This is a common feeling. To break through this needs successful and effective time management. I’ve listed a lot of different time management tips that software developers can use to get the most out of their day.
Why Should I Be More Efficient?
I’m writing this article to help you, the reader, consider some ideas on improving efficiency at your job. But why should you become more efficient?
You might already be doing a good job at the moment, and just really dominating what you’re doing at work. You might be doing well but want to have that little bit of extra output. Or you just might be curious.
Being efficient at work is about getting more results for less energy, and even saving time. It’s about finding ways you can get things done without spending a lot of mental effort on them. The quality of the output should still be good, and correct – it’s not about slacking off or cutting corners. It’s about working smarter.
Let’s have a look at some ways we can do this.
1. Create And Keep A Task List
The most important thing you can do to manage your time at work is to create a to-do list.
This is a list of tasks or things that you need to do for your role at work. Defining what you need to do has a great impact on your ability to get things done at work (as I learned when reading Getting Things Done). If it’s written down, you know what you need to do and when you need to do it by.
Consider these points when creating a to-do list:
- Begin with an actionable word, such as “Write” or “Call” or “Email”.
- Make sure the task is specific enough so you know what needs to be done. “Finish user interface” isn’t very specific. A task such as “Finish writing code for the user interface to prepare for testing” is more specific and actionable.
- Write everything down that you can think of that relates to your role. If it’s written down, you won’t forget it (well, you’ll have less chance to forget it).
2. Automate What You Can
One of the best ways to become more efficient IT worker is to use automation.
There are many parts of our jobs that are repetitive, and depending on the job, they can involve varied amounts of computer processing. Technical writers, for example, would be involved in some automated work, but maybe not a lot due to the writing they do. Software developers, however, may be more involved in computer processing as they have a lot of programs and scripts in their job.
The suggestion I’m making here is to make use of all this computing power that is available to you, and automate the tasks that you can. Computers are very good at repetitive instructions, so make use of it. If there is something that you do regularly, try to find a way to get the computer to do it for you.
Some examples of this are in this article.
3. Use the Windows Startup Folder
One of the most helpful things that I’ve done to get more time in my day is to use the start up folder in Windows.
If you’ve never heard of it, let me explain. It’s a folder on the start menu called Startup. You can add shortcuts into this folder, and every time your computer starts up, they automatically run.
I’ve found this to be a big time saver, especially in the morning. There are programs that I run every day, and now I use this folder, I don’t need to wait for my computer to start and click the icons or browse for them every day.
Some things you can add are:
- Email client (e.g. Outlook) – this is open for me all day, and used heavily where I work.
- Evernote – my note taking app of choice (learn how to use Evernote to transform your programming career).
- Web browser (e.g. Chrome) – I have Chrome start up every day so I can read a few websites while I drink my coffee.
- IDE – whatever IDE you use, you can add it to this folder.
It doesn’t need to be restricted to programs. You can add any shortcut to this folder.
- Links to websites
- Links to specific documents
- Links to scripts to run
Because these are being run on startup, you don’t need to wait and run them manually. You can go and do something else while you’re waiting – get a coffee, read email on your phone, get some water, talk to your team members.
Once you start using it, you will probably come up with even more ideas for shortcuts.
4. Write Scripts for Common Tasks
Another way to save time as a programmer is to use your programming skills.
There are probably some tasks in your day that you need to do quite often. It could be a once a day backup, an email clean out a few times a day or a weekly summary report.
You can save a lot of time on these tasks by writing some kind of script to automate them. Depending on the task, you can use a variety of scripts.
Do you need to copy certain files? Write a batch script to do this. Set it up as a shortcut that you can access easily. Or, to go one step further, add it to the task scheduler to run automatically at a certain time.
Do you have to sort through emails every week? Write a saved query or a macro to do this for you.
Do you send a similar looking email to people? Write a template or a script in your client to automatically create the email for you. You might not be able to automatically send it, but you can get the script to do a lot for you.
Basically, if there is any task that is going to be done more than once, ask yourself “how can I automate this?”. You’ll be surprised at what you can come up with. It’s better to put in the time up front to create something and save time later.
5. Save Scripts and Procedures That You Use More Than Once
If you’ve got some scripts or code that you use more than once, it helps to save it to a file or some kind of library. This will make it easier to find and run the commands in the future.
This is especially useful if you spend some time writing or creating something which isn’t that easy to come up with – perhaps a complicated setup script or SQL query. Save it somewhere you’ll remember for the future, and that way, if you ever need it, you can load it up and use it again – saving you redevelopment time.
This also applies to parts of programs or scripts. If you’ve created a smaller part of an application (or anything else, really) that you may find useful in the future, it’s worth saving. Several times I’ve created SQL scripts for querying different tables for results or transforming complex sets of data, and I’ve saved them which has helped me again in the future.
It’s worth doing, I think, for a potential time-saver in the future.
6. Let The Systems Do What They Do Best
This point is kind of related to the automation point, but it’s a bit different.
What I mean by this, is that computers, and the applications that are built on them, are designed for a specific purpose. They have their strengths, and their weaknesses. My suggestion is to use their strengths – and let the systems do what they do best. Use applications that help you get your job done easier, rather than you spending time doing it manually.
Do you need to create some formulas or analyse some data? Use a spreadsheet program, and not a pen and paper or a calculator.
Do you need to write some Java code? Use your favourite Java IDE and not Notepad. Many applications and systems have built-in features to help you do certain things, which keeps you free to work on your other tasks. I’ll go into some of my favourite applications in a future article.
7. Use Excel For Common Calculations
Microsoft Excel is a great program, and has a variety of uses. One of the ways you can use it to save time as a software developer is for any common calculations that you do.
Once again, creating a template is a good way to do this. Have a template that has all of your common functions and calculations in it, create a shortcut, and your life is easier.
So what kind of calculations and I talking about?
- Time estimates – Converting between hours and days is a common one, especially if you have to provide estimates. If you need to provide an estimate in days, you can convert it to hours or weeks using some simple formulas in excel. This can really save time as a programmer, as we do this often.
- Salary planning – you can use excel to work out what any increase in salary will have on your take-home pay. I do this every year when my annual review comes around. I put down my gross salary, and then remove the deductions to get to the net. Of course, it might not be exact and will vary for countries, but it can help to see how it might impact you.
- Percentages – often we need to work out or perform percentage calculations. Use an excel formula for this.
- Conversions – sometimes when converting units or resizing things, Excel can help. Converting between time zones, units of measurement, and even keeping the same ratio when increasing or decreasing sizes of images can be easily calculated.
8. Create a Timesheet Template
One of the most annoying things about working in IT is preparing a timesheet. Most companies that I’ve worked for need developers to log the time that they have spent against the projects they are working on. In concept, I think this is a good idea, as it helps to get accurate reporting of the costs of a project, to see where time is being spent, and to help with checking estimations when everything is completed. However, it means that developers need to spend time every week thinking about where they spend their time.
As I’ve been a software consultant for almost eight years, I’ve had to fill out not one but TWO timesheets. One for my consulting company, which is used to bill the client, and one for the client, which is used for project tracking. This can be time-consuming as it needs to be done every week. What I’ve done, and what I recommend, is creating a template.
A template can be created for your timesheets in a spreadsheet program, like Excel. Put in your projects (or the areas you need to charge your time to) on the left down the column, and dates across the top. At the end of each day, put the number of hours you worked on each against each item. The granularity will depend on how much detail is needed for the project, but I recommend doing it in half-hour blocks.
Now that you have a template, that you fill out daily, you can use it at the end of the timesheet period to enter into whatever system is being used. This can help save a lot of time.
Also, you’ll probably get requests from project managers about your hours. Questions like “how many hours did you spend on Project X in June?” You’ll be able to tell them in seconds, by looking up the template, rather than giving some kind of estimate or looking back through your system.
Big time saver.
9. Get a List of Shortcuts For Your IDE
A big way to save time is using shortcuts. Keyboard shortcuts are helpful as they take a fraction of a second to perform an action that would normally be done using the mouse. Adding these up can save a lot of time.
If you’re a developer, you would spend a lot of time in an IDE writing code. There are probably a lot of shortcuts available in this IDE.
Do a Google search to find a list of shortcuts for the application that you can use to make your life easier. Save it to an easily accessible format and location. Perhaps you PDF it and save it to your computer, or bookmark the website. It’s up to you.
Refer to this list whenever you need to do something – compiling code, starting the debugger, opening the options menu, searching for text, and so on. Rather than opening up the menu for this, look up the keyboard shortcut. Over time, you’ll start remembering the ones you use often, and you’ll save a lot of time.
You can also discover shortcuts for things you didn’t even know.
I have used Microsoft OneNote in the past to take notes, and I liked to add a heading style and the date and time at several points in the note. I used to select the heading, format it, then type the date and time manually. This would take about 10 seconds. I discovered the shortcuts to do this, and then all I had to do was press CTRL + ALT +2 for Heading 2, then ALT+SHIFT+F for the date and time, which took about 1 second. Another big-time way to save time as a programmer here.
10. Create Your Own Shortcuts Inside Applications
Another way to save time is to create your own shortcuts. This also applies to your IDE, or really any application that allows you to add your own shortcuts.
Many IDEs allow you to add shortcuts for common commands or scripts. Doing this will allow you to save time in a similar way to the previous point. You can add a shortcut for a commonly used feature, and use the shortcut every time.
Years ago I was using a tool for writing SQL code in my role as a database developer, and there was no shortcut for formatting the SQL code to make it consistent with the rest of the application. I added the shortcut (which was something like CTRL+ALT+F) into the programs shortcut settings, and whenever I pressed that, it would format the code. This would save me several mouse clicks every time I formatted it.
Shortcuts also impress other co-workers, as they see you press a few keys and something happens, often resulting in “Wow, how did you do that?”
11. Use the Favourites Section in Windows Explorer
When I upgraded from Windows XP to Windows 7 (yes, I skipped Vista), one of the only things I missed was having the Favourites toolbar in Windows Explorer. I had a few folders on there, where I could click them to take me right to the folder location on the computer. This was how I navigated around to common folders.
I then discovered that Windows 7 had a similar favourites feature, but it was in the tree structure on the left. You can add folders and other things to that Favourites section, which operates in the same way. This is a great time saver.
For any directories that you visit frequently, put them here. You can access them in one click, rather than browsing through the full structure each time.
You can update them as you like, so as you change projects for example. It’s easier to click on the link to go to the “source” folder for one of your projects than to go through the full path of “D:\Projects\Project X\Development\version 0.18\source”, for example.
12. Get Lunch Outside The Busy Period
If you like to go out to get lunch, you might notice that some places (or all places) get quite busy during the lunch hour. This is obvious – everyone goes out to lunch at roughly the same time. This can result in you waiting a while to be served, then waiting to get your food, then finding a table or going back to your office. All of these are a big use of time.
Something that I’ve found is that if you go for lunch outside of this busy period, it can save you time. The shops near most places I work have a busy period from about 12:30 to 2:00. If I’m going out go get lunch, I try to go just after 12. This way I can avoid the crowds and get in and out faster. I can spend my time doing valuable tasks like work or speaking to other colleagues over lunch, rather than waiting in line for your order to be ready.
While this is not specifically a way to save time as a programmer, it applies to work in an office in general, and it can still save time.
13. Create an Easier Directory Structure
The way we store our files on our computer has a big impact on how much time we spend looking for them. If we’re looking for a specific file, we need to think about where it’s stored, then browse to that location, maybe work out which file is the right one, and open in. This can be quite painful if our directories are not structured very well.
I suggest creating a directory structure that makes sense for the work you’re doing. This could be a directory for each project, and subdirectories each for code, documentation, images, diagrams, and so on. This way, if you’re looking for the design diagram for a particular project, you know where it most likely is.
If it’s not something you do already, it might take some time to set it up. But, it’s well worth it. Moving from a messy directory structure, or one that’s “kind of alright”, to something that’s fully organised, might take some up-front time, but the rewards are well worth it. You’ll be saving heaps of time in the future.
14. Create Shortcuts to Common Files
This tip is an obvious one, and you might have heard it before. A good way to save time as a programmer is to create shortcuts to the files you use most often.
Rather than browsing through your hard drive to find a file, create a shortcut. The shortcut can be placed wherever you like that you can access easily. I recommend placing it on the task bar of Windows 7 (I believe these are called “pinned lists”). This way, you can access it from wherever you are and whatever you’re doing on your computer. The time saved from looking for the file will add up.
I wouldn’t suggest putting the shortcut on your desktop. This can be good if you only have a couple of shortcuts, but if there are a lot, it can make things worse as your desktop gets messy. The only thing I have on my desktop is the recycle bin – everything else is in pinned lists.
What kind of things do I create shortcuts for? Currently, I have shortcuts set up for:
- My timesheet and project template file (as mentioned above)
- A couple of diagrams for projects I’m working on
- Documentation for a couple of projects
- A PDF file with some keyboard shortcuts
15. Use Bookmarks for Common Sites
The last tip that I have may also be one that you’ve heard before, but I’m adding it as it’s a good way for developers to save time.
Use the bookmarks section of your favourite Web browser, and use it heavily. Save sites to this section that you use a lot. They can then be accessed with a couple of clicks, rather than searching for them or looking in your history.
The bookmarks can be set up in two ways. You can have your bookmarks toolbar on the browser which has a list of links there, accessible with one click. These can be for the sites you access every day or on a regular basis.
The other way you can store bookmarks is within subfolders. You can have the subfolders on the bookmarks toolbar, which act as menus, and inside those are the sites to visit. These are best suited for those that aren’t visited every day, or if you have a lot of them.
I’ve got a few folders of bookmarks set up on my browser for links to internal resources, some definition sites for programming, and documentation. My bookmarks toolbar has links directly to sites I use frequently such as Gmail, Google Calendar, and my work webmail. This is a big time saver.
Are there web sites that you access frequently? Add them to your bookmarks section. This could be a development environment, a server, or a list of functions for the language you’re working with. It can be a big time saver.
16. Set Goals and Deadlines
Create goals for yourself and deadlines for the tasks that you do. These shouldn’t be arbitrary or pulled out of thin air – relate them to the work that you’re doing.
This is a big part of time management and will help you get things done more effectively.
Set goals for the work you do, such as “I want to review the user documentation by 12 pm”. This not only specifies what you should be doing (which comes from the task list mentioned in the previous tip), it gives a deadline to it. It means you can aim to get this task done by 12 pm, which will give you a chance to do the next task after that.
17. Prioritise Your Work
Another one of the time management tips is the ability to prioritise your work.
Having twenty tasks to do in one day is not very effective if you’re only able to get through ten of them. When this happens, you need to learn to prioritise your work.
This means you give more emphasis to the more important tasks, either by getting them done sooner or spending more time on them. I’ll explain how I do this.
Know What Your Workload Is
The first step to set a priority of work is to actually know what your work is. It might seem like a good idea to keep it in your head, but that can cause extra stress and the potential to forget things is high. I recommend writing them down.
Make a list of all the tasks you need to do. List tasks for the day, the week, and however long into the future you’d like to go or that you’re feeling overwhelmed for. It doesn’t matter how or where you write them, as long as it’s accessible – pen and paper, text file, Outlook tasks, Excel file, or something else. Writing them down is an important step.
Eliminate Unimportant Tasks
So, you now have a list of tasks that need to be done. Great! One way to reduce the number of tasks to do is to eliminate the unimportant ones. You can eliminate them by either delaying them to another point in time (for example, if you don’t need to make a specific phone call for two weeks, then put it down for next week instead of today). If it’s not that important to your major tasks, then you might not even need to do it – and can even cross it off your list.
If you’ve been keeping lists for a while, and there’s a task or two that are on the list and haven’t been done for a while, consider whether it’s really that important. If it is, keep it, if not, then remove it. It’s also a great way to save time.
Get The Urgent Tasks Done
The more urgent a task is, the earlier it needs to be done. Sounds self-explanatory, right? What I mean by this, is that if something needs to be done right now, and something else can wait another hour, then do the one that’s due first. Of course, this will depend on how long each task takes and who is asking for them, but it’s another thing to consider.
Finish Tasks Before They Become Urgent
Even better than the previous step, finish tasks before they become urgent. If you have a document to finish before Thursday at 5 PM, and it’s Monday now, try to get it done as soon as you can – and don’t start it at Thursday 4 PM! This will not only reduce the stress you have on this work, but it will also send a good impression to other workers and free up your time to get other tasks done.
Determine The Issuer’s Priority Of Work
A lot of the tasks you receive might be from other people asking you to do them. A good way to attach a priority to all of your work is to determine the priority of work for whoever gave you the task. If it’s something they’re waiting for right now, then it’s pretty important. If they can wait a day, or a week for it, then adjust accordingly. It’s good to find out when they would like it by, as well as when they need it by – often they are two different times.
Think Of The Bigger Picture
It can be hard when you’re getting all your work done to think of the bigger picture. Sometimes when I’ve been overwhelmed, it’s helped me to take a step back and think, “What’s the big picture here? Why am I doing this?” If your role involves system support, thinking of the big picture might make you realise that resolving a single user’s problem is more important at the moment than finding out a better way for the system to perform a process – as it may have more impact to the department that they work in.
This is especially important if you’re working on multiple projects.
Determine The Benefit If The Task Is Done
Another way of determining the priority of work is to think of the benefits that completing the task will bring. Will it make lives easier? Will it allow people to make important decisions? Will it improve a system or get a project back on schedule? This is another factor to consider which order you do tasks in.
Writing the benefit down, or even just giving it a number or rating, will help when comparing tasks.
Determine The Impact If The Task Is Not Done
Similar to the above point, another thing to consider is the impact of the task if it isn’t done. Will a system experience more issues? Will a project be delayed? Will another manager have a negative opinion of you or your team? Will people be relying on the wrong information to make decisions? Will money be lost? These are all examples of things to consider as impacts of not performing a task and are important in determining your priority of work.
How Long Will The Task Take?
The final tip, and possibly the easiest thing to use in determining the priority, is the length of time it will take to actually do the task. Writing and sending an important email may take five minutes, proofreading a test document may take half an hour. You may be able to write that email, get it sent, get it out of the way, and leave yourself free to focus on reading the document. Alternatively, you may want to read the document now and leave the email for a time when you only have five minutes spare.
I follow the Getting Things Done method, where if a task takes less than 2 minutes, I do it right away. So, if it’s a short task, you should consider this.
18. Try Not To Work On More Than One Thing At A Time
The ability to work on more than one task at a time is called multitasking.
It might sound like a good idea – if you can do two things at once, you can get them both done quicker!
However, in reality, it means you end up less effective at doing both tasks and they end up taking longer to do.
It’s more effective to focus on a single task and put all of your energy into that. Get that task done and out of the way, and then start on the next task. It will most likely result in a better quality outcome and less stress for yourself.
19. Get Enough Rest And Eat Well
It’s important to be effective at work, and one of the best ways you can do this is by having some downtime and making sure your keeping healthy.
Make sure you get enough rest each night. This isn’t just sleeping – make sure you spend some time relaxing and not doing any strenuous or work-related activity.
Eating healthy and drinking plenty of water is a good way to stay healthy as well. When you’re healthy at work, you feel better about what you’re doing and you’re able to get more out of your day. It’s underrated and I’m sure if we don’t try to get healthy it will take a toll on us!
20. Organise Your Desk and Work Area
This suggestion doesn’t really have a direct impact on time management, but it allows you to focus better and manage your work better.
Having a clean and organised desk or work area is a good way to stay focused on your task.
Some ways you can do this are:
- Use drawers or cupboards if you have them. Anything you don’t use regularly or need right away should be put away.
- Get yourself a stationery holder, for either on your desk or in a drawer.
- Use folders if you have a lot of paperwork
Having a clean work area not only makes you more focused, but it also helps to keep you organised because you know where to find things and there is a cleaner space to work.
21. Take Small, Regular Breaks
Something that may seem counter-productive to time management is the suggestion to take regular breaks.
Sometimes, we software developers can get so caught up in the day-to-day work that we’re doing that we don’t spend enough time getting away from it.
Taking regular breaks from your work may seem like it’s not helping you to get things done, because you’re giving yourself less time to do it. I still think it’s a good suggestion though, as getting away from your desk or your work is a great way to refresh the mind and make you more focused.
I believe it’s also recommended by health professionals, something like a 10-minute break every 2 hours (or similar) is a good thing.
Try to incorporate this into your day – you could get a drink of water or a coffee or something.
22. Cancel Unimportant Meetings
This is one of my favourite time management tips. We all have meetings at the office. As an IT professional (well, anyone working in an office), we get asked to attend meetings – and sometimes, they’re not even very useful or meaningful.
If you have any meetings that have been set up, consider cancelling them. If you didn’t set them up, speak to the organiser and see if you can be excluded from the meeting.
Many times people just like to invite everyone who “may” be needed to a meeting, with no regard for their time. Sometimes you can avoid a meeting altogether as you’re not needed.
Also, a meeting may not be the best way to reach an outcome. There are many other ways to get things done, perhaps a phone call or face-to-face discussion with a single person will get the same result with less time.
23. Don’t Confuse Being Busy With Being Productive
There is a big difference between being busy at work and being productive at work.
Being busy means you constantly have work or something you’re working on.
Being productive means you’re doing work and producing results. The main difference between these two concepts is the word “results”. Productivity produces results, regardless of how much work is being done.
Have a think about your average day at work, and try to decide if you’re busy or productive.
Are you just doing a task because you can, or is it actually producing results? Is it essential to your work? Is it getting you an outcome? If it’s not helping your work, you may need to consider how and why it’s being done.
This is related to the previous point of unnecessary meetings – sometimes having a meeting is just a way of being busy and doesn’t actually get any results.
24. List the Biggest Things that Take Time Away From Your Work
We all have to do things that take time away from our work.
However, what many employers don’t realise is that time spent not working is lost money.
Now, I’m all for taking breaks and spending time on other activities, as it can improve your health and relationships with your coworkers.
What I suggest is more about tasks you have to do but take time away from your work.
First, start brainstorming a list of tasks you have to do in a given week or month.
Some examples could be:
- Complete your weekly timesheet (or several timesheets)
- Send regular status emails
- Clean up folders on network drives or servers
- Cleaning up your inbox
- Meetings that have no use
Once you have that list, try to come up with ways to save time with these tasks. Or, better yet, eliminate them.
- Create a template for your timesheet, if possible.
- Create a template for regular status emails
- Write a script to automatically clean up folders
- Set up inbox rules to move emails, and unsubscribe from unwanted emails
- Consider not attending meetings where you are not required
I’ve recently stopped going to meetings where I’m not needed. Every half hour status update meeting that I don’t go to is another half hour I can spend doing work, producing results for the company, and ultimately saving time.
25. Suggest Ways to Improve Processes
There are probably a lot of processes that you or your coworkers do that are not as good as they could be.
They may seem like a waste. If you ask around, you might hear people say, “Oh, we’ve always done it this way”.
Those are some of the most dangerous words in a business.
Don’t let that stop you.
Are there any processes at your work that seem like they are a waste? Or, that aren’t being done in the best way?
Think about better ways to do them. Can you eliminate steps? Can you automate some of the work?
For example, a process I had to follow a few years ago was getting approval for my timesheets. I’m a consultant, so I had to get my client to sign off the times I had worked every week.
- Entering my hours into the online timesheet system
- Generating a report for the week
- Printing the report
- Taking the printed report to my manager’s desk
- My manager would read and sign the timesheet report
- I then scanned the signed timesheet report into a PDF file which appeared in my inbox
- Upload the scanned timesheet report into the timesheet system.
This was terribly inefficient. Many people had to follow the same process.
We made an improvement on this process. It’s not something I can take credit for, but someone else took the steps to improve it.
We allowed for email approvals. The manager could approve the timesheet via email, eliminating the printing and scanning steps.
The new process would be:
- Entering my hours into the online timesheet system
- Generating a report for the week
- Saving the report as a PDF
- Emailing the report to my manager
- My manager would read the report, and respond with their approval
- Upload the approval email to the timesheet system.
Sure, it’s still a bit of work, but it removes a lot of wasted effort.
Ideally, the timesheet system would allow the managers to log in and approve it themselves.
So, the ideal process would be:
- Entering my hours into the online timesheet system
- My manager would view the timesheet for the week, and mark it as approved
That’s it. Two steps. Sure, there is some login involved, but this is it, at a high level.
Are there any processes at your work that could be improved, to help save your employer money?
Think about it.
26. Don’t Procrastinate At Work
Procrastination is where you put off or delay a task by distracting yourself with something else. There is usually another reason why you’re not doing the task that should be done.
In many cases, the hardest part about getting a task done is actually starting it. If you can work out the first step of doing a task, that goes a long way to getting it done. There’s no reason to keep delaying it – it will most likely have to get done anyway.
Delaying the task because it’s not a priority is something else – you are working but have higher priority work to do. This is perfectly valid. Procrastination is actually avoiding a task that needs to be done. It can be a real killer to the time in your day!
27. Delegate Some Of Your Work To Others
Another suggestion for time management tips is to delegate some of your work to others. This depends on your current role and what kind of work you do, but essentially you don’t need to do everything yourself.
You may have other team members who can help you do some of the work that you need to do.
Some things to consider when delegating work to others are:
- If they actually have the skills or knowledge to do the work
- If it takes less time to explain the task than for you to do it yourself
- If the other person can get it done before it needs to be done
Delegating work to others is a good way to spread the workload and to improve your time management as an IT professional.
28. Don’t Follow Up If It Isn’t Needed
Quite often we speak to other employees about how their work is going. This can take time – it can take up your time and energy, as well as the other person’s.
Sometimes this is needed – if the work you’re following up about is related to your work, or if it’s something you assigned to them. Other times, it’s not related to your work or project.
In these instances, where it’s not related to you, it can save you time if you don’t follow up with them about it.
Sure, you might be interested in their work or other projects that are happening, but it can serve as a distraction to your work and reduce the effectiveness of your time management.
29. Disable Notifications on Your Phone
This tip, along with the next one, is probably the most effective thing I’ve done at work to improve my focus.
We all use mobile phones, whether it’s for work or personal reasons. Phones display notifications when something happens, which can come in many forms:
- New text message (SMS, WhatsApp, Facebook, etc)
- New email
- New social media notification (comment, retweet, mention, etc)
- Other app notifications
These notifications can be good to let you know what’s going on.
But do you really need them?
They can be distracting. They take your attention away from what you’re working on right now, to focus on something that isn’t as important.
Notifications on your phone can be a vibration sound, a tone, or a light that shows on the phone. Or, all of the above.
One of the best things I’ve done to improve my focus at work is to disable notifications on my phone.
I suggest you do the same.
Turn off new email notifications. Turn off new social media notifications. Turn off new message notifications from other apps, such as WhatsApp and Facebook. Turn off other app notifications.
The only notification I suggest you leave on is SMS because these can often be more time-sensitive than others. It’s up to you though.
Turning off these notifications will ensure your phone distracts you far less often at work and allows you to focus on what you’re supposed to be doing.
You can always go into your phone a few times during the day to check email manually.
30. Mobile Phone – On Vibrate, Out Of Sight
I always put my mobile phone out of my direct line of sight.
This is so I don’t get as distracted by it. If it’s in sight, I’ll get tempted to check emails, calls, Facebook and other apps on my phone. The temptation can still be there if it’s near you, but if you can’t see it then it’s not in your mind as much.
I also put my phone on the Vibrate setting – the ringtone is turned off, but the phone vibrates when a call or message is received.
This way, I can still get notified if I receive calls, it’s not distracting other people in the office with my ringtone, and in turn, it helps improve my concentration.
31. Disable Email Popup Notifications in Outlook
This tip has also been a very effective way to reduce my distractions at work.
I’ve explained how it works in Microsoft Outlook, as it’s the most common email program, but there are similar methods for other email clients.
By default, whenever you get an email in Outlook, a few things happen:
- You get the new email in your inbox
- A sound plays
- A popup appears on the screen, on top of every other window
Number 1 can’t be avoided – it’s the new email.
Number 2 – the sound – can, and should be turned off. Mute your PC speakers so you don’t distract others.
Finally, number 3. The biggest distraction of all is the popup alert that appears whenever you get a new email message.
It appears for about 5 seconds and shows over every window you have open, which is a major distraction. Many times we’re tempted to click on it to view the email right there and then, losing focus on what we’re working on now.
But, how often do you get these popups?
And how often are they actually important enough that they need an instant response?
The good news is, you can turn it off.
It’s one of the best things I’ve done to improve my focus.
To turn them off in Outlook:
- Go to Tools > Options.
- Click on Preferences
- Click Email Options
- Click Advanced Email Options
- Clear the “Display a New Mail Desktop Alert” checkbox
Now you won’t get those annoying alerts for every new message.
If anyone is expecting you to respond instantly to their email message to you, then that’s unrealistic and a sign of a larger problem. They should be trying to call or go and see you if it’s that urgent – it’s a more appropriate form of communication.
32. Hide Your Email Window from View
Another email-related tip to remove distractions is to make sure your email window is not always open and visible on the screen.
If the window is open, you’ll notice any new messages that come into your inbox and be tempted to read them right away.
You can still keep your Outlook or email client running, but it’s better to focus if it’s minimised or another window is showing on top.
This tip is probably more relevant for those of us with multiple monitors. I’ve had multiple monitors for the last few years at client sites, and I’ve made a point of keeping my email window hidden.
Even at home, where I write these articles, I have two desktop monitors but don’t have my email client open.
33. Don’t Have Too Many Open Windows
The great thing about modern computers is the ability to run multiple programs at once.
This can also be a bad thing if not used correctly. It can cause us to have many windows open at the same time. This can have a few side effects:
- A slower computer as it needs to handle many applications
- Harder to find the applications that we need
- Risk of file corruption if the computer crashes
Having a smaller number of applications open is a good habit to get in to. It helps to keep you focused as there is less to look at.
How can you keep a small number of applications open?
Close a file once you’ve finished with it.
That’s probably the most important thing to do.
Computers these days are pretty quick at opening files, so it’s pretty easy to open a file later if you need it again.
Another way to help remove distractions is to change your taskbar settings on Windows.
If you’re running Windows 7 or 8 (I’m not sure about 10), then by default the taskbar will combine windows for the same program under the same icon. This can be good for improving space on the taskbar, but it means that windows can stay in the background, hidden, and before you know it you have 40 windows open.
Seriously – I’ve seen people who have this many windows open and it takes them a good 30 seconds to find the window that they need.
I highly recommend changing your taskbar settings in Windows to ensure that this “window combining” does not work.
It’s easy to change.
- Right click on the taskbar and select Properties.
- In the drop-down box that is labelled “Taskbar buttons”, select “Never Combine”.
- Click OK
Now, your windows will be separated on the taskbar and you can see how many you have open, along with their titles.
This makes it easier for you to find what you need and be less distracted.
34. Learn How To Say No
One thing that I have learnt over the years in the IT industry is that you need to learn how to say no.
We tend to have the need to accept work and just get it done – either overestimating our ability to do work, or underestimate the size of the work that needs to be done, or we may be afraid of disappointing the person who assigns work to us.
One of the more important skills you can learn as an IT professional is the ability to say no. To be more effective at your work, you need to learn when you’re at your limit and how to politely and effectively decline any more work that people would like to give you.
Perhaps they’re delegating their work to you, or perhaps they’re asking you for a quick favour that isn’t so quick, or perhaps it’s just something else that they want you to do.
In any case, if you’re not able to get the work done in the time frame they need, then it’s better just to say so. Say this in a polite way, of course, and highlight the reasons why.
This may be because you have something else that’s important to work on, it could be because you’re not sure you can get it done in the time needed, or because you’re not the best person to do the work. Either way, make sure it’s honest. Don’t just make up a reason, because then you’ll just seem lazy.
35. Monitor How Your Time Is Spent
My final suggestion on how to improve your time management as an IT professional is to actually monitor how your time is spent.
Other professionals, such as lawyers and accountants, do this as they need to bill their clients and need to account for the time that is spent.
The reason I suggest this is that if you’re more aware of how you’re spending your time, then you can make adjustments as needed.
You can do this by getting an app for your phone, using Google Calendar, or even setting up a spreadsheet.
I’ve used apps for this on my computer. RescueTime is a good one, and I’ve used Toggl before. You can check out this list of time management software for more suggestions.
Spend a bit of time each day reflecting on what you did at what times and before long, you’ll have enough information to do some analysis and work out how you can improve your time management based on the time that you have been spending.
36. Improve Your Energy Levels
A great way of improving your efficiency is to do things that improve your energy for the workday. There are many things you do to accomplish this:
- Sleep well. Probably the most important thing you can do – ensuring you are well rested for each day will give you the mental and physical energy to get through the day.
- Eat well. This doesn’t necessarily mean a perfect diet. It just means cutting out things that may not be good for you. I’m no health expert, but if you have takeaway most nights of the week and a block of chocolate after lunch, it may be having a negative effect on your energy.
- Exercise. Going for a run or a walk on a regular basis can actually give you more energy. It improves blood flow and is known for reducing stress. If you do it during your lunch break, it’s also a good way to get out of the office, clear your head and return more refreshed.
- Rest when needed. You can’t perform at a full pace every day and expect your body and mind to keep up. They need downtime to rest and recover. Ensure you make time for some relaxation regularly.
35. Buy a Decent Pen
Every office I’ve worked in has had a stationery cupboard that provided many of the basic things that we needed – notepads, notebooks, pens, highlighters, whiteboard markers, and so on.
However, the pens were often cheap, bulk buy pens that weren’t very good and didn’t last long.
I take a lot of notes at work, and while most of them are in OneNote, many of them are taken on notebooks.
A few months ago I decided to buy a decent quality pen. Instead of using the 50c pens that the workplace provided, or buy the 3 for $3 average quality pens from the office store, I spent a bit more.
I bought a pen for about $6.
Now, $6 isn’t a whole lot of money. It’s the price of a couple of cups of coffee. However, this pen is a comfortable gel pen, easy to write with, and doesn’t hurt my hand as much when writing for a long time.
It’s been a great investment. $6 on a pen that lasts a few months and is better than the other pens. It’s something I use every day as well, so I have no regrets in buying it.
I’ve even had a few coworkers comment on my pen and how nice it is! It’s not exactly a nice Schaefer pen, but it’s better than most of the pens around the office.
So, if you use a pen for anything at all, I recommend spending $5-10 to buy a proper one from your local office supplies store.
36. Buy a Better Keyboard and Mouse
Your workplace will probably supply you with a keyboard. If you use a desktop, you’ll need one. If you have a laptop, it’s a good idea to get a keyboard.
Now, why am I suggesting that you buy one, even if the company supplies one?
Because, as a database developer, you’re working with the keyboard all day, every day.
It gets a lot of use, and as a result, it should be good quality.
The work-supplied keyboards are OK, but often they are very basic. If you want to improve your workplace and efficiency, then I suggest getting a good quality keyboard.
You don’t need to spend a lot of money if you don’t want to. I bought a keyboard for about $40 that I use at work.
It doesn’t have to be a fancy gaming keyboard with macro buttons and lights, but just something that’s a little better quality than the stock standard keyboards.
I worked with a guy once who brought his keyboard in from home. We all worked on Windows computers, but he brought in the white Apple keyboard. He swore by it – the keys were that much better and the overall experience of using it was something he enjoyed. It’s not a cheap keyboard but he had the right idea – bringing quality tools for the job.
Another thing that I suggest you spend money on for work is a mouse.
Just like with a keyboard, the mouse that your workplace gives you is usually pretty standard.
The mouse is something that you use every day, so if you want to be more efficient, it’s a good idea to spend some money on a mouse.
Whether you get wired or wireless is up to you. I’ve tried both at work and at home (where I do a lot of work) and I prefer wired, but it’s up to you.
A lot of people at my work use wireless mice, and it’s good because they don’t need to carry cables around when they bring the laptop to meetings, and it’s easier to move around the desk.
So, if you don’t like the standard mouse you get at work, consider buying one yourself.
37. Buy Your Own Software (If The Company Won’t Pay For It)
The next thing that I suggest you spend money on for work is any software that helps you do your job better.
When I first started, I tried to avoid spending money on software or tools for work. I’d rather do it myself or make do with an inferior or slower tool.
But, over time, I realised that the time that paid products save is worth more than the monetary cost.
For example, I use a task management software called Remember the Milk. It costs me about $25 per year, but it’s worth it for me because it helps me to stay organised and it works well. There are many free options, but I went for a paid option.
Other options for software or tools that you pay for are:
- IDEs for development (this might be covered by your company)
- Scripts or add-ons to tools that you use
- Subscriptions to services that help you do your job
Anything that can help you do your job better or save time at work should at least be considered to spend money on.
Do you have any other time management tips for software developers? Share them below!