Hi and welcome back to Weekly Dev Tips. I’m your host Steve Smith, aka Ardalis.
This is episode 38, in which I'll offer some personal productivity tips.
If you’re enjoying these tips, please leave a comment or rating in your podcast app, tell a friend about the podcast, or follow us on twitter and retweet our episode announcements. All these things help increase the reach of this podcast, so more people can benefit from these tips.
Getting stuff done
Occasionally I get asked questions like this one that came from a LinkedIn connection. He wrote, "how in the world do you accomplish so much? Would love to know the strategy." I'm flattered of course, but it's not the first time someone's claimed to be impressed by how much I get done, so I thought I'd share a bit about my approach.
Sponsor - devBetter Group Career Coaching for Developers
If you're not advancing as quickly in your career as you'd like, you may find value in joining a semi-formal career and technical coaching program like devBetter.com. I launched devBetter a few months ago and so far we have a small group of motivated developers meeting every week or two. I answer questions, review code, suggest areas in which to improve, and occasionally assign homework. Interested? Learn more at devBetter.com.
Show Notes / Transcript
So, "how do I get so much done?" Let me start out by saying that I try to be pretty modest. I don't have superpowers. I'm not Bill Gates or Elon Musk, either, with billions of dollars. I don't even have online following of Scott Hanselman or Robert Martin or dozens of others. But I do alright, and I'm willing to share how that is a bit here.
First, I made a realization years ago that every day I have 24 hours to utilize. No more and no less (except twice a year because of stupid daylight savings time). I used to say "I don't have time" for this or that. I'm sure I still say that sometimes, but at least in my head I try to remember that what I actually mean is "I choose not to make time" for it. It may be that you're in a position where you literally do not have control over your time, such as if you're in the military or in prison for example. But unless someone is directly controlling your freedom to choose how to spend your time, your use of time is a choice. Embrace that.
Next, decide where your priorities are. What do you want out of your life? What does success look like to you. If you're a gamer, you can approach life like a strategy game. What's your strategy? Are you trying to max out income? Optimize for the best possible family? Slide through with as few commitments as possible? For me I'd say I'm following the fairly common strategy of trying to maximize my family's well-being while achieving success in my career. Within that strategy I'm focusing on entpreneurship and maximizing how many others I can help, as opposed to trying to climb as high up a corporate ladder as possible. Not having a strategy just means you're letting someone else choose your moves. Figure out what your strategy is, then figure out if the moves you're making - i.e. the way you're spending your time - is in line with what you think your strategy is. Remember, "How we spend our days is how we spend our lives." (Annie Dillard). Be sure you're spending your time wisely - it's the most precious resource you have.
Ok, so that's the high level strategy side of the equation. At the tactical level, there are a few things I do that probably at least make it look like I'm being super productive. First, I minimize my commute. In the past I've had commutes of as long as an hour into work in some city where I then had the privilege of paying an obscene amount of money to park my car every day. Now, I can work from home if I choose or I have about a 10 minute country road drive to my office, which is also just a few minutes from my kids' school so it's often convenient when dropping off or picking up kids (there's no bus so driving them is one of those things my wife and I "get to" make time to do most weekdays). Not having that commute adds up. If I'm spending 10 minutes instead of 60 minutes twice a day driving, that's 100 minutes per day of bonus productivity. Think about that for a few minutes. Now, if we get self-driving cars maybe that commute time can be used productively (or if you're lucky enough to have decent public transportation). But until then I optimize for minimal time wasted on commuting.
Another thing I do is minimize time spent on TV. I watch some, but pretty much only with family members as we enjoy time together, or occasionally when working out. I'm not perfect on this front, and recently I've been spending more time than I used to on video games which can suck up at least as much time as binging Netflix, but the idea is to be mindful of how much time you're spending on this and make sure you're OK with it. If you decide it's more time than you'd like to have invested in that, figure out a way to adjust. Also, if you're spending a ton of money on cable, consider dropping that cost in favor of nothing or a much cheaper Netflix or Amazon Prime subscription, which typically costs as much per year as cable with lots of channels does per month. This saves you time and money.
Here's a simple, crazy idea. Typing speed. I produce a fair bit of content, between blog posts, podcasts (I script them ahead of time), writing actual code, emails with folks, social media, etc. I'm a pretty fast touch typist. I doubt that I'd set any records, but just last week at a client multiple students in my workshop were impressed by my typing speed (and asked me to slow down, which of course I did). If you want to get more done and you work at a computer keyboard all day then for the love of sanity learn to type faster! It's a skill that is relatively easy to learn and will pay off in no time. Is it the only thing that matters? Is writing software just monkey work where the bottleneck is typing? Of course not. But it 100% definitely helps and I've never once thought to myself "Boy, it sure is a useless skill to be able to type quickly. I wish I'd spent those hours learning to type watching TV instead."
Something else I do that maybe you all don't is google stuff constantly. I was streaming last week and someone new hopped into the chat and was like "Oh, I thought this was someone who knew what they're doing but you keep googling basic stuff." I was slightly offended, and that's part of what you get when you watch someone streaming live as opposed to a pre-recorded course like on Pluralsight is you see how they actually work. When I'm actually working, I'm looking stuff up. All. The. Time. I'm googling stuff with my own name in the search to see my own things I've done before. I search for stuff in the ASP.NET Core docs all the time that I wrote myself but which I don't keep rattling around in my head forever. Remember there are two kinds of knowledge: things you know and things you know how to find. Knowing stuff is great. Knowing how to find stuff quickly is great, too. Of course the second one is only helpful if you use that skill, so however long you currently wait before breaking down and searching for a solution, think about reducing that and start searching sooner if you want to get more done, faster.
I could go on but I need to wrap this up so we'll end with one last one which is that you need to ship. "Shipping is a feature." and "Perfect is the enemy of good." It looks like I'm productive because I'm constantly producing things. They're not perfect. They usually need work. But they're good enough to get out into the world where others can benefit from them and/or provide feedback that I can use to iterate. Don't feel like you can't start something because you don't have all the details figured out yet. Just get started. And don't wait to publish your 10 page article on your blog because it's not perfect yet. Publish the first 2 pages and call it Part 1.
Hopefully at least some of that is useful to you. I'm not a fitness guru who gets up at 5, works out, never eats anything unhealthy, and only works 2 hours a day. I have 4 kids, including 4-year-old twins, and I choose to spend a lot of my time doing things with or for them. That means I need to make my remaining time count, and these are some of the ways I do that today. I'm constantly learning and trying to find ways to be more effective, though, so if you have a tip you'd like to share please leave a comment on the show at weeklydevtips.com.
Show Resources and Links
- Take a free 1 minute typing test (Steve scored 81 WPM with 97% accuracy as an example)
- Recording of Steve Walking and Typing at Different Speeds for science!
That’s it for this week. If you want to hear more from me, go to ardalis.com/tips to sign up for a free tip in your inbox every Wednesday. I'm also streaming programming topics on twitch.tv/ardalis now. Thank you for subscribing to Weekly Dev Tips, and we’ll see you next week with another great developer tip.