Ah, the life of a WordPress developer. Long hours sitting in a chair, staring a screen, an occasional glance outside to relieve your eye strain and your back, your poor aching back. Haven’t you heard sitting is the new smoking?
I get it though, you’re busy. Your inbox is beeping, clients are emailing to ask for a progress update and you’ve got three deadlines approaching midweek. What’s a person to do?
You might think (like I did for a long time) that grinding it out was the path to improved productivity. Seriously, when your workload is piling up, is there any better way to get things done than buckling down and burning the midnight oil?
There might just be. If you’re a WordPress developer who spends the majority of your day with your tush glued to a chair, listen up – this post is for you.
The Problem With Productivity Science
Is it just me, or are there a lot of productivity studies being referenced around the web these days?
If you were to spend a few hours reading through all the studies in circulation, it wouldn’t take long before you became convinced that we live and work in a nation of unproductive nitwits. Whittling away our days, surfing the net, updating our Facebook news feeds and checking on our Farmville crops. (Do people actually play that still?)
It’s well documented that we should take what we read in most scientific studies with a grain of salt. Is it possible that improving productivity has become a business?
I’m not going to stand here and tell you that the science isn’t relevant. I’m not qualified to debate that topic. Honestly, I believe most of the productivity studies that I’ve come across provide valuable information and great insights, even for the layperson. I’m also not going to tell you that productivity isn’t important; of course it is. You’ve got work to do and it needs to get done. Your clients are counting on you, and the livelihood of their business depends upon you getting their website up and running.
But you also have a life to live. As much as you love building websites, you’ve got outside interests – hobbies, kids, a home to maintain and hopefully you fit in some exercise. Nobody is questioning whether you need to be productive. So if you’re going to put the science aside, quit reading research reports and get back to work, what should you focus on if you’re bound and determined to get more done in a day?
When you’re looking to improve your productivity, the first thing you should realize is that there is no perfect answer. What works for me, might not work for you.
In the next few paragraphs, I’m going to present some specific ideas you could experiment with. I suggest you do just that – experiment with these ideas and see how they work for you. If they don’t work, make a change and reassess or try something different.
Seek First to Find Balance
Being more productive doesn’t mean finding more hours in the day to code – it means getting more coding done in the same or even fewer hours. When projects start to pile up or when clients start reminding us of pending deadlines, it’s easy to compensate by increasing your screen time. But that’s typically not the best solution and can even cause you to become less productive.
Personal experience has shown me that spending too much time on one area of your life is a quick way to throw things out of balance. Not eating properly, not exercising and not spending time with friends or family is not a path to greater productivity. It might be for a short period of time, but then it’ll catch up to you, and I guarantee the first thing to suffer will be that which you are trying to improve.
One of the best things you can do for yourself is to map out the parts of your life that you value the most. Then, decide how much time you want to reasonably spend on each one. Consider mapping out the following areas of your life:
- Health and fitness
- Time with kids
- Your hobbies
There are only 24 hours in a given day, so if you’re going to increase your time spent working on client projects, you’ll have to take that time away from something else. Choose wisely.
Consider Your Work Environment
Your work environment has a tremendous effect on productivity. Look around you. Is your desk clean and organized? Does your computer desktop look like a digital hurricane swept over it? Are your files easy to find?
I’m a huge proponent of an almost empty desktop, both physical and digital. Keeping yourself surrounded by a blank slate keeps your mind creative, less distracted and stress-free.
Structure Your Day in Intervals
“Intervals?” you ask. “I thought those were something reserved for athletes?”
You’re half right. Intervals are an increasingly popular way of training for both long and short distance athletes. What researchers found (pass the salt, please) and presented in a research article snappily titled “Effects of high intensity training and continuous endurance training on aerobic capacity and body composition in recreationally active runners” was that athletes who performed intervals saw a 10% greater improvement in heart stroke volume over the athletes who performed long slow distance training.
So what on earth does this have to do with WordPress development?
Great question, and here is my point. We are taught that the way to be more productive is by sitting in your chair, buckling down and getting your work done. Long, slow, distance – work 7-10 hours with a short break or two, then call it a day. If you’re lucky, you’ll have some time (or energy) for exercise, a chance to play with your kids or enjoy a conversation with your significant other.
What if you tried something different? What if you incorporated the principles of interval training into your WordPress development business? Your daily structure might look more like this:
6:15 Rise and make coffee
6:30 Client project work – work hard with no distractions
8:30 Off to the gym or exercise
10:00 Client project work – work hard with no distractions
11:30 Respond to emails and client inquiries
12:30 Marketing and social media
1:30 Easy client work
2:30 Brisk 15 minute walk
2:45 Work on personal projects
4:00 Family / Social Time / Dinner
7:00 Plan for tomorrow, check emails
7:45 Read and relax
At first glance, it seems like a very segmented day and it is – by design. It will require some personalization and flexibility, but I think you’ll find that shorter, more focused bursts of energy result in higher productivity.
Prioritize and Focus
Part of improving your overall productivity means learning to prioritize more effectively. If the Pareto principle holds true, 20% of what you do during the day is responsible for 80% of your income. Make sure you’re prioritizing the 20% and scheduling those activities early in the day. If hitting a client’s milestone this morning means you can send out the next invoice, that should be a priority.
Sitting in front of a screen all day means you are also faced with distractions at every turn. There are times of the day when getting sidetracked by a distraction is going to happen. But there are other times when you need to make distractions unacceptable. Your first and second 90-minute work interval are two of the times where you should be 100% focused.
Have you ever tried starting your day without a plan? I imagine we all have. Unplanned work days are almost never productive. As you roll your chair up to your desk you review your list of 25 unprioritized tasks, your mind shifts into overwhelm mode – you have no idea where to start. May as well open up Facebook right? Next thing you know an hour has gone by and you still haven’t started your current project.
The last interval of each day should involve planning and prioritizing for tomorrow. How you go about accomplishing that is up to you. You might prefer a handwritten list or maybe a tool like Trello or AnyDo is your modus operandi.
Get Started Now
The final item on our list of ways to create a productive working environment is the easiest of all – in theory.
Getting started almost feels too obvious. That is, until you add up the number of days in the last month that you looked at the clock mid morning only to realize that you had yet to do anything productive.
One of the biggest barriers to productivity is our failure to jump feet first into the task at hand. If you’re managing multiple client projects, it’s often easier to find small, menial tasks or ways to waste time than it is to actually get started on something important.
Planning can solve this problem. If you look at the days where this pattern occurs, I’d be willing to bet that more often than not, you didn’t have a prioritized list of things to do. As a result, you magically find a way to fill your time with things you shouldn’t be doing. This links back to planning ahead, and making sure you have a prioritized list made up the night before.
Be Willing to Experiment
We’ve covered a few important concepts in this article. Not all of them will necessarily work for you, but most of them can make a real difference. Plus, they’re all practical ideas that can be implemented with relative ease.
These are the basic steps:
- Create an organized and clean work environment.
- Map out the different areas of your life.
- Prioritize and focus on the areas and tasks that are most important.
- Structure your day with intervals.
- Plan ahead.
- Get started.
Finally, be creative. Experiment with structuring your day differently. Discover what works well for you and what doesn’t. I think you’ll be surprised at how your productivity improves over time. If you’re hungry for more productivity ideas, check out this post.
Have you experimented with improving your productivity? With improved productivity, did you reward yourself with free time or focus on getting more work done? Let us know in the comments!
Image Credit: Bloomua / ShutterStock