March 23, 2019

Solo Developer / Owners - How do you handle non-dev tasks on a day to day basis?

Andrew van Duivenbode @Create_Transmit

Hi Everyone!

I'm a developer and business bootstrapper from Scotland, currently building WordPress plugins for the delivery / transportation industry with an app and Alexa skill in the pipeline and this is my first indiehackers post.

Productivity is everything when you are a solo founder or are building a business on the side.

As we all know, there are a lot of non-development tasks that come with building a business, such as writing marketing copy, customer service, managing team members, writing specs, product testing etc.

As a longtime developer I have learned through experience how I can be most productive when working on code. I plan my own dev tasks the previous day and work on them when I am most focused - either first thing in the morning or just after my morning walk with the dog.

I'm curious to hear: How do the owner/developers out there manage their time and energy when it comes to those tasks they don't love as much as writing code?

Personally I feel real resistance to certain types of tasks. Writing marketing copy is probably the one I have trouble with the most and in some ways I find it more challenging than developing the product.

I've heard of a few approaches such as spending small time per day writing, such as the first hour, or blocking a day per week off the calendar and only working on marketing or other non-dev tasks.

I'm curious - what works for you? Is it all about the schedule? Energy management? Outsourcing?

Thanks for reading!

  1. 1

    Being solo, I don't have to think about coordinating my time with team members, so that is a plus.

    I generally try to do all the mentally challenging stuff earlier in the day -- urgent bugfixes, development, design, marketing copy -- and the mundane administrative work at the end of the day -- emails, customer support. Doesn't always work as planned, but I am getting better.

    One productivity hack I am trying to adopt is to refrain from checking emails for the first 3 hours after I wake up. I am in the process of moving all important alerts (ex. Pingdom, Sentry, etc...) away from email. Once I see my inbox, it takes extreme willpower for me to not respond, let alone not think about what could be in that new customer inquiry.

    Also, +1 to planning the next day's tasks the night before.

    1. 1

      Hi, thanks for your reply!

      It sounds like your approach is much like mine.

      I find doing my highest priority coding work first thing in the morning gets me in the zone and makes most progress for me.

      The difficulty is that now my highest priority tasks are no longer writing code, so I need to change things up a bit now.

      Good luck moving email to later in the day - this is a game changer!

      I first started leaving email closed and turning off all notifications until 12 noon. It is rare that a customer service request is so critical it can't wait a few hours.

      It was important for me not to look at the unread mails because the thought of them was distracting me from concentrating on my high priority tasks.

      My current solution was to invest in a Freshdesk account so customers still get a professional experience with automated replies.

      This allowed me to hire a virtual assistant who checks the email account early in the morning via Freshdesk, and alerts me by Skype of anything urgent. It's cheap as he only works a half hour each day. That way he can handle the simple requests and I have piece of mind that if there is something urgent I will be told about it.

      I then check the email account again myself at the end of the day so no customers are waiting too long.

      I'm sure I will need to a scale this up in future but it has really helped my focus and reduced my stress levels!

      1. 1

        Interesting approach.

        Maybe in the future, there will be some intelligent intermediary that sits between the message source and the message destination. People like us would be able to configure it to delay certain messages until a certain time of day and let other messages pass through. Imagine if this intermediary could work its magic on all notifications - not just incoming email. It might need to be baked into the messaging protocols itself to get widespread use, like email itself.

  2. 1

    Hello Andrew,

    Developer side here.

    In a nutshell:

    I think there are two things to take into account when speaking about productivity: mindset and tools.

    The first is the most important. It includes your goal, how much you value them, goes all the way to personal philosophy and belief. It is very personal and depend how much you know yourself.

    The second should answer the needs of the first. It should be flexible enough for you to go as close as you can to your goals.

    I like iterative processes. I try to make my life like a recursion. I use the word recursion and not loop for a reason: recursions are obvious and easy to

    1. Try something
    2. See if it works
    3. Get feedback
    4. Execute point 1

    Failure will teach you a lot, success not that much. But success will give you motivation.

    I like mindmaps, so my main productivity tool is a mindmap following GTD. Then I use Trello for my side projects and a note systems (Joplin) to write every single of my workflow.

    My productivity system evolve all the time to meet my need. I don't care about fancy tools, I try to listen to what I need and I adjust in consequence.

    I have pretty good results for now!

    1. 1

      Hi Matthieu,

      I like your iterative approach! I'm also always trying to find the perfect system or schedule to get make consistent progress.

      I also use some of GTD to help capture ideas while avoiding distraction.

      Trello is my favourite project management tool so far - great for collaboration with clients or contractors too.

      I was interested to see you posted your daily schedule on your profile. I think getting the right daily routine is key to being effective with your project - and I see you are scheduling health activities too too which is awesome!

      I see you prioritize writing for your blog at the start of each work day. I'm curious - do you have a plan for what to write each morning?

      I have tried short writing sessions each morning but I find it difficult to do a good quality blog post in an hour or less, so I'm lucky if I can finish a big post in 3 days.

      Thanks for your reply!

      1. 1

        Hello Andrew,

        Thanks for the good word! I think you're right: a good routine is key. I modified mine quite a lot during the years and it's now pretty stable. I'm happy about it since I enjoy following it a lot. That's the most important!

        I try to balance flexibility and discipline in my routine system: most of the time I write an article of my blog without any deadline and when it's done, I pick another subject in my Trello board and I begin to write on it, and so on.

        English is not my mother tongue and my blog articles can be quite long, so I take some time to achieve one. I want quality over quantity, I publish on average one article each month. To me the most important is trying to keep some consistency.

        To have ideas for my blog I rely on my way to generate ideas and my idea system I describe here.

        Hope it helps!

  3. 1

    Hey Andrew,

    If I were you, I would try Upwork and find someone very cost effective and get it done through that way, there are lot of people who will do it for $2-3/ hour.

    1. 1

      Hi Uttej, thanks for your response!

      I use Upwork all the time for design and development help so I can keep making progress when my schedule is full of client work and have had a lot of success.

      I have a part time VA who helps with customer service and does a little writing for support articles and I also recommend this as he has made a huge difference for me.

      There are some tasks where it seems it can only be me that does the writing as I have the in depth knowledge and vision to convey to users.

      Perhaps outsourcing industry related article writing related to, but not about the product may help.

      I'm also interested to hear if anyone has any tips on outsourcing content creation effectively - ie keeping the quality high and relevant.

      Thanks! :-)

  4. 1

    Hey Andrew,
    non-dev here. Actually, I’m on the other side: I help WordPress plugin devs with Marketing-related activities.

    I’ll tell you one thing. What you’re sharing here is something that transcends your developer status as it belongs to productivity in a higher level.
    I mean, I’m also struggling sometimes whent it comes to regular site management, implementing a new block of code to get me an element that’s required by my strategy, etc.

    What proved to work for me is a blocking out hours for specific tasks I know I struggle with. To increase my chances of just skipping those hours, I’ve added a buffer time. Ex: if regular maintenance could take me 15/20 minutes, I’ve blocked 1hour for that. This allows me to take into account plenty of “I don’t feel like I wanna do this”, unexepected issues I might face, and laziness.

    Plan and fiercely stick to it. But don’t stop there because you’re missing a key element in your planning: allow yourself to fail (we all do, it’s called life) and anticipate that by adding a buffer.

    1. 1

      Hi Matt, thanks for your advice!

      Productivity is something I've spent a lot of time trying to improve ever since my last day job many years ago when I was waking up at 5am to work on my side project and even coding on the bus on the way home from work.

      The "resistance" is definitely not unique to developers - The War of Art is a great book about how this relates to all kinds of creative fields.

      Personally I think my next experiment will be to try switching one of my peak coding timeslots for writing on a regular basis.

      I think I'm experiencing a mental block and for me it's especially tricky as I feel like I need to be psyched up and enthusiastic to write in the right tone. It's hard to get in this state if I leave it until later in the day after my in-the-flow Dev tasks are done.

      BTW I checked out your blog - looks like you have some very useful posts there so I will be doing some reading. :-)

      1. 1

        Personally I think my next experiment will be to try switching one of my peak coding timeslots for writing on a regular basis.

        Sounds like you wanna own it, great approach!
        Would love to hear more about your goals, needs, etc. as I'm working on a mentorship-like program for devs who would like to hone in on their writing skills/building their "brand".

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