The software developer talent pool is endless. But the developers who truly garner traction, not to mention attention from employers, are those who have mastered time management.
Time management mastery isn’t easy, and it takes self-discipline to use time in the most valuable, reliable and efficient way possible. This is true across roles in any industry, and the higher your position and more daunting your tasks, the more you must have optimal time management.
At my company, there are always 100 things going on at once. Without a study — and continued practice — of time management, I would honestly suffer as our leader. Executives in the software development world must keep their heads high above water to succeed, and the same goes for any developer or member of the team.
The following are eight tips that help me with time management, and I can directly attribute them to helping my company succeed.
Have A Plan
Planning is everything. We talk about this when creating software; research takes up 80% of your energy, while 20% is spent completing the actual work. Though planning won’t devour that much time, it’s as important as research when developing software.
I wake up early and spend an hour planning my day, sorting through all the important tasks I need to complete. Set up your day with a list; I have an ongoing Excel sheet. Interruptions are inevitable — everything from an emergency meeting with a customer to something personal you have to take care of. Deviate from the task at hand if necessary, but always return to the list as soon as possible.
Now that you have your list from the morning planning session, it’s time to prioritize your items. I always attempt to stick with 5-7 major tasks and prioritize them from hardest to easiest. Many people seem to put off the tougher tasks until the end of the day, but from my experience, those tasks never get completed if you push them off.
Mornings are when most of us are freshest, and that’s why it’s a good time to drill through the tough tasks. Leave the easier ones for later in the day. This strategy alone has helped me double my workflow within a week.
Divide Larger Tasks
Have something time-consuming, such as a projected 20-hour algorithm building process? Divide the tasks into chunks and allocate an hour or two per day towards that project. This is not as exhausting on your mind and will prevent feelings of failure if the larger task is not completed in a shorter timeframe.
Don’t fool yourself — if someone can finish a task quicker and better, ask them to do it. We all have special skill sets, and when everyone is working in unison, things run much smoother. Make sure others also rely on using you for your top talent. This tip will not only help you manage your personal time but also the company’s.
Plan Disruptive Periods
This one is important. Plan disruptive periods to check things like emails or voicemails. (If you’re in a leadership role, also use this time to allow others to ask for a quick chat.) Unless something is extremely important, it can wait until a period that you have open for such disruptions. At other times, have all notifications shut off for things like emails, texts and instant messages so there’s no temptation to check.
Personally, I have two half-hour disruptive periods during the day, one mid-morning and one mid-afternoon, where I answer emails and any questions from team members. It typically takes about 15 minutes to get back in the flow of things, so think of how much time you’re wasting if you’re disrupted throughout the day.
Plan Daily Downtime
I also recommend taking some time to yourself throughout the day, whether that’s a 10-minute walk outside or turning your focus off your screen and onto a book. I try to have a few downtime periods throughout my own day, and I never skip lunch unless the task at hand is unbelievably timely or I have a meeting with an important client. If it’s the latter, I have the meeting at a lunch spot to ensure I get out of the office.
Be Wary Of Multitasking
People pride themselves on their ability to multitask, but when the mind jumps from one project to another – for instance, from designing machine learning algorithms to helping someone with a client research project – it takes about 15 minutes to get fully focused on the task at hand.
Multitasking clouds focus, and all of those 15 minutes refocusing back and forth throughout a day add up. Remain focused on a single task for the amount of time you’ve allocated for it, then move on.
Work on your discipline daily. This includes non-work-related items that will make you healthier and more productive. For instance, I try to get enough sleep and eat healthy, both of which help control stress.
And remember to keep distractions at bay — social media and consumer websites can quickly take hours away from your day, destroying your productivity.
Success can be measured by many things, from creating top-selling software to running a multibillion-dollar business, but many of these success stories are rooted in great time management. If you want to see your stress subside and your progress improve, utilize these tips and stick with them.
This article is also published on Forbes.com.