Closet Coder

I work in my closet. I code. Yep.

Pushing Past Programmer's Block

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As coders, we’re often given tasks to do. These tasks can sometimes overwhelm even the best of us. How many times have you stared at a problem and when you finally sat down to attack it, you spent a quarter of the time you expected to on it. If only you hadn’t spent 3 hours playing Angry Birds.

There are lots of things you can do to “hack” your productivity, but most of them are focused on helping you keep track of tasks instead of motivating you to get going.

Here’s a list of things I’ve done to get past the “block”. Most are not mutually exclusive and can be combined as needed:

1. Time Chunks (specifically The Pomodoro Technique)

Set a timer for 25 minutes and work for the entire duration on one task. Your goal is not to finish but simply to continue to focus on the single task you chose for the whole time. Not having something you “must” accomplish is a big motivator for some since it takes the pressure off.

2. Hardest Thing First

Get up early in the morning and pick the thing you dread and work on it for some period of time (Maybe 2-4 pomodoros?). Eat the frog.

3. Structured Procrastination (a.k.a. Mark Forrester’s Final Version)

Contrary to the last item, start at the top of your list, put a “.” next to that item. Then go down your list and put a “.” next to every item you’d rather be working on. Start from the bottom and go back up your list, doing each item you marked. Once you’ve gotten back to the top of the list and done the first item, lather, rinse and repeat.

4. Pairing

Nothing like an extra pair of eyes on your screen to keep you in check and on task. There are many other benefits to pairing, but you can gain motivation and accountability quickly by just calling a collegue over for 15 minutes to start work on a problem.

5. Change your work schedule/location

Work off hours for a bit, starting at night and reserving your day for meetings only. It gives you quiet, focused time to move on an item. Spend time at a different location in your office, at a coffee shop or at home. Sometimes just the act of changing things up is motivating.

6. Spend a limited amount of time specifically goofing off

If you are struggling to get anything done, sometimes the best thing to do is goof off. Set a timer for 15 minutes and do whatever you want for that amount of time. Play on Facebook, argue on Twitter, watch cat videos… whatever. Just goof off. When the timer is up, pick the first thing on your list and go to it.