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Personal Productivity for Developers


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As a SendGrid Developer Evangelist, a primary objective is to help make the lives of developers easier. To this end, our Developer Evangelist team examines our APIs and external resources from the view point of our users. From the novice to the expert, patterns emerge over time. One of those patterns I continue to witness is the lack of true “Zone” time. Creation requires a sustained effort to truly realize its potential. This post is designed to help you create more “Zone” time, igniting your passion for innovation.

The spirit of this blog post is derived from the talk of the same title:

Philosophy

The first step is to take a step back. Extract yourself from your daily routines and view your activities as if you were self-auditing. This can be done in a variety of ways, such as paper and pen (think Moleskine and your favorite pen), to using a simple spreadsheet, to using an app designed for this purpose or you may roll your own solution if time permits. If you are prone to forgetfulness or tend to avoid daily routines, use the SendGrid Web API triggered by a cron job to create a daily reminder email. Bonus points if you use our Inbound Parse API to receive your response to the reminder email and log the results to your own database.

Once you form this baseline of self-understanding, you can now consider the following questions:

  • Why are you here on this Earth? (to hack or not to hack?)
  • What drives you?
  • What do you want your obituary to read?
  • In 5 years, what do you want your life to look like? What achievements do you want under your belt?
  • What will you do this year to make sure you hit the 5 year goal?
  • Ask the same question for this month, week and day.

Once you get to this point, you should be able to extract your core values and beliefs. Write them down. Own them. Live them.

The Core System

Animal Cell Core

Now that you have tuned your compass, it’s time to codify your results. This system must be highly customized to your own unique situation. If you have already have a system you trust, consider either an edit or perhaps even a complete reformat. If you are just starting out or want to reformat your own system, I recommend you check out the GTD system as a starting point. If continuing your productivity journey, I suggest you review the systems I outline in the slides above.

Each week, do a self-retrospective (do not skip this step) and make the necessary adjustments. Over time, break your retrospective into smaller pieces with varying levels of review. For example, you may set up yearly, quarterly, monthly, weekly and daily reviews of varying intensity.

Operations

I have found it helpful to develop routines that assist with day to day operations. The routines you create should be considered as guide posts, remembering instead to let your values and beliefs serve as the ultimate guide; otherwise you may become a slave to your own routines. Routines are generally realized as a checklist. Make sure to include a review of your checklists as part of your retrospective making sure they are all still relevant and optimized. The end goal is to convert these checklists to either outsourced or automated projects.

Execution

Now that you have set the table for reaching the “Zone”, envision what that looks like for you. Is it at the office? Coffee shop? Library? Home office? Co-working space? Plane? Collect a list of locations where you can most easily experience the “Zone”. Visit those places whenever you can.

Still need some motivation? Watch this video produced by the Harvard Business Network. Think about applying the concept of rituals (from the video) to computer automation. We now have the APIs to make computer automation easier than ever before.

Once you have completed the above steps, you should be experiencing the “Zone” much more often (no, not this zone). The next step is for you to re-read this blog post and create action items.

We would love to learn of the systems you have come up with, no matter how simple or complex. Remember, some people walk around with an index card with one to three tasks written out on it, others have multiple integrated systems on thier smart phones and many simply use their mind. In any case, results are what we are all after, maintain that focus. We ask that you please help others figure out their “Zone” destination by sharing yours.

Execute. Help. Prosper.


Elmer Thomas is SendGrid's Hacker in Residence. His mission is to help SendGrid live up to its slogan: "Email Delivery. Simplified" by improving the lives of developers, both internally and externally. Via all sorts of hackery, of course. Follow his exploits on Twitter and GitHub.

2 thoughts on “Personal Productivity for Developers

  1. Awesome post Elmer! I find myself getting in the zone more easily when I have a broad scope of work to accomplish; find a starting point that is maybe a 20 minute task, and then organically move to the next task that flows from that one, and so on until I'm on a roll. There are often connections between things that need be done that don't emerge when I look at them in a list, and being more fluid allows me to take an opportunistic route to accomplish some tasks; it's the same reason I use mind maps to organize thoughts under a large umbrella for presentations, etc. Throughout the process I'll jot down notes with items that need to be addressed, but I don't use them to guide what I work on until the next time I need to pick a starting point.

    • Thanks for the additional insights Brandon! I appreciate the kudos also.

      Love Mind Maps! I use MindNode Pro on the Mac and iThoughts on iOS, though pen and paper or a white board is still a great tool and helps break the monotony of staring at a computer all day. Here is an interesting video on mind mapping: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MlabrWv25qQ

      With regards to the 20 minute tasks, I've been using Vitamin R https://itunes.apple.com/us/app/vitamin-r/id40243… as a Pomodoro tool to help keep focused in small bursts of time for certain types of tasks such as programming, researching or brainstorming. Typically the time frame I use for a Pomodoro slice is 25 minutes. Most important for me though, is remembering to take that 5 minute break. Otherwise, I'll get stuck in a programmer hunchback pose and wreck my neck and back, though a stand up desk helps reduce that issue. The 5 minute break is perfect for our ongoing SendGrid Burpee challenge ;)

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