Developers November 25, 2020

What is your biggest productivity killer?

Joonas Lindholm @Penguin

For the past few weeks, I've been trying to work hard both in my 9-to-5 job and as an indie hacker. Times have been rough and I feel like my productivity is low.

There has been stuff like unclear schedules, missing specs for new products, too much bouncing around between tasks, etc.

I'd like to hear experiences from you guys too!

What is your biggest productivity killer as a developer? ⛔🚀

  1. 9

    Not having a clear goal for the next hour and therefore goofing off after a few minutes to youtube or reddit...

    1. 3

      Outside of my 9 to 5 job, this is exactly what I do also. First I worked on my side hustles in the evenings only to find it always leading to the same result: me surfing youtube.

      What has helped for me is to work side-projects early in the mornings, if you're not doing it, I think you should give it a go @MartyW

      1. 2

        Early in the morning really has become a habit of mine already, wake up like 5:30-6:00 and learn something about language and coding.

  2. 7

    Losing momentum. I feel like if you don't show up everyday, even if you end up working one hour, you'll lose your momentum fast, and the next thing you know, a few months passed by.

    totally not inspired by real life events

    1. 2

      In the past, when you've lost your momentum, what are the steps you have followed to get back on the run and gain momentum again? What was the biggest problem for you to get going again?

      <sarcasm> Haha, yeah, totally not from real life </sarcasm> :D

      1. 1

        I just accomplish something, tick something on that to-do list and call it a day, sometimes it's ridiculously small. I feel like if you do that over the course of a few days/weeks, it becomes a habit and you get used to it. The challenge shifts from doing something/anything to doing more things in terms of quantity and quality.

        Also TAKE BREAKS.

    1. 1

      OMG :D Sorry for bothering you mate ;)

  3. 4

    Notifications of all kind, from email to all kind of messengers, slack, mattermost etc etc.
    It's so disturbing that when I don't get any notification for a very short time, I check, if network connection is fine....

    1. 2

      You got me laughing there telling about the network connection check - because it's so true.

      You seem to recognize this problem, so what have you tried to do to solve it in the past? Like turning off notifications or something like that?

      1. 1

        sorry for the late answer... was somehow over notified :-)
        Yes, I recognize and I think I know the solution, disable any notifications which are not potentially a channel of alarm/critical information that needs immediate reaction (analyzing this well, this is mostly never the case).
        Then defining a rhythm of checking channels, like eg email every 2 hours, social media after lunch.
        But all this can only work well imho, if people which communicate through the different channels with you are aware of, that you take care, but when it makes sense.
        And that last problem, between us, is probably most difficult part

        1. 1

          Maybe if you developed an app that takes care of Slack for you? Like it prevents you from getting notifications in case it finds you in a "coding flow". Then it replies to them that you will take a look at their problem etc. later?

          1. 1

            problem is, that I (and I think I'm not alone with that) get input through much more channels then only Slack. That's Mattermost, Email, WhatsApp, Twitter DM, Skype, Gitter, Discord...
            Partly I can handle it:
            a) disabling Notification in Linux Gnome Notfication Settings
            b) use Rambox Pro (or Franz) for all messaging like channels and disable there for every channel.

            1. 1

              You are definitely not alone, also most of the comments here are related to messaging/social media distractions.

              It's a hard problem to solve as those platforms are designed to be highly addictive.

  4. 3

    Lack of focus. When I've got too many things on my to-do list or try to manage multiple projects I tend to get lazy and distracted.

    1. 1

      What actions have you taken to try to avoid too many things in your to-do-list?

      1. 1

        Made more to-do lists :) I used to have like 10-15 items on my to-do list. Many of them took just 15 minutes or so but were a distraction. Others were mindless or otherwise mundane.

        Now I've got on my main to-do list only very important / cognitively demanding tasks. I've merged all of the mundane tasks that don't require thinking into one task (sub-to-do list). And usually, it has the least priority.

        So I try to have 3-5 tasks on the main to-do list and the last of these tasks is the sub-to-do list. I usually do it in the evening, when I'm too exhausted to anything of importance.

        1. 1

          That is a clever way to approach your to-do lists! Have you tried working without a to-do list in the past or do you consider it an essential part of your workflow and prioritization?

          1. 1

            I've worked without to-do lists for years. As long as I was an employee with a fairly limited set of responsibilities it was okay.

            Now I'm doing too many different things - it's too easy to forget about something or misprioritize. So I can't imagine life without to-do lists.

  5. 3

    Trying to find problems to work on :(

    1. 1

      If I were you, I'd try to stop looking for problems and make them come to you. Do all kinds of stuff, go to public places, talk to people here, socialize, work on something whatever it is, and think of pain points there.

      TL;DR - Do multiple stuff and let the problems "pop-out" - don't force your brain to directly think about them.

  6. 2

    I feel like not having a clear goal, and a feeling of disorder makes me be very unproductive. Instead, when I have a thousand things to do, I just disappear from WhatsApp and all other communications since I'm very focused.

    Something that really helped me is to set weekly goals and daily goals. For the daily goals, I use https://pomofocus.io, which is great to focus on tasks. It also helps you realize when you might be putting too many tasks. I tend to think that the day is longer and that's horrible because I always ended up moving tasks to the next day.

    The problem with Pomodoro Technique is when I have to do many different things (bureocracy, talk to client, develop), because it really makes me loose the focus...

    Hope it helped! :)

    1. 1

      Thanks for the answer!

      I've been hearing a lot of people using Pomodoro with good results. I'm glad it works for you too!

    1. 1

      yeah, infinite scrolling 😂

    1. 1

      Have you tried closing Slack in the past? Did it cause you harm or did you miss out on something important?

      1. 1

        I muted most of the channels, turned off all the notifications, and I'm closing it more often nowadays. But sometimes you just have to communicate a lot, and then it becomes a nightmare, just like working in an office/open space :).

        1. 1

          Yeah, you can't just shut everything off. Developer work is mostly communication in various ways anyway.

  7. 2

    Having down time in the same place I do work and Indie Hack.

    I'm working from home because of lockdown. I play video games in my down time, but I sometimes do this on my rig at my desk, the same place I also dev. So sometimes its hard to separate the two. During long work days your mind shifts to how an easy dopamine rush you can receive if you switch over to a game, or after a long day, you don't feel like developing, even if its a new product, so your go to is the easy way out. Procrastination.

    Seperating the two is the best idea. Chill somewhere you don't do work and vice versa. Balance is key. Im trying to implement a better work/reward cycle.

    1. 2

      I also want to separate this. Thing is I don't want to have to go to two offices, one for my employer and one for my own project. I'm currently trying to switch to a new employer. Maybe he is open to the idea of me working on my own project from the office after hours. Renting an additional office would be costly and it would be a lot of commuting around.

      1. 1

        Are you saying that if you've worked from 9 to 5 in the office provided by your current employer, after "work hours" you cannot stay there and work on your own project? How do they prevent that? But geez.. If this is the case, I think it is really time to change to another employer.

        1. 1

          I'm looking for a 30 hour or 25 hour / week gig. That would be 9-3 or even 9-2.... and if I would be working on my own project after that, everyone in the office could see it.

          1. 1

            Ah, that's a different case then if you're on a gig.

      2. 1

        That may be an option, but from my experience, it may be hard to find an employer that would allow that. Worth a try though as that would be great. I'm trying to have actual breaks away from the desk. Finish work, spend some time in a different room and then return to the office feeling a little more refreshed.

    2. 2

      This is the reason why I don't like to work remotely - it gives me the chance to look for that easy way out same as you described.

      In the past, have you tried different ways to reward yourself instead of playing video games?

      1. 1

        I have and I will continue to try to find more things. The issue at the moment is a lot of it is routine. I find working on my own products rewarding after I've had a chance to refresh myself after work.

        Even playing a longer game by smashing it out during the week and then having a full weekend to spend time with my partner, knowing I've achieved enough to truly appreciate the downtime.

        1. 1

          Thanks for the insight and I agree one's brain can only handle a certain amount of work and one way or another it needs its downtime.

    1. 1

      Damn those endless youtube marathons! :D

      1. 1

        exactly you start with one topic and you find yourself drifting ideas damn youtube it's so much fun 😄

  8. 2

    Being sad and missing social contact that spirals me into not focusing on my goals..

    1. 1

      Sad to hear this. Is this caused by the COVID-19? If so, maybe you should use your experiences as a resource to build something - maybe others are experiencing similar problems even with Whatsapp, Telegram, and Zoom out there.

  9. 1

    To reiterate what others have said, Slack! This post made me analyse my day a lot, thanks for asking the question I think I’ve found an idea that could help me here.

    1. 1

      Care to share what it is that you found out that could be helpful?

      1. 1

        I was brainstorming ideas for potential side projects through analysing problems I faced day-to-day (after reading that it's better to analyse the problem than think of solutions) and this just sparked something in my brain to think about work which resulted in an idea coming to mind!

  10. 1

    Having users putting you pressure works wonder to stay focused.

    Another way is to build a simple to-do list, and try to stick to it.

    1. 1

      One more good reason to your customers happy! Good comment!

  11. 1

    Distraction, feeling low and sometimes it is mood.

    1. 1

      What kind of distractions are you talking about?

      1. 1

        Negative talks, family issues, internal and external factors etc.

        1. 1

          Do you work solo or for a bigger company?

          1. 2

            Not for a bigger company but yes for a small one.

  12. 1

    Well I'm no entrepreneur yet (, still making up my mind).... But my biggest productivity killer has been Netflix and random yt videos. I get up in the morning, start my work, take a break for breakfast and that break extends to easily 2 hours. Same for lunch. Many days I end up working at late evening/night on the same stuff I could've easily completed in my day time if not for yt/nf.

    Irony is, the stuff I watch on yt is mostly about how to improve productivity/building good daily routines and other such self improvement stuff. But I guess I just read and watch a lot of motivational stuff that, somewhere along the way, watching /reading them have become more interesting than apply them in my daily life 😀

    1. 1

      Those damn shark videos, you know right 🤣

  13. 1

    These days, my biggest killer is Indie Hackers :)) Reading and trying to learn from others is much more tiresome than I thought (I am doing it after my main job).

    Also I'm doing a lot of research about "potential" competitors or implementations on the same ideas/niches. And I have to admit that it is overwhelming and a lot of times it lowers my motivation.

    But luckily there's always a next day with a fresh perspective :)

    1. 1

      Try not to think too much about what others do or have done. Come up with your own path. I assure you, you will learn a lot if you just execute, no matter what it is in the beginning.

  14. 1

    Day to day excitement with new things I learn. Hard to stick to the plan and say no to new opportunities I see here and there :)

    1. 1

      What did you do the last time you faced a new opportunity? Could you describe the steps you took or did not take?

      1. 1

        Well I started thinking that I should start creating content for YouTube which made me lose focus from twitter, not share content there and finally get stressed about having too many things to do suddenly.

        The story is I had a call with a fellow maker that is a YouTuber and I felt like it's a great thing for me to try as well.

        1 week later, I ended up stressed and lost due to this lose of focus that came from excitement and decided to take the essentialist approach and put the YouTube idea on the side. The way I achieved that is by just writting down what makes me stressed and realized it's that one.

        1. 1

          It is always good to try things and to me, it seems you didn't waste too much time on this and quickly figured out that it is not the for you, at least for now.

          I see this as a positive test.

  15. 1

    I don't use any social media but the past few weeks - largely due to the US election - I've found myself getting lost in YouTube for hours at a time and it's really annoying me.

    1. 1

      Have you tried website blocking add-ons or similar in the past? If yes, why didn't they work?

      1. 1

        No I don't like garbage like that. I'm an adult. If I want or don't want to come off YouTube then that's on me.

        I've tried those things before and you just end up turning them off or bypassing them in some way; if I'm going to watch something them I'm going to watch it. Back to the whole "being an adult" thing.

        1. 1

          There are lots of psychology and behavior patterns behind what you're doing. Becoming aware of those might help you. After that, you can be a highly productive adult.

          1. 1

            I have been a highly productive adult until the American election lol

  16. 1

    FIFA mobile 🎮🎮🎮

    1. 1

      What would happen if you uninstalled it? ;)

      1. 1

        Nothing... I'm quite flexible.

        The reason I've not yet uninstalled it is that, much as it takes away my time, it also gives me a quick escape after 12 hours of coding.
        Besides, my next project is a game so being in that environment helps to visualise a few things.

        #LemonsToLemonade

  17. 1

    During my day job, it would be meetings.

    1. 1

      What did you gain by attending the last meeting you were invited to? Did it solve something?

  18. 1

    I have serious problems with starting something if i didn't finish the preivous one. If by any reason i can't continue the previous task because i'm waiting for someone to respond or because im waiting for something that i can do nothing about, my productivity drops like hell until i can finish the previous task.

    I have a tendency to do things in order, so most of the times the tasks are related, the situation where i have tasks that are not related to each other is rare. That said, most of the times i can "start" and do like "20%" of the task, but i will get stuck at some point because of the previous tasks being a blocker, but i really have a problem getting the task started because i know the blocker will appear and i will get frustrated, so i have the tendency to distract myself until the situation is finished and sometimes that mean days without doing anything :(

    1. 1

      Thanks for the comprehensive answer.

      When looking at this quickly, it seems like a problem with prioritization. You have way too many impediments in your tasks. Also, it possible that the tasks you're doing should be bigger.

      How have you tried to solve this problem before? Can you give more details on what you tried and what happened?

      1. 1

        That crossed my mind before, but that's not the case, unfortunately. Sometimes it is, but when that's the case is a simple fix.

        It is mostly a mental blocker. I have a very linear way of thinking, "first, task1, and once task1 is finished, task2" and if the line is broken (i can't finish task1 for whatever reason), it's hard for me to ignore and move to a parallel one (task 2), even if they are not related.

        For example, if I need the API key from a service to continue to work on a part of a feature, and they take days to send the key to me, I have serious problems to continue the other parts of the feature that don't require the key because I know I will be blocked by the key again very quickly, and then I will have 2 unfinished tasks and so on...

        Another better example is when I'm blocked by a bug that I can't fix it. I get frustrated that the bug is taking so long and my productivity drops because of it, but I can't mentally move on to something else until I fix the bug and that goes into a frustration loop that just sucks my productivity.

        Those situations just block me mentally to a level that's very unproductive.

        The way I try to solve this by is mapping as many blockers as I can at the beginning of the project and have backup tasks for when those situations happen, so I can distract myself with tasks and I know are easy, so it pumps up my motivation and the mental blocker is not that massive. Try to go for a run sometimes too, changing environments helps with the bugs situation a lot.

        1. 1

          The part where you talk about solving the bug. It proves to me that you have quite a lot of perseverance. Use that as a resource!

          Most mental blockers are good in the sense that you can learn away from them. It will take time but I believe you will get there.

  19. 1

    Phone and thinking about other tasks while doing something.

    What helps me a lot to focus is writing down my tasks for the day on a paper that fits in my pocket.
    They should all be completable, you usually don't forget your big tasks. :)

  20. 1

    Not stopping when needed and the race for self-improvement!

    1. 1

      Not sure that I follow.. do you mean that you put too much time into self-improvement?

      1. 1

        I'd rather put it like this: self-improvement is a myth that cause a lot of serious problems. Improving by itself is OK, but you should be careful not to make it an improvement for the sake of improvement.

        1. 1

          I have to agree. You need to be very focused on what you learn in which situation.

  21. 1

    Non trivial tasks that take too much time than anticipated. I am a developer by craft but do some design for my product as well.

    Sometimes out of the blue, I get some idea about new screenshots for my app and off I go. I would spend hours without realising it. And end up exhausted because it's difficult for me to design graphics.

    This has happened several times. Non Dev related tasks take too much of my time.

    1. 1

      I'm kinda happy to hear someone else other than me does this. We share the same problem as I'm a backend developer and honestly suck at UI design, and I still need to do it and it's exhaustive because it is "not my thing".

      Are you a solo maker?

      1. 1

        Yes. Trying to pursue my project with more grit this time. I am currently building a backend service for my app. It's my first time working with backend service and everything is so confusing - what framework should I use, am I doing security the right way? That also takes up so much time.

        1. 1

          Working solo time is of the essence. You need to spend it wisely.

          When learning new things in the past, what techniques have you tried to use to get more done in the little time you have?

          1. 1

            In the past, I didn't have any time constraints and I wasn't pursuing any projects. I was learning by building.

            1. 1

              As a result, do you think you were more productive then?

  22. 1

    Communication

    I don't know if you know this. With me it is often like this, I am working on a problem and then someone comes "hey, look nice weather today".

    The nice weather is representative for other topics.

    Chat, e-mail, messenger, smartphone can be turned off. That's no problem. But something like other stuff, parents, girlfriend, postman and employees are little bit difficult.

    1. 1

      I know exactly what you mean. My girlfriend is constantly asking me questions or speaking to me when I'm trying to focus on my work ;) hehe.

      Do you happen to have any tips for me that have worked for you in the past for handling this situation? I'd be glad to hear!

      1. 1

        so with family, it's easy. I said, "please stop calling me in time XY" eq: between 8:00 and 16:00. my parents actually stick to it 90%. here I phone them on the weekend or after 18:00.

        and office and apartment are now separated

        but with colleagues, employees or the postman, I have no solution yet

        1. 1

          I starting to think communication with your colleague is just necessary for you to get your job done.

          In what forms do these interruptions with colleagues and other employees happen? Teams/Slack messages? Email? Something else?

          Thanks for the answers by the way @dehenne

          1. 2

            I am now out of the one / two man business. Somehow in the last few years employees have joined them 😅. I am now with my third company and the fourth is in the process of being founded.

            Disadvantage, I get a lot of questions, with my company partners this is no different. I.e. sometimes people stand next to my desk ... this is difficult to prevent.

            Advantage, many things don't stand still. Even if you outsource work, you still have to coordinate.

            So, you just can't have everything ☺️

            1. 1

              I get what you're saying and totally agree that you can't just have everything

  23. 1

    I can't wake-up early morning - too lasy in morning :(

    1. 1

      It takes practice. I for one know this because I just HATE waking up early. But if you are willing to work through the initial pain, suddenly you realize it's not that bad.

      Reminds me of the time I was in military service. Waking up at 5 AM every morning for 6 months, you suddenly realize you just can't sleep later than until 6 AM even if you get the chance.

  24. 1

    Not sticking to one Idea. After started working on an Idea, I usually go to Reddit and other channels for more inspiration where I waste a lot of time.
    My best suggestion will be at least build something small and then search for improvements (usually your customers will start giving you improvement ideas).
    Trying to build something big from Day 0 will only push you to the infinite not ending process.

    1. 1

      How have you tried to avoid going to Reddit or other distracting channels in the past?

      1. 1

        Initially I tried some blocking chrome extensions but those are of no use. Currently I am trying something new.
        I will open Reddit only after completing this login page and It is actually working.
        Reward system for your brain 😁😄

        1. 1

          That seems quite a nice way to handle it. Where did you come up with that new approach you are testing?

          1. 1

            I have heard these types of techniques are used to train dogs. They are rewarded with a cookies to do some task repeatedly, after sometime these habits gets wired in their brain and becomes their lifestyle and later they do that with out expecting any reward.

            1. 2

              Yes, these are triggers. External and internal ones. The ones you are talking about are the external triggers. They affect you the same way they affect the dog in a sense.

              Provoking them often enough, in the long run, does in fact turn something into a habit.

  25. 1

    Just a desire to unwind. After my 9-to-6 (not a typo), school pickups/dropoffs, family meals, family time, kids bedtime, etc. I end up with a couple hours left in the day to split between my own personal time and time with my spouse.

    For my personal time, half the time I end up just watching some Netflix or playing some game rather than working on my side projects. Just gotta relax and unwind, ya know?

    1. 1

      I totally know what you mean. I do exactly what you do and use Netflix, Gaming or Cycling to null my brain.

      What helped for me, was to wake up 1 hour earlier and work on my side hustles then. Unwind in the evenings. Maybe you could try it if you haven't already?

      1. 1

        I've considered the 1 hour in the morning thing. But, I already only have about 2-3 hours (at best) per day in the evenings. So, that would shift my unwind / time with my spouse to be 1-2 hours. I feel as though I'll end up then sacrificing sleep to be able to give myself more time for unwinding.

        After reading (well, Audible) Why We Sleep, I'm reluctant to give up sleeping time.

        1. 1

          I'm not trying to be rude here, don't get me wrong but: I think you're coming up with excuses here.

          You most surely need to make some sacrifices but also you need to make them count. If everything else is optimized for you now, then the sacrifice might be to spend 1 hour less with your spouse/kids and go to sleep so you can wake up 1 hour earlier and make it count (work with high productivity)

          Edit: In the whole picture, with this change, you might be happier overall and it will positively affect your whole family!

          1. 1

            Sure, I can see how it could be perceived that way, without context. But, based on my current home situation, there’s not much of an option to reduce time spent with kids. Though, you’re right that I could reduce time I spend with my spouse. But, I enjoy being married. :)

            My situation will improve in 3-5 months and allow more flexibility.

            1. 1

              3-5 months is a short time, just wait it out and continue from there. Good luck mate! :)

  26. 1

    Not taking breaks. You can't operate at full capacity 100% of the time.

    1. 1

      Thanks for the answer! Question: If you were to take a break, what would do at that time?

      1. 1

        Exercise. Socialize. Watch movies. Eat popcorn. Cook. Play video games. Go base jumping. Whatever helps you recharge.

        For me, outdoor activities & exercise, followed by some downtime with music or movies.

        1. 1

          So you're talking more about whole blocks of free time vs working. I thought you meant like small 5-10 minute breaks during the time you work.

          I think for most people doing creative work, the first 6 hours are the most productive..then your brain just clutters. Some individuals might be able to work longer but I'd argue they are exceptions..

  27. 1

    I follow GTD productivity methodology and it works well for me. @MartyW mentioned in the comments that having a clear goal for the next hour helps him focus. I usually have clear tasks listed in “NextAction” for at least a few days ahead.

    Usually when I feel that I’m not productive it is mainly because I lack focus and clear goal to achieve. When a do a mini-review (weekly review in GTD lingo) of my current objectives, I get a productivity boost and things move along.

    1. 1

      I think this is a good way to approach all kinds of procrastination situations. Tasks and goals help for sure!

  28. 1

    In no particular order: my wife + family, reddit / hacker news, reading, switch + gaming, youtube + netflix.

    1. 1

      Reddit seems to come up a lot for sure. I'll ask you the same question; what drives you to reddit? What are you looking for when you browse reddit?

  29. 1

    Hands down surfing reddit

    1. 1

      What are you looking for when you surf Reddit? Satisfying your thirst for information or looking for something else to think about than what you should be doing? I'd like to hear more about this @Mantelijo

  30. 1

    This comment was deleted 2 months ago.

    1. 1

      What have you tried in the past that should have helped you to be more intentional and why have/haven't they worked?

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