Working as a Software Engineer at a fast-paced startup can be stressful. Distractions and shifting priorities can make anyone’s work drift off course. Over the course of earning my master’s degrees and working as an engineer at multiple companies, I’ve learned that it is more important to work smarter than harder in order to avoid procrastinating. But, I realize, that this is much easier said than done.
I’ve tried a few tactics and have discovered four tips for hacking your work day to increase productivity.
1. Understand yourself, how you work best, and adjust where you can
Everyone prefers to work differently—alone or collaboratively, early or late, in quiet or loud spaces. In work, like in life, staying true to who you are is important. Instead of trying to change your work style, you will be more productive if you adjust your work to match your style. For example, if you think more clearly in the mornings, consider getting into the office early and get your best work done while most people are still on their first cup of coffee.
Of course, not everyone has flexible working hours or locations. In that case, you could adjust your daily priorities to capitalize on when you’re feeling most focused and save easier tasks, such as checking email, for a time when you don't focus as well.
2. Procrastination is not laziness. Identify the blocker and figure out how to move forward
People often procrastinate when they feel overwhelmed, when a task is too easy or difficult, or when they don’t know how to solve a problem. If you find yourself procrastinating, take the time to identify your obstacle and make a concrete plan to move past it.
Recently, I found myself procrastinating on solving a tricky technical problem—two systems were interfering with each other in ways that weren’t clear to me. So, I took a step back and recognized that I was procrastinating because the problem was too complex for me to understand alone. Once I identified that the complexity was my blocker, I sought help from someone more experienced in order to navigate the problem and move forward.
3. 60 minutes = 80 minutes
Meetings can be disruptive. Each time you break your flow, there are startup costs associated with refocusing yourself on what you’re doing. You have to ask yourself, “where was I…?” in order to find your place again. When you see a 60-minute meeting on your calendar, remember that 60 minutes really equals 80. At least five minutes will be taken away for meeting prep and at least 15 minutes will be taken away post-meeting as you ease yourself back into your productive workflow.
4. Sticky notes minimize startup costs
Just like the startup cost associated with meetings, there is an even larger startup cost at the beginning of the day. Imagine, you’ve just gotten to work, it’s been 12+ hours since the last time you even thought about work. It’s hard to remember what you were doing and what you should continue with next. On the other hand, at the end of your day, you probably know what you would do if you were to keep working.
This is where the sticky note system is useful. At the end of the day, write down the next two or three things that you would do if you were to keep working. I write them down on sticky notes and stick them to my desk, so that I can clearly see what I need to start on the next morning. This saves me 30-45 minutes of startup time every day.
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