share it with a colleague to see who's working on what. It can become quite messy when several people are using it though.

I also tried the Pomodoro technique but I have a hard time sticking to it... it helps when I'm out of motivation or tired though.

Oh and there's caffeine. That helps. A lot.

 

Yes! I love Trello. How are your trello boards structured? To-do -> In Progress -> Done? Do you take down notes on your task cards? I used Trello for a long time before I discovered ZenKit recently. ZenKit has a kanban board similar to Trello, but it also has a mind mapping mode, a calendar mode, table mode, etc.. The mind mapping mode helps me think about things in a more structured way, see dependencies, etc.. Also, when I mark a task as completed, I mark the date and time I completed it so I can see an archive of completed tasks on my Calendar. I have no affiliation with ZenKit, but I enjoy using it, check it out!

Amen to caffeine brother!

 

Yes I use the classical To-Do -> In Progress -> Done workflow on Trello but I often add a "Parking" column (before To-Do, for the things I will have to do in the future but are still to be defined or are not urgent) and a "Dropped" column, for abandoned (whatever the reason) cards.

I don't really take notes on my cards but I use a lot the checklist feature, especially to split a task/card into sub-tasks. I sometimes use comments for referencing external resources (like a GitHub issue) but nothing more.

I'll check out ZenKit, but I really like Trello for it's simplicity, I don't feel overwhelmed by features and it keeps me more productive.

I agree. I don't want the application to distract me from getting things done. Do what works for you! I might adopt your "Dropped" column, rather than just deleting tasks that get abandoned. It may be useful to still have a history of them. Thanks for your insights.

The dropped column might be something I want to adopt as well.

I like to work in weekly increments so my boards' structure is: Backlog -> Week(date) -> doing/in progress

When I'm done with that week I move it to the back and create a new list with the following week's date. Instead of having one long Done list I can see the progress I've done over the weeks.

I do this with Zenkit! It's super nice to see progress over time.

 

I use a method called timeboxing, where you allocate a period of time for an activity and strictly stick to it. For example, every Friday I might spend 2 hours (or more if I feel like it) writing a blog post starting at 4pm. Every Friday at 4 you make yourself do it. It's hard at first, and then it becomes a habit and somewhat second nature.

I use an app called TimeTune to track of my routines for this. It's maybe my favorite app on my phone (and there are a lot of them - I literally browse the Play store like it were Twitter)

 

Timeboxing can be super effective. I've always struggled to respect my timebox though. If something is not working or I'm debugging a hard problem, I'll often keep working and eventually end up burnt out on it. I feel like I need to start taking a step back and refreshing my mind before coming back to it. What's your approach in these instances?

What caused you to start using TimeTune, and what advantages/disadvantages does it have over other time tracking apps?

 

When this happens for me, I do take a step back and either work on another productive task or take a short break altogether. It sort of makes up for itself when I get that extra drive to keep on task even after my normal "Do thing" time is up. I try to keep it flexible to avoid burnout, because full-on burnout is an utter nightmare..

I tried out a couple of different apps before time tune. I started using it for its customization capabilities. Disclaimer that it's not a todo app like most others in this thread, but a routine app

Here are a few advantages over the others:

  • User friendly UI
  • Super custom routines: mix routines, change week start day, choose icons & colors, etc
  • Highly customizable notifications (colors, time sound, pop-ups, reminders, alarms, etc)
  • A very customizable widget. I placed this on my home screen so I can see what's next and what my plans are quickly
  • Simple calendar sync
  • Multiple tags for activities
  • Stats for your activities (this exists for other routine apps but is extra clean and simple in TimeTune)

TimeTune is only available for Android. What would you suggest for iOS?

 

What methods do you use to stay productive?

Start the day productively. I try to be in the office and set up by 6am, so I have 3-4 hours of distraction-free work time. That gives me a huge amount of momentum for the rest of the day. (Probably impractical for a lot of people, but it works incredibly well for me).

How do you overcome mental blocks?

Take a walk. It's not uncommon for me to rack my brain on one problem for well over an hour, then step away from the keyboard and have an answer in under 2 minutes. Seriously -- it's like magic.

How do you measure your productivity?

Honestly, I go with my gut on this one. If it feels right, it probably is.

I think one important way I don't measure personal productivity is through project management tools (Jira, GitHub issues, etc). They're absolutely valuable for monitoring a team or a project, but I don't think they provide the same value on an individual level. I would resist the urge to obsess over any particular metric just because it's visible.

How have you iterated on your workflow?

Kinda the same as the last answer; I do what feels right.

It's important to remember that personal productivity is personal. Use other people as resources (#discuss posts are great!), but don't feel bad about discarding advice that doesn't work for you.


If you haven't already, I would recommend reading Deep Work; it focuses on long-term, holistic productivity more than specific tools.

 

I'm using multiple tools to be more productive. Tools like:

Channelize app which is a Pomodoro timer. I have divided my entire day into slots and sub-slots. This way i keep a track of my daily efficiency. The app also calculates my total working hours.

Scrumpy for task management. It is similar to Trello.

I listen Noisli, it improves my focus and reduces stress.

 

I use todoist since I like how it does natural language processing for setting todo items with time or day requirements or certain days of the week. I then use the momentum extension in my browser that then integrates the todo items on my new tab. I've started to try to use some of the tidbits from getting results the agile way that the guy from Microsoft wrote. Mostly defining three main tasks to get done each day, each week, each month, etc. I use rescuetime to kind of see where I'm wasting time and wakatime plugin to see what time I'm spending in different projects. I have also started to wake up an hour earlier each day to do side projects and learning new programming related stuff. For long term goals I sometimes will use Trello.

 

Besides Trello, I use plain sheet of paper and a pen. I write down what's on my mind. If these are TO DO tasks, I enjoy striking them through when they are done. If these are some numbers (like performance time), I don't have to keep them in my memory. If these are some schemes, I can better understand the structure of what I am working with. When I have to wait, I also doodle. When the sheets are not necessary anymore, I just throw them away.

I do the most urgent small tasks first, important tasks second, and monotonous tasks last. For mental blocks, these help: google, stackoverflow, coffee, upbeat music, rest, sleep, talking with other developers.

I try to stay productive as long as possible without procrastinating, but I don't measure my productivity. Different development tasks are of different complexity levels also the productivity is different on different days depending on rest, food, mood, etc, so measuring productivity by tasks completed per hour wouldn't make sense.

If I program at my spare time, I usually do that until I finish a single feature, or if that's a longer task to do - while I have motivation and time.

 

I write down a lot more stuff than I used to. Sometimes it's an issue on Gitlab, making sure I don't forget something. Most of the time, it's just good old pen and paper and write whatever I need to do. Simple, but increadibly efficient in my case.

 

Solid approach. I work with a bunch of people who take beautiful notes, I've always been jealous of their handwriting. Unfortunately, I've always disliked my own handwriting. I somehow prefer the blank slate of an empty notebook to my own handwriting. Haha. As a recovering perfectionist, I might need to try again and just embrace a messy notebook.

Do you ever find yourself flipping through pages to find that one note and wishing you had a search feature?

 

I didn’t have that problem yet. I’m sure it will happen soon enough xD

 

I use Jira with the Structure Plugin to keep a list of tasks.

Structure provides the ability to nest tasks to any number of levels, so I start with a high level idea and break it down into areas, tasks and finally module specific changes. Then it's just simple To Do - In Progress - Done workflow.

Structure also allows you to have different views on all the tasks and even automate them in seperate structures. I have one which only contains "In Progress" tasks.

If I ever think of something, it tends to go into a task somewhere. I still put "TODO" in comments also if it's trivial. I do however use a scratch buffer in Emacs, or pencil and paper to work out thoughts.

 

These are the tools that I feel that makes me productive.

  • Trello
  • Rocket.Chat
  • Inbox by google.

Aside from that, I like to keep my phone on silent for most of the time. Tend to not respond to chats unless it's an emergency and I'm needed.

To keep my mind fresh I like to plan my work for the day in the morning in a personal notebook/Trello whatever. And after finishing some major task I like to take a break, go outside, drink some tea/coffee & talk to some people. That keeps me fresh and boost my productivity a lot.

 

The best thing I ever did (and I have tried every productivity tip...) was to add a fixed schedule on Freedom (freedom.to).

So from 8am - lunch all distractions are automatically blocked.
Then I have 20 minutes open internet after lunch and then blocked until I'm off.

This is so incredible. I have never noticed how much I tend to get out of the zone but opening Twitter or Facebook. Now I'm forced to be in the zone every day. 10/10 would recommend.

 

Wow! Thanks for sharing, I didn't know about this. I might give it a shot.

I can totally relate to zoning out, I think it's mostly procrastination... usually it's mindless, I'm not even aware of what I'm doing. Trying to break that habit!

10/10 will zone out without this.

 

At least for my personal projects, I usually just have a TODO list, categorized into "fix" and "feature", and that's it.

 

Do you use a Trello board, notes app? Have you found any methods that really helps you focus on moving the To-Dos to Done?

 

My "notes app" is Emacs, mostly (thanks to its org-mode which lets me manage TODOs and DONEs well enough). I looked at Trello but I found it too big for my projects. Managing it would take too much time.

The good thing is that nobody pays me for my projects, so I don't need to keep a "deadline". I try to have three releases per year with my largest project because my TODO list is long and I'm lazy - I would procrastinate it for years if I wouldn't... so I set the rule that I need at least 8 entries in the CHANGES file before a release is published.

Admittedly, I broke this rule for my latest version because I had to push out a hotfix (the version before that had serious issues) - but overall, this approach had kept my work on the project steady. :-)

I've been meaning to try org-mode. I have some co-workers who use this for TODOs. I've always been impressed. However, since I don't know emacs all that well, I don't know the ROI would be worthwhile for me.

This is a great strategy! I like this. How do you define a "change"?

Also your blog software caused me some serious nostalgia. I had to go back and find some of my C++ projects on BitBucket, mostly game projects. Haven't managed to get them to compile yet.

What caused you to write a blogging software in C++? How many users do you have?

However, since I don't know emacs all that well, I don't know the ROI would be worthwhile for me.

It depends on where you come from. org-mode is (in a various quality) supported by different editors. Even Notepad - if you can live with no additional functionality.

How do you define a "change"?

A "change" is anything that requires a modification in my code. Because it sometimes takes multiple commits before one "bug" is fixed or a feature is implemented, I usually just sum them up, e.g. "fixed bug where everything was broken"... read my CHANGES file for better examples. ;-)

Also your blog software caused me some serious nostalgia.

Sorry!

What caused you to write a blogging software in C++?

The C++17 standard got native support for the std::filesystem namespace. No more giant Boost libraries needed. So I thought it might be worth a try. Now I have all the work. :D

How many users do you have?

I know of none.

 

Wearing headphones even if I'm not listening to music :D

 

Solid strategy when working at the office! Sends a pretty clear signal that you don't want to be interrupted, and that's okay!

 

Recently I have started using Trello to keep track of things I need to do, and it feels great. I have a record of everything I need to do, and I always know where I left off.

 

I agree. It's very satisfying to see tasks move from To-Do -> In Progress -> Done. Do you have any refinements on the vanilla Trello workflow? Not to say there is anything wrong with vanilla. Sometimes simplicity is key!

 

yes, the transitions add a lot of love. For now I am working with vanilla workflow, ToDO -> InProgress -> Done.

Since I have task that relate different activity streams, I use labels to separate them. BlogPost, Follow-up, Feedback, Task, etc

Also trello has a nice resource here, trello.com/inspiration
I am looking through these and might pick some awesome ideas.

Labels are very useful. The colors are good for identifying things at a glance. I haven't been implementing this in my Zenkit boards, I need to bring it back!

I didn't know about this resource, this is awesome! Thanks for sharing!

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