Why do I need a productivity system?

Introduction

The question “why do I need a productivity system?” has been put to me both at work, and in conversations with developers in my network. I’ve been using one for so long now that it’s second nature. I had to think about my answer.

TLDR; here’s my honest belief about how my system advanced me.

I wouldn’t have turned round my career, and got to being a senior developer without a productivity system.

Everything else followed from this strong foundation.

The pros of a well oiled system

So I’d imagine the first thing you’d ask here is “what’s in it for me?” – and rightly so.

Get more cash by progressing further

It’s what most people are interested in, so I’ll go back to my point at the start. I couldn’t have progressed without some productivity system as a foundation. At its essence:

Better self-organisation –> better project results –> more trust and responsibility –> more impact to the business –> more money.

I nailed an interview for a better paying job because I had improved so much as a developer. I had improved so much as a developer because I had set my system up to remove distractions and re-work.

More free time (by eliminating waste)

I like to get home on time, but most us are on salaried packages that require ‘getting the job done’. So I like to increase my chances of a work/life balance by getting more done in the same time. One of the biggest forms of waste is searching for information.

Finding supporting material for your project

If you aren’t spending the time constantly trying to find the the reference materials you need, you’re saving time. A productivity system can be thought of like a cache, saying you up to 2.5 hours a day! If that stat sounds implausible, you can read more about it via ThinkProductive – I know first hand how much time I save by collecting things in a consistent pattern.

As a simple example, here’s a set up using a mindmap from my work – one place to go for reference materials:

There’s also all sorts of tools, like Evernote, Google Drive, Dropbox, OneDrive – you can find something that works for you.

Determining next actions

The mindmap gives us huge savings in time and effort, and that’s just for finding reference material. What about not constantly having to revisit where you are on a project? Not having to worry about upcoming dates? That’s as easy as having your own little project management app.

Free yourself up to be awesome

By being able to offload all your ‘self project management’, you can concentrate on the complex technical domains you are trying to model and implement. Software development is hard enough without wondering when you need to do something by, or who you are waiting on. Let a system you trust and that’s available 24/7 do that for you.

Use that gained time to improve

Once you’re batching your work, you’re getting so much more done with less. Use that extra time to sharpen your saw and schedule some ‘you’ time to improve your skills, just a little a day. I’ve allocated 09:00-09:45 as my self improvement time because I’ve saved so much time from elsewhere.

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Combine this with some “learning how to learn” techniques and you’re well on your way!

Ok, how do I get started?

All of these things sound pretty good, right? If you’d like to get started with this, sign up for my productivity newsletter and you’ll get all the latest updates and articles that I write on productivity. Of course, you can also ask me questions about how to improve your productivity as we go.

Not everyone I spoke to was convinced of course. Developers are time poor and for the most part, pretty rational creatures. Most of of the arguments against a productivity system fall into one of the following categories. I think these are all pretty common misconceptions, so I’ll address those next.

Debunking the myths

Whilst I previously gave some reasons for using a system, in the interests of fairness, here are the most common reasons I’ve heard against using a system. I don’t agree with any of them though, hence in my option ‘Debunking’!

It sounds complicated/overkill

Setting up a formal system sounds complicated initially, until you realise that the information coming into your world can really be categorised into the following:

  • There’s something for me to do with this information.
  • These something for me to use in this information.
  • Both of the above.
  • Neither of the above.

So we have only 4 broad categories. And we tend to break our work into 2 week sprints and iterations. And we tend to use a handful of tools (IDEs, Spreadsheets, Messaging tools, emails, images).

So really, wouldn’t it be easier to not to have to think about how to use each? Where to store information? If you use things in a predictable fashion, there’s a lot of time to be saved.

Another thing to maintain

If you’re doing this right, your maintenance of this will be ‘just enough’. I’m not talking about creating tasks for every bit of code you write. It’s more a case of having ‘one place to go’ to when you want to focus yourself on your next steps.

  • I can come into work Monday morning, and pick up where I left off on Friday.
  • When I complete a bit of work , I can come back to my system, and quickly review and re-prioritise what’s next.
  • When I’m working on something, I can focus on it completely because I know my workflow isn’t something I need to worry about.

I’m a developer, not a project manager

This was one of those things I used to think before I made the step up to senior. Bigger companies especially have business analysts and project managers. My job is to just code, right?

Even leaving aside the antiquated idea of developers just getting their head down and being spoon fed requirements and priorities, this is a different kind of project management. Your own.

Trust me me you won’t mind micromanagement if you’re doing it to yourself, you have complete control! And if you do mind it, no worries, you system is only as much maintenance as you need it to be (see previous point).

I know what I need to to do, so I’ll just do it!

Now to be clear ,one thing a productivity system can’t do it tell you what’s the most important thing to do. The things with the biggest business impact. In fact on my audio course, I’ve even talked about the importance of gatekeeping and solving the right problems.

My point is that whilst you are mixing implementation (writing great code, having great collaborations, designing great architectures) with workflow (lining up dependencies on people, deciding next actions, retrieving supporting materials) you’re wasting so much potential and time. Why not just focus in the stuff that’s delivering value, the problem solving us humans are so good at?

Conclusion

I hope you can see why a productivity systems has so many pros and no real cons. I couldn’t go back to my old way of working, that’s for sure. If this interests, you, perhaps you could consider my audio course on listenable, or even just signing up for my productivity newsletter, as you can see below.