Developers November 26, 2020

Tips for afternoon software development productivity?


Anyone else struggle with afternoon software development productivity? I get more done in a morning than 3-4 afternoons.

My mornings are usually 8:30am-12:30pm, afternoons 1:30pm-5pm.

It seems like one of my root issues is watching a few YouTube videos during lunch break, which seems appropriate at the time because it's a lunch break and seems like a good time to let my mind relax. However, the dopamine release from the YouTube UX & unfocused mindset that follows is tough to shake after lunch break is over.

I worked at a large corporation for 10 yrs prior to going indie and didn't have as much difficulty getting back to work after lunch, but "productivity" in that context also included simply attending meetings, or doing less mentally intensive tasks during the afternoon. If I was doing sales or customer support in the afternoon I could get into the zone more easily, but software development is harder to re-focus on.

Trying to develop the self discipline to be productive in software development for ~4 hours in the morning followed by at least 2-3 in the afternoon. Currently afternoons often end up resulting in ~0.5-1.5 hours of effective software development done by ~5pm.

I've tried restrictions like no YouTube/entertainment during lunch, or more specifically: "no YouTube/entertainment until all coding is done for the day", which seems to help, but lunch breaks alone as an indie dev without some form of relaxing media are tough.

During breakfast I listen to podcasts on artificial intelligence which get me fired up to start working, & I've considered listening to them during lunch as well, but they require a bit too much focus when my mind is looking for something more relaxing around lunch time.

Appreciate any suggestions people can share.

  1. 3

    Don't drink coffee in the morning

    1. 1

      Thanks! Looked into this tip & found more evidence than expected supporting it. Going to try switching to a lower caffeine green tea.

  2. 3

    I had/have the same problem.

    In the mornings, I normally wake up, get ready, and work with a cup of coffee. Then when I know I have some focused work ahead of me in the afternoon, for me, it helps to take a short 10-20 min nap and have some tea.

    I think this works for me since it mimics my mornings so it kind of feels like I'm resetting my day.

    1. 1

      Yeah, a nap helps a lot. I sometimes get a second 15min nap in the middle of the afternoon if I get too drowsy.
      Some say you get "addicted" to napping, others that is healthy...

  3. 3

    If your goal is to "let your mind relax" then I don't think YouTube or any social media is the right path. Maybe that's where you're going wrong.

    1. 1

      You're probably right. On the one hand, I don't engage in any "social media" and don't consider YT social media, and the majority of my YT subscriptions & things I'd watch during lunch are from educational channels like Numberphile, Stuff Made Here, etc.. On the other hand, all it takes is one YT video about cats or politics for it to be challenging to recover focus. Thinking of restricting lunch to podcasts or something like CuriosityStream (documentaries only), since that's essentially the kind of content YT ideally recommends during lunch. Appreciate your point which helped me reflect on this more accurately.

      1. 2

        Sorry I wasn’t implying YouTube was social media. I also have a social media footprint of zero - however YouTube kills me. I can get lost for hours in it.

        I think my point was that ANY kind of stimulation like that, even if it’s educational, is counter to “giving your mind a rest”.

        Perhaps whatever time you’d dedicate to YT, finish up 15 mins earlier and engage in mindfulness.

        1. 1

          Excellent suggestion, thanks.

  4. 2

    Learn about Deep Work , meditate (can use Headspace), and a pro-tip: eat smaller meals, split lunch to two smaller meals.

  5. 2

    The trick for me seems to be to

    1. not eat anything heavy during my break, and
    2. go on a short walk.

    This lets me get right back into work easily.

    1. 2

      Solid advice. My lunches are often light, but not always. Going to create a recurring calendar reminder called "Light lunch" to help make the habit explicit. Short walk also sounds perfect & I could see incorporating it if I lived in a different setting... I'll keep it in mind for the future.

  6. 2

    My focus is best in the morning and less good in the afternoon or evening.

    I try to do the hardest tasks in the morning (even before checking anything else like social media). I make a coffee immediately after getting up and work on the most challenging development tasks first. When I'm exhausted or done with the tasks (usually before lunchtime), I take a break, and then in the afternoon, I do easier tasks or routine work.

    That's been my routine for many years now. It works pretty well for me.

    1. 2

      Exact same here. Nice to hear from a kindred spirit. Have a nice weekend.

  7. 2

    I agree, in the afternoon especially after work, it is a bit harder to find motivation and a bit less harder to find distraction.

    But it always depends on certain other things, like how motivating the project itself is and often it is related to how motivational the code base of my project is.

    When it becomes to complex, to messy and non-functional, all I was planning to do comes to halt and my motivation sinks to rock bottom, especially in the evening, that's when I fully focus on restructuring and getting my environment to a point where I can test and run everything out of the box and the code base looks appealing. This is the point where feature implementations work fluently again and you get your motivation back, as you can move forward in smaller incremental chunks of work again.

    This might not be a factor for everyone, some people are happy with their mess and can always wrap their head around somehow, but for me it clearly is.

  8. 2

    I'm going to suggest something that might be a little counter-intuitive. If you find that a certain time of day is difficult for you to focus, you have control over your work schedule, and you don't need to be engaged with clients or users during the afternoon, why not structure your work day around when you're most productive?

    I find I have some of the same issues with focus in the early afternoon, but I can really focus and work well in the morning and at night, so I try to break my work day up into morning and evening chunks.

  9. 2

    I had a similar problem and I’ve started using focus trackers. Most recently BeFocused on iOS where I set intervals for work and breaks, 45:5 worked best for mornings and 50:10 for afternoons (after lunch breaks). Also, the break means no screen time at all, just relaxing, doing breath exercises or going for a quick high fives with kids :) Remember to have this little, no-screen break right after lunch - give yourself a few minutes for “resetting” your brain.

    1. 1

      Thanks, @jac33k. Going to look into focus trackers on Android (appears BeFocused isn't available, but similar apps are). The tip of no screen time during breaks seems key. No kids yet, but I'll give my cat a high five.

      Have a nice Thanksgiving!

      1. 2

        Good luck, and I hope it helps! I would be interested to hear if it worked for you after some time of using. High five to your cat and have a happy Thanksgiving!

        1. 1

          Quick followup in case you're interested: using Android's "Focus To-Do" app, the closest I could find to iOS BeFocused. Tried a few focus sessions, & during the session if I feel like losing focus once or twice it does help to see the timer encouraging continued focus for N more minutes. The challenge I'm having is at the end of the focus timer, ~60% of the time the timer ends I'm feeling like I'm in the zone, my brain's RAM is fully attuned to the task at hand & related considerations to keep in mind, I feel no desire to take a break, & it seems like doing so would have the double cost of needing to get back into the zone later. ~40% of the time the timer ends, it feels like good timing to take a break. I've been adapting by ignoring the timer when it seems best to just continue. Overall, I see the potential in timers like this & am going to keep experimenting. Thanks again & have a great weekend.

          1. 2

            There’s definitely no “one size fits all” solution, so experimenting with breaks and working time makes sense. Also, remember that habits need some time to develop (a study I’ve read some time ago claimed it takes even 3 weeks). Good luck with that!

            1. 1

              Will do -- thanks again!

  10. 1

    I find going for a walk at noon is really helpful, especially if there are trees on the way. Seeing some nature is a good reset after staring at the screen for hours.

  11. 1

    I doubt it's the YouTube that's leading to your lack of productivity, but the food coma due to a heavy lunch.

  12. 1

    What has worked for me, besides doing tricks like only allowing YouTube in incognito mode (forcing me to log in every time I want to see my subscriptions) is to go from the unproductive thing (such as YouTube) to opening Text Edit and writing out a stream of consciousness. Usually, for whatever reason, the thing that is holding me back from getting to work are all the random thoughts that have entered my head since I last took a break. Just writing out my thoughts then deleting the file (or keeping it if I've written something interesting) makes me feel ready to start working again.

    This may or may not work for everyone, but it works for me.

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