How I optimize my productivity

Articles covering developer productivity have thrived in the past few years. I felt it was the right time to write down what works for me.

Mapping out the big picture

I've become a JetBrains WebStorm fan. Yes, I know VS Code is free and just as good. But there's one feature in WebStorm that had me hooked from the start: scratch files. This is basically a digitized form of scrap paper, joining forces with IDE intelligence.

Whenever I start working on a new development task, I fire up WebStorm and hit Ctrl + Alt + Shift + Insert to get a list of file types to choose from. Usually, I'll go for a text file but markdown is also an option if there is a possibility that I'd want to share it with others.

Next, I'll open the requirements on my second monitor and write in the scratch file what exactly is needed to finish the task. This can include:

  • Detailing expected responses from back-end
  • A list of components and services I need to create or modify
  • Any form of pseudo code that reaches my brain

When I'm satisfied with my notes, I'll either pin the tab containing my scratch file, open it in a new window or close the file. If needed, I can easily return to it because WebStorm can easily show me a list of all scratch files.

Pomodoro technique

Although hugely popular a few years back, I feel the Pomodoro hype has largely passed. The principle is simple: get a countdown timer (physically or digitally) with a pre-defined number of minutes (usually somewhere between 25 to 50 minutes) and pick a task you want to work on. Then start the timer whenever you're ready and get to work. Force yourself to focus on the task at hand for as long as the timer is running. When the timer stops, take a short break and start over again.

Pomodoro is my go-to when going through a bit of a rough patch. It kicks me back in focus and brings me back to where I need to be.

When working from home, my IKEA KLOCKIS sits on my desk and serves me well. For a digital alternative, I'll either open up my own Pomodoro application, hosted on Netlify, or Pomofocus.

Coffee moments

Coffee is a part of my routine by having it at (roughly) pre-defined times: 7.30am, 10am, 1pm, 3pm. More important than the caffeine is the mental association. Coming back to my desk with a fresh cup of coffee signals focus time. Sit down and get to it!

Standing desk

Getting used to a standing desk can be a bit of hassle. But once you've made it, you can never go back. I prefer to stand on "non-coding time": testing, deploying, reviewing, taking part in meetings ...

Standing makes me feel more active and energized when I am sitting. Proof of how everything is relative, I guess?

Learn from others

Spoiler alert: my productivity still has a lot of room for improvement. That's why I try to learn from others. Among those others is Cal Newport, author of Deep Work. His book is an absolute masterpiece for anyone looking to regain focus and remove distractions.

Cal also runs Deep Questions, a podcast that doesn't really fit into a specific category but will often cover topics such as productivity, routines and time management.

Another podcast which has been at the top of my list is Developer Tea. The episodes are relatively short and easily digestible, yet they contain a vast array of actionable tips & tricks. Definitely keep this one in mind!

And finally, reading Thinking Fast and Slow taught me valuable lessons. It is a game changer for anyone who seeks to understand our most valuable asset: the mind. A simple and memorable point of view is brought to life and proven with details about numerous psychological experiments. This book is not about productivity, yet grasping how we think can make us more productive in the long term!

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