Tips for a Productive Workday


Minimize Context Switching
I am not able to code all day without any interruptions or fatigue, but I am often able to minimize context switching. On the days that I am able to control the amount of context switching, I have found that I leave the office feeling productive rather than defeated. Here are a few things you can do to maintain focus and minimize the effects of interruptions.

  • Use a virtual desktop application. Virtual desktops segment your work area into specific categories with the aim of keeping you focused. They can help reduce the distractions of web surfing, email checking, and other focus-hindering tasks. Virtual desktops range from very sophisticated to surprisingly simple. I use Microsoft Virtual Desktop Manager (Power Toy), where I use one desktop for coding and one for communication.         
  • Leave breadcrumb notes when switching tasks. This simple habit allows you to refresh your memory quickly with low productivity cost. When the time comes to leave one technical task behind and take on another, take one minute to log your current thoughts in a to-do list so you can reconvene at the next opportunity. For example, if I am coding a Trading Application and I leave off at unit testing the TradeService, I will write, “Left off at testing the retrieveDailyTrades() method; need to investigate why trades after 2pm are not retrieved; then move on to integrating Bloomberg services.” Notes like this help jog my memory, and I am not staring into space the next day thinking, “Where did I leave off?”
  • Jot down ideas in real time. Our minds are constantly at work, even if we’re not focusing on the task at hand. When you are coding, you may come up with an admin task that needs to be completed, or a totally unrelated idea may pop in your head. Don’t ignore it, and certainly don’t context switch and abandon the current task. Keep a notepad available (paper or electronic) to jot down the ideas and make time to expand on them later. This can clear your mind and help you focus, while preserving ideas for later consideration.

Working efficiently comes down to some basic ideas: Focus on your tasks, minimize distractions, and drive your primary task to completion. This is easier said than done. Adopting some of these habits takes some discipline initially, but once implemented, huge gains can be achieved. Hopefully some of the above tips can help you leave the office with your head held high and your to-do list shortened.

Thanks to Timothy Andrews and Austin Holmes for reviewing this article.


User Comments

Anonymous's picture

Really enjoyed this article and think the points are so true - I waste quite a bit of time on both emails and multi-tasking and these are some really useful tips for the workplace!

June 5, 2012 - 11:25am
Anonymous's picture

I completely agree. I thoroughly enjoyed the thoughtfully written article and even more important, the solutions to the multiple distractions in our daily lives. There is a lot of research on defining the problems as outlined below but we all need to come up with reasonable solutions in our lives to minimize them.

Multitasking drains brain
Mind is designed to handle one complex activity at a time, researchers find
By Sandra Blakeslee

Multitasking Brain Divides And Conquers, To A Point
by Jon Hamilton NPR April 15, 2010

June 5, 2012 - 4:16pm
Anonymous's picture

Nirav - Good Article. Some of the approaches you mention, I do apply except I do not write on piece of paper. I am proud of you. Love you. Dad.

June 5, 2012 - 6:02pm
Anonymous's picture

Nirav, I was going to write something intelligent regarding your article but got distracted by a pop-up email :) ... You provide good tips on keeping focused in an easily distractable world. I think it will be a greater challenge for the next generation (our children).

June 6, 2012 - 12:17am

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