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Top 10 Tips to Get Things Done as Software Engineer

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I don’t know your typical working day, but I assume you have more to do than possible – at least in 24 hours. The following list of ten tips may help you to get things done. These principles and/or methods are fundamental, so they should work in all work environments.

Avoid Interruptions

Interruptions and distraction are one of the most common productivity killers in today’s business environments. Not only open space offices with a lot of noise is a source of distraction. Observations of typical work of a software developer show, that interruptions due to phone calls, messaging systems, video conference systems, chats and other notifications are very common.

Tip: Switch-off all the sources for distraction. At least for 1-2 hours per day and/or during phases of concentrated work. If something is really important people will find a way to reach you. Maybe you can give your family, school and/or kindergarten a special contact for cases of emergency. And your boss will find a way to contact you if urgent.

Finish Tasks Immediately

If you open a mail and/or a change request some time will be needed to understand the task. In cases you interrupt the work to continue later you have to re-invest this time of diving into. Doing five or more tasks in parallel means that you spend most of your time with context switches.

Tip: In cases a task is small and can be done, you should do it immediately and finish the task. Finish the task means 100% ready (no rework, missing tests, etc.).

Best Quality 

It may sound strange, because good quality needs extra time. But rework is a huge productivity killer, because you need the time to remember the first solution, current issue and you need the time to find a new solution. In most cases this will be more than producing a good quality from the very first.

Tip: Take time to understand the task, work on a good solution and verify that this solution really works. Avoid every kind of rework and don’t forget the golden rule of every task or process: “shit in, shit out!”

Prefer Synchronous Communication

Gotcha! The first tip in this list was something like: “avoid synchronous communication” and now I say you should prefer it. But this is not a contradiction. Synchronous communication (or old fashioned talking with people) is the best choice when misconceptions are likely. Asynchronous communication fails quite often in cases the topic is very complex, people talk different languages or have different professional background.

Tip: Arrange face-to-face meetings if the topic is complex. This may be a video conference, but ensure that you see the faces of all others. This is the only way to recognizing that others understand you.

Successful Delegation 

I know some people who strive for mastery in Monkey Technique. In principle the Monkey Technique is about back delegation. Somebody gets a task, makes the minimal possible work and gives it back to the delegator with a question, etc. Then the monkey sits again on the shoulder of the delegator. 

Tip: Have a clear definition of done and don’t accept back delegation.

Reminder for Later

Some tasks can’t be finished immediately and/or delegated. In this case you have to do it later - but the task is still in your mind. Most people have an open task list in mind and check this list on a regular base. This should-not-forget-list is annoying and the longer a task is on the list, the higher is the guilty conscience.

Tip: Schedule a date for this task and forget it (for the moment).

Clever Communication

A lot of time and energy is wasted every day due to inefficient communication. We tend to write unnecessary, bad structured and to long mails/reports. One reason for this is, that we like to explain every detail before we write an open question. Clever Communication gives a key message in the beginning and some reasoning later.

Tip: Always try to use the structure of an optimized message, e.g. take a minute before you do a phone call and try to identify your key message in advance. The first sentence of a mail should contain the key message and the rest is just further explanation.

Personal Network

Sometimes you don’t have the needed know-how or information. In these cases you need the help of somebody else in your organization. If these people know you and like to work with you, it may be easy to get help. In cases you don’t know the key players in your organization, you will have to rely on the official processes. Good Luck!

Tip: Spend time to meet people, be polite and help them (that they will help you if needed).

Pareto Principle

Not all what we do, will create the same business value. The so called Pareto Principle describes the famous 80:20 rule. This rule means that, for many events, about 80% of the effect come from 20% of the effort.

Tip: Be selective what you do and focus on the things with the highest benefit. 

No Fear of Missing Out

Social networks need your time and energy. It is hard to limit the time in social networks and some people even suffer from so called Fear of Missing Out. Wikipedia says: “Fear of missing out or FOMO is a form of social anxiety — a compulsive concern that one might miss an opportunity for social interaction, a novel experience, profitable investment or other satisfying event. This is especially associated with modern technologies such as mobile phones and social networking services.”

Tip: Try to take some weeks “vacation from social networks” and find out, if you survive. You will be surprised!

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