Disclaimer: This is somewhat of a long article. There's no images and not much formatting. It's mostly text and I decided to write it as some sort of a rant. It's not for everyone but if you decide to read it I'd love to hear if you liked this format and the information I shared!
Hey Dev community, in this post I will tackle a very common issue amongst developers, designers and/or other people working in the industry. This post is directed for the IT industry but is not limited to it. The article applies really to anyone who is struggling to be productive or is trying to increase their productivity.
I’ll start by sharing my personal experience with productivity issues and procrastination and how I try to deal with them. Then I’ll share my perspective on how to address these issues once and for all for everyone!
I want to say that I’ve struggled with procrastination and imposter syndrome for a loooong time now, so sadly I have some first hand “experience” in the field. Often I find myself reading articles on platforms like Dev.to, Medium and such, about how to be more productive with your time. Most of these posts will be titled somewhat like “How to be a productive programmer”, “How to accomplish X”, “My top 10 productivity tips” or similar stuff, which at this point feels more click-bait than the title of this article 😅.
The past year I spent a lot of time consuming this type of content, trying different productivity software and failing to accomplish more every time. Now that the end of the year is near, I have reviewed how my work/life ethics have changed and have realised that I became more productive with small “tricks” that you don’t find often in the type of articles mentioned above.
Let’s see some “productivity hacks” that I learned from the blog posts actually worked for me, but should work out for most people too.
Starting with one of the most annoying and hard “tips” out there. For the past 6 months or so I have tried to wake up at around 5 in the morning. I won’t affirm that I managed to get out of my soft and warm bed every time at 5, but I’m happy to say that mostly I am pretty successful at it.
This small yet very impactful change has a lot of health and productivity benefits. For one, to be able to wake up that early you have to go to sleep pretty early, meaning no over drinking beer with friends, no binge watching Netflix till 2 in the morning, no scrolling through your phone either.
It has a lot of health benefits and waking up that early feels like it extends your day. I found myself accomplishing more, not only work related things - usually I’d do 20 min of Duolingo exercises, meditate, write a bit to clean my thoughts maybe. Or I’d spend the time in complete silence and prepare a good breakfast, maybe program a bit on some side-project. It still feels like meditation, it allows you to feel more self-aware. I treat this time as “me time”. You can do whatever you like with the newly gained time.
If you feel like this is not for you, because I know I felt that way for a long time, most surely you didn’t fully commit to this lifestyle change for long enough. I have noticed that I’m a night owl basically. I think better and am more productive in the evenings til late in the night. It’s my natural biological rhythm and I have struggled to wake up early for pretty much my entire life. After committing fully to waking up early, it gets pretty easy after a couple of months. Sometimes I’d even wake up a couple of minutes before my alarm is supposed to ring.
This has been a game changer for me and I truly think that having somewhat of a fixed routine will help everyone.
As developers, or people that have to sit in front of a computer for most of our days, our lifestyle lacks movement and exercise.
Now, you might be reading this and still not fully realise the impact the sedentary life has on your life. What if I give you a different perspective - during one’s lifetime, the amount of hours spent at work is between 80.000 - 90.000. That is between ~9 to ~10 years in the office. Sat. In front of a screen.
Even if you half that time because you think that chatting around the office with colleagues or taking a coffee break improves the statistic, that is still 5 years spent on a chair.
That doesn’t sound very enjoyable nor healthy, it actually sounds a bit crazy, that’s why any form of exercise and movement is crucial. It could be really anything, going for and long walk in the park, frequenting the gym, swimming, cycling, running, climbing. I suggest you try more activities and pick one that you really enjoy doing and commit to it.
Hopefully the benefits of exercise are already clear, but I’d still love to list the ones that I enjoy the most. Getting fit, feeling more healthy and researching exercise and nutrition greatly improved my health too. In case you were wondering about how is this related to productivity: the release of dopamine after a good workout session is the perfect way to start my day(I go to the gym before work, early in the morning). I get to feel more focused and work and comfortable with my body and discover muscles I didn’t even know I had 💪. It’s interesting because it’s challenging my body. With work challenging my intelligence and programming skills, challenging my body has shown me that I have more control than I though over it, that I can “sculpt” parts of it.
The key to this is starting small and slowly increasing the amount of exercise or the weights as you gain more resistance. Take it slow, understand that you won’t see many results for the first months or so, but don’t do it for the results, do it for the enjoyment and for the sake of a healthy lifestyle. Play the long game, commit.
And while this doesn’t change that ~9 to ~10 years statistic, it challenges it, it tries to create a balance.
Again, a very obvious thing but easily overlooked by most of us 😑. Personally I started paying more attention and tracking my calories/macro nutrients once I started going to the gym. But I still suggest doing this even if you are not working out.
Cut down on carbs and sugar! Want to rant about how tasty the carbs are? Or about how “un-full” your stomach feels when you didn’t have enough pasta? Take it from someone who has lived in Italy for 3 years and who has a carbohydrate sensibility and if that wasn’t enough, a very very very veeeeeeery sweet tooth. Once I relocated to the UK I committed to cutting out of my diet things that are made of white flour.
I’m not suggesting you completely cut the carbs out as your body might still benefit from them. I still eat out with friends or order take away. I’m not going to refuse a well made occasional pizza or some nice looking sandwich. What I’m trying to say is to treat it as a treat and enjoy it if you want to. Most of the carbs I consume and suggest you consume too, are coming from fruit, vegetables and whole grains, good carbs.
Once you learn to cook them well, the food is so much tastier, nourishing and comforting than any burger or pasta bowl. If you think about food advertising, most grocery stores in the uk promote a lean steak or chicken breast with vegetables on their adverts, not fish and chips with fries 😎. It’s an important thing to realise, that spending the time to cook for yourself is rewarding!
You should also pay attention to the amount of protein and fat you consume on a daily basis. The quality of the fats is an important factor too.
I’m not a certified professional on this matter so I recommend you research the topic yourself. Speak with your trainer at the gym and with your doctor, listen to your body, try to understand if you are actually hungry or not. There’s a lot of information that is easily available and so much research done on the subject - google is your friend.
It feels like I’m deviating a bit from the productivity thing, doesn’t it? Now that isn’t completely true. See, when I started tracking my caloric intake and my macros, I started developing better habits. I wouldn’t overeat in the evenings meaning that when I went to bed my stomach wouldn’t have to fire up the engines to try and process all of that food. And the food it had to process was lean and simple, not processed fats or fried stuff. This has resulted in me waking up early in the morning fully rested instead of tired and grumpy after a bad night of sleep. It seems like a small thing but I can’t stress enough how important for me is to wake up in the morning fully rested and actually happy.
Again I want to bring attention to you doing your own research, understanding what works for you and committing to a better diet for at least a couple of months to see any impactful results.
For the water drinking part I want to say just this: PLEASE. FCKIN. DRINK. WATER. It's the magical fluid of the gods.
Ok, seriously now, there’s lots of materials available on the web stressing the importance of water, I’m not going to repeat what they say as this article is getting longer as I expected and again, I’m not an expert, but please, just drink water.
Now the most interesting part - the actual productivity tip I decided to write this post for, the absolute hack, the sudo access to the forbidden knowledge. The one and only tip that will make the authors of productivity articles delete them, the holy grail:
There is no trick.
Thats it. That. Is. It. After reading so much information on productivity, reading about the routings of successful people and how they hack their days to achieve more and such, that is what I came up with, no trick or no fit-for-all formula.
The sad truth is that you(like I did) might end up spending a lot of time reading about other people’ experiences and their routines, but the only thing that works is coming up with your own routine that you can rely on. Think of it this way, if the pomodoro technique works for you, then make it part of your day, if not, try another thing. Sounds simple, doesn’t it?
I don’t want to over exaggerate this part of my article, but I want you to fully understand that there is no secret or short path to hacking procrastination and productivity. From my personal experience, I had to try and fail many times various tips and tricks just to realise that if they feel wrong they don’t work out for me. Now I have a routine that I can rely on whenever I feel that I’m wasting time. Don’t get me wrong, I still procrastinate from time to time, but now I convert that time to taking a long walk in a park or cooking, maybe reading. We’re only humans and there is no formula on how we’re supposed to live our lives. Also we can’t work and produce 24/7. Once you look at it from this point of view, procrastination doesn’t feel like wasting your life anymore. I chose to treat procrastination as a sign that my body or my mind needs rest, and I try to come up with different ways to enjoy spending my time.
I guess my post, or my intention for this article is not to give you a direction on how to be more productive. It’s not even about waking up early, exercise and nutrition. What I want this to be perceived as is a self-awareness post. It’s important to understand that you need to take time for yourself, spend time within your head, feel your body and emotions, sort them out. Enjoy life, try to implement a lifestyle change, see if it works or not, reflect on your experience and be happy with yourself.
My article comes from my personal experiences and struggles from trying to keep myself constantly updated with what's new in the tech industry, the next big programming language or framework or whatnot. It's easy to fall in an information consumption trap where your mind is always racing in the IT industry. But during this year I have learned to stop, look back at what I've done and appreciate it, and move forward slowly!