11 Tips to Make You More Efficient

Have you ever had one of those days where you can’t figure out what you’ve been doing all day long? You get home wondering where the day went, and if you’ve accomplished anything. It’s a pretty crummy feeling, and I’ve been there many, many times.

After some reflection about how my “crummy” days went, I started noticing things that really reduced my efficiency. This is a collection of my findings; the things that helped me get more done and feel good about it.

First, we’ll start with a basic definition. Some people define it as producing an acceptable amount based on an input, however, as a developer, I much prefer dictionary.com’s definition.

Efficient - adj. Performing or functioning in the best possible manner with the least waste of time and effort.

  1. Get ergonomic

    It’s critical that you are comfortable at work, as this could be one of the biggest distractions that you are unaware of, not to mention down the road it can cause other issues with your body that could prevent you from doing your job.

    If your company can do it, try to get an ergonomist in to look at your work area, desk, etc. Often a good desk and chair will make a world of difference in how you feel during the day and when you get home.

  2. Take it easy on your eyes

    If you’re a developer, it’s pretty much a given that you’ll be using your eyes for every task your job requires, especially you hunt and peck typers. Your eyes can’t be strained if you want to work at your highest efficiency. Fluorescent lights are pretty bad for your eyes, as is glare off of your desk, or other items.

    Try unscrewing lights if you have non-fluorescent lights. Don’t forget to remind the maintenance staff that the lights are not burnt out, just unscrewed. We put black x’s on them with permanent marker so our maintenance guys know.

  3. Get good peripherals

    You’re willing to spend $30,000 on a car you spend 90 minutes a day in driving to work and home, yet you have a $10 mouse and a $15 keyboard that you use for 8 hours a day.

    Get a good mouse and keyboard that you find to be very comfortable. Try an ergonomic keyboard, after a couple days you’ll be used to it. If you have a laptop, please don’t just use its keyboard and touchpad. They’re horrible.

  4. Get good hardware

    Figure out how much time you spend each day waiting for your computer to catch up to you. Every minute spent compiling, waiting for a program to launch, or restarting after a BSOD. Let your supervisor now how much of your time is wasted, and what gains you believe you’ll get from having better hardware. Be honest and log it over a few weeks.

  5. Dual screens

    This may very well be the biggest double edged efficiency sword there is. Having two monitors is downright awesome. Possibly my #1 productivity boost. The only downside is that when I work at home, I only have a single screen and it frustrates the life out of me, to the point where it’s difficult to work well.

    Check out this Microsoft study on dual screens and the productivity boosts they give. Just remember it’s not so much about screen size as it is about the resolution. More resolution equals more space for stuff on your screen.

  6. Organize your screen and your desk

    Get application windows opening to locations on your desktop that make sense. Put your most used applications and folders where they are easy to get to. Same goes for your desk, if you take notes a lot, use a notebook for a mouse pad, and keep a pen right beside it. Less movement makes you more efficient.

  7. Get focused

    Get rid of all your distractions. Do you have MSN on at work, or your personal email? Turn it off and use it during lunch. If you work in a noisy area, put some music on, or just noise cancelling headphones if you don’t like to dev to music. Not all music is good to code to, find what works for you and go with it.

    Find what kind of communication works best for you and ask people to talk to you like that. I like our internal IM and email, because it doesn’t derail my train of thought. Helps keep me focused if I can answer when I’d like.

  8. Use the best tools

    Don’t hesitate to try out new tools related to your job (for example, a new IDE), and if you like it put a request for it in with your supervisor. Never use a tool “just because”. Always have a reason for it, and a reason for not using something else.

    You should also know exactly what it is that you are looking for in your tools so you can evaluate them well.

  9. Customize your tools

    When you have your tools picked out, customize them to suit your needs. Change the colour of the background in your IDE to light grey so it’s not so harsh. Try a new font to code in. There are options other than Courier New (try Consolas).

    Look for the tool that can do it all for you. If you code in multiple languages, try to find an IDE that supports them all. Most popular IDEs have many plugins that can get the tools you need inside one program. Just don’t sacrifice functions you need to build an all encompassing IDE.

  10. Source control

    No brainer, but some people don’t use it. CVS or SVN can keep versions of your code so you can revert if you need to, or just log changes. Make sure you back it up. Losing code sucks.

  11. Easy access to information

    Firefox allows you to setup some very handy “quick searches” that can be accessed with a single keystroke. I have one set up so that I can search google just by typing ‘g’ and then my search.
    More information about the quick searches.

    On the note of google, it’s important you know how to use it well so you don’t waste time looking for information on the net. I typically follow a broad to narrow search term. For example, if I’m looking for information on if statements in C#, I’ll google “c# if statement” (no quotes). I’ve found this gets me the best results. Information about advanced google searching.

    If you find it difficult to read the text on your screen, turn on Windows’ font anti-aliasing.

    My final tip is to not us full screen windows if you do not have to. I align my icons around the perimeter of my desktop, and with windows just slightly less than the width/height of my screen, I can always access these important shortcuts or programs without having to minimize or rearrange anything.

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  1. 1 07.22.08
    7:14 am
    Dave Newton

    @#5: So… get another monitor for home? See #3 and apply justification for spending a few hundred bucks.

  2. 2 07.22.08
    8:40 am

    @Dave: Hah, yes. I know the fixes are simple, but when you have a family to take care of the things you ‘want’ are not often high on the priority list of things to buy.

    For now, I make due with what I’ve got, or drive in to work on Saturday mornings. It can be quite relaxing. I’m only 5 minutes away, so with a coffee in hand, I can sit down, relax and enjoy the peace and quiet of an empty office.

  3. 3 07.26.08
    10:27 am

    [...] 11 Tips to Make You More Efficient [...]

  4. 4 07.27.08
    7:39 pm

    [...] lists 11 Tips to Make You More Efficient. Good tips for [...]

  5. 5 08.07.08
    9:01 am

    [...] good thing whether it be with yearly raises, throwing a party from time to time or giving everyone dual monitors. While most developers don’t need daily, or even hourly rewards, unmotivated ones might. If [...]

  6. 6 08.14.08
    1:42 pm
    Haakon Wibe

    this is really good and interesting… being a support manager I know or have at least thought about these issues, great site! :)

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