Programmer, Interrupted

Okay, interruptions kill productivity. Another recent article mentions planned interruptions to make things even worse. They talk about meeting appointments, for example.

But I dare say: interruptions are only ruining your day if they are external. If you take a break, things don’t look that bad. You can train yourself to re-focus. And I argue this is a useful skill.

It took me a while to train this skill, but nowadays I’m interrupting myself at my home desk every 30 minutes, get up and move a bit to stay healthy. I don’t need 10 minutes to refocus. I sit down, take a deep breath, and continue to write code. Just like that.

Heck, I even wrote an annoying break timer to force me to get up.

Talking makes things worse, though; makes it harder to re-focus. That’s pretty obvious, isn’t it? After all, you switch contexts and engage in a different activity that uses a lot of your attention. Socializing is important to us pack animals, so there’s no way to not read faces and listen for subtleties in intonation. It’s just what we do. And it pulls all of our attention away from other things.

If I have the work break for myself, though, I can continue to mull over a problem in my head. In this case, getting up and leaving the keyboard means to interrupt an activity that may not lead anywhere at the moment. I bet you know this situation: you can’t seem to figure out how to fix a bug because some components are too entangled; whenever you try to change something, something else breaks. (Of course this never happens in your own projects.) A break then interrupts the need to type on the keyboard and produce code. It helps switch from typing mode to thinking mode. It’s like facilitating the proverbial ideas you always seem to get in the shower.

If you’re afraid of interruptions eating away your productivity, I challenge you to install controlled breaks every 30 minutes to get used to the flow. Sitting for an hour straight already kills your body. You won’t notice if you’re not reasonably healthy; it just feels normal, but it isn’t normal.

I bet that my training to do regular work breaks makes me more resilient to short external interruptions. Put me in an office and see for yourself 😀

Hustling

I was confused about the term “to hustle” for quite a while, probably because I’m non-native. I found it in various books about startups and solopreneurship, and from the context I deduced it might have something to do with marketing. Shawn Blanc was the first to make sense of this: it usually means to do a lot of work. To break a sweat working towards your goals.

Now there’s nothing wrong with this. “If you want to succeed as hard as you want to breathe, then you will succeed.” That should by no means entail you stop sleeping at all and wear your body down. After all, you and your body are one.

That’s why I’d like to add a few items to Shawn’s list:

  • Start eating real food and stop swallowing garbage.
  • Give yourself the chance to detox; remove everything that may affect your brain for a while – porn, social media, coffee, tea, sugar.
  • Exercise and move every day. Walk for 30 mins if you can’t muster the strength for anything else.

A lot of people I met in tech are interested in body-hacking, life-hacking, and the like. Optimizing sleep for example. Or ditching processed food because, you know, better focus and stuff. This is the search for technical solutions (stuff you set up once and then do it like an automaton) when the underlying challenges are those a corporeal life itself presents.

The fundamentals are the same no matter if you want to be a healthy over-performer in tech or a professional athlete: push your limits and swing the pendulum back and forth from stress to relaxation: Fast and eat; exercise and rest; work and meditate. Your performance is not only about how quick you can throw together a working app. It’s also about how long you can excel at what you do before wearing out.

So take care, don’t overwork, don’t underwork, and push yourself on all frontiers in life at once.

Productivity Tips for Programmer Solopreneurs

Vikas Thakur is an INTP personality type – very common among programmers I’d say. He wasn’t good at micro managing himself until he found the tools to prevent bad habits (casually browsing the web) and track his progress to gather intelligence about how he works. He found 5 tools and 5 habits to do the trick (among them my Word Counter).

If you suffer from unwillingly checking your Twitter feed, have a look at his tips. There may be something for you, too. My flat mate un-learned wasting time on YouTube and Facebook with a tool last year. I recommend you give it a try and see for yourself if that sounds like you.

The Word Counter, NaNoWriMo, and You

To finish NaNoWriMo you are going to need rock-solid habits, lest you give up due to a lack of motivation. That’s because habits don’t deplete, but excitement, discipline, and will-power do. NaNoWriMo isn’t a sprint you can finish by feeling joy alone. It’s a marathon. It will require more than talking yourself through the finishing line. You’ll feel joy, but you’ll encounter despair, too.

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Composing and Revising – The Two Modes of Writing

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Since I recently released the Word Counter for Mac, I have given more thought to the process of writing itself, especially since your comments on writing vs editing started to pour in. I count my words to increase my productivity as a writer. “But!”, people exclaimed, “How do you account for rewrites, deletions, and correcting grammar?” By dividing composing from revising.

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Make Writing a Part of Your Identity

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Brian Crain talked about increasing productivity by tracking progress. To have a continuous metric is both motivating and informative. I, too, buy into the saying that you can only improve what you measure. The corollary is: when you care about something, when you really commit to it, you have to do your best to track it and improve. Writing is one such skill. You become a writer by writing more, and you can shift your identity consciously to make this change stick.

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How to Track Your Writing Progress

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There’s an interesting 8min talk by Brian Crain on optimizing productivity. Brian found tracking his progress useful: I learned that having a continuous metric is enormously motivating since it allows you to continually improve yourself. These small, continuous changes make a huge difference over time.

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Count Your Words to Increase Your Productivity

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Did you ever wonder how some people finish non-fiction manuscripts in no time? When we do knowledge work, our craft is to write. To be good at it, we need to be efficient at it. We don’t need to win a Pulitzer (right now), so let’s think a little about methods to increase our output, to get better and faster at writing. Today, my good friend Sascha will share with us the objective and the rationale to become better writers.

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