Programmer Productivity

I saw this image on a blog the other day.

programmer productivity in a graph

I hear a lot from other programmers that they have problems with productivity.  I know I used to.  I had to work with the TV or Netflix on the background so I would have something to tune out.  You were only going to get about three consecutive hours out of me before I would run off and hide somewhere for a recharge.  I used to drive my manager crazy!

Joel Spolsky talked about this same problem on his blog once.

Sometimes I just can’t get anything done.

Sure, I come into the office, putter around, check my email every ten seconds, read the web, even do a few brainless tasks like paying the American Express bill. But getting back into the flow of writing code just doesn’t happen.

These bouts of unproductiveness usually last for a day or two. But there have been times in my career as a developer when I went for weeks at a time without being able to get anything done. As they say, I’m not in flow. I’m not in the zone. I’m not anywhere.

I think most of us were excited to find out we weren’t alone. If someone like Joel, that I highly respect and look up to has the same problem, then I don’t fee like there is something wrong with me.

So what do you do about it?

First, I made a list of all of the things I thought made me unproductive:

  • Open floor plan offices / not getting any privacy – if I was constantly overhearing other conversations, arguments, etc…I couldn’t keep focused
  • Pestering co-workers – Why would you come by my desk and ask me “did you get that email I sent 10 minutes ago?”.
  • Poor communication about requirements – self explanatory
  • Poor multitasking / prioritizing skills – if I had THINGS ON FIRE and other tasks to handle, I wasn’t sure about how to get it all done and in what order.
  • Twitter and Facebook notifications on my phone – self explanatory
  • Email notifications on my computer – also self explanatory
  • The Internet in general

So when I would find myself in a period of strong productivity, I would begin to ask myself.  What is going on right now that makes me more productive?  I created a similar list of “pro” environment things:

  • Music is good but I don’t want lyrics, instrumentals / dance music only
  • TV/Netflix is good but only if its some nonsense show that I don’t really care if I watch.  Daytime TV is good for this.
  • A private office.  For the most part I just started working from home.
  • No interruptions.  I had to isolate myself from the Internet.

If you find yourself in a similar situation, I would recommend that you start making lists like the above.  It has completely changed the way I work and my work output. Not all of us are cutout to work in the same office environment and learning these things about yourself will only make you happier as an employee.

Put yourself in control

A lot of us think that we are just lazy or that unproductive behavior is just part of who we are.  You are capable of so much more! Each of us has the power to control what makes us unproductive.  To make myself more productive I had to take control of the areas that I could:

  • Turn off notifications on your phone. Added bonus – more battery for later!
  • Work from home when I really, really need to get something done.  I also found places I can “hide” at work and not be bothered but I am easily accessible for pop-up meetings.
  • Black-out times on your calendar – These are times that you are scheduling yourself to work without interruption and they show as busy to anyone else that may want to schedule you for something.
  • Re-position your work environment – Move your desk so you can’t see people passing by or so you don’t see distractions.
  • Learn to reward yourself – I give myself three hour breaks for Internet, snacks, walks around, etc…

Now I seem to have the opposite problem where I am so productive with all of my tasks that people wonder how I get everything done.  Its really been a complete change.

I would be interested to know what you think makes you unproductive.  How do you combat it?

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