Here are some of my thoughts on being more productive. Most of these ideas don't just apply to programming or office work. They worked for me as a musician as well.
The goal is to reach a state of flow. A state where you can connect one thought to another and complete a task.
Also have a purpose. Why are you going to work everyday? Do you find meaning in what you are doing?
Make a Plan
- Keep a notebook. I write the date down and make a checklist of things I need to get done that day.1
- Make weekly and daily goals. Reassess throughout the day and week. Make sure you stay on task and take notes on your progress.
- Finish one task before starting another one.
- Turn off notifications on your phone and computer apps. Every little interruption breaks flow. Be mindful about when you check your email and texts. Most things are not urgent. If it's urgent they can call you or leave a message. At the office, they can come talk to you in person.
- Get to the office an hour or two before everyone else does. These quiet undisturbed hours are my most productive.
- Get some good noise cancelling headphones. I got some Bose QC35 II and I love them. They block out all chit chat at the office. If someone wants to interrupt me they have to make an effort.
- Listen to nature sounds or other white noise. As a musician I find music to be hard to concentrate to. I usually play something like this.
Be Mentally Alert
- Get a good nights sleep. I am not productive if I am tired. I try to get a minimum of 7 hours of sleep.
- Don't wake up 10 minutes before you leave to work. Wake up early, exercise, meditate, or write in your journal. Your most productive hours are in the morning. Get the day started off right.
- Try an extended fast. It's good for the mind and the body. See Dr. Fung's excellent book The Complete Guide to Fasting.2
- Try intermittent fasting. Limit your eating window to an 8 hour window. This equates to skipping breakfast and not eating until noon or later. And no breakfast is not the most important meal of the day. Also see Dr. Fung here and here.
- Take care of yourself. Eat good food. Get enough sleep. Have good relationships. If you are sick (physically, emotionally, mentally) you are not being productive.
- If you get stuck on a problem leave the office and go for a walk. I often come to a solution after a short walk. It is much better than trying to force your way through a problem.
- Every few hours get up and move. Go for a walk. Get a drink of water. Pounding the problem for hours on end is draining mentally and physically.
- Focus takes practice. The more you do it the better you will get. Focusing on a single task for an hour or two can be mentally draining.
- Before I adopted this practice I would get to the end of the week and wonder what I had actually accomplished. I thought I worked hard but couldn't remember what I had done. I feel better about the work I accomplished and can evaluate what worked and what didn't. [return]
- I try to do a monthly 2-3 day fast for religious and health reasons. Once I got used to it, I look forward to the monthly fast. After the first day you don't really get any hungrier. In fact by the end of day 2 I am usually not hungry but have a lot of energy and mental clarity. [return]