Mastering your day as a programmer

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How do you program? I feel like there is a lot of advice out there, but most of
it focuses on the micro level rather than on the macro level. That’s why
decided to think about what makes one an efficient programmer on a macro level.

Think long-term

Spend time on improving your skills that help you becoming more productive in
the long run.
For example, it’s a fact that git is the version control system of choice. And
there is no reason why this should change tomorrow. Or in 5 year’s time. That
in turn means that you need to know the ins and outs of git. Period. It will
make you so much more productive in the long run. I started knowing almost
nothing about git. But I used Google heavily whenever I wanted to do something
with git I thought it must be capable of but I had no idea how.
I created a file with git commands
and an explanation for it to learn.

Same thing with all tools that you rely on
heavily. Become a super user of the tools you use everyday (most notably the IDE
you are using) to give your
productivity a boost. Make sure you follow up on the major changes that come
with new releases of your tools. Know the keyboard shortcuts. And so on. You
get the point. If you find this difficult, follow the “Editor XYZ Tips” on
twitter or your social media platform of choice.

Solving a problem often does not only help you solving this very problem. It also
gives you experience that you can transfer to other projects. Hence, it may
make sense to spend some more time on a piece of code simply because it makes
you a better coder. Whenever you think ok, I did it, but I am sure there must be
a better way
, it’s probably time to remember this paragraph.

Take breaks

It sounds like a contradiction but I feel like taking breaks is among the most
productive things you can do. This does not only apply to programming, but also.
I think taking breaks becomes more important the more complex the task at hand
is. Taking a five minute break every 90 minutes sounds reasonable to me.

Zoom in, zoom out

This is related to taking breaks. However, you don’t need to take a break to
benefit from the zoom-out-effect, but if you do take one, it happens
automatically. The thing I am talking about is moving from a low-level
perspective to a high-level perspective.
This is crucial as we programmers tend to get stuck
with a problem and they try to solve the problem inside the box,
although the obvious solution is outside the box. Zooming out is highly
effective if you are stuck. But your first need to realize that you are stuck.
It can also happen that you programmed something that creates a lot of
unnecessary complexity / redundancy downstream, and that it eats you up.
If you feel like that, it’s probably time to zoom out.

Break down your taks into pieces

Another arguably straightforward advice. Instead of starting to work on a
problem right away, it often makes sense to break it down into smaller portions.
These should be as self-containing as possible. Start out with the sub-task that
has the fewest dependencies. When you are done, document and commit your work.
I often left the office thinking “oh I am going to commit this tomorrow” and I
forgot. By lunchtime next day, I ended up with a convoluted git diff.
This sucks. Also, documenting at the end of a two-month project sounds like
trouble, so make sure you keep it up-to-date during the development phase.

Work in a team

An African proverb goes as follows:

If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go further, go together.

No one is perfect. And I personally also don’t enjoy working alone. Having
someone who reviews your code, asks the dumb questions and challenges you is in
your best interest.

Live a healthy life

I am not going to tell you how to achieve that. Just two things: Drinking enough
water during the day is essential to achieve good performance and exercising
certainly does not hurt it either.

Create a productive environment

I get distracted easily if people around me chat. For that reason, I often
listen to music while at work. I can listen the very same song for a whole day
and it does not bore me. Rather, it’s the contrary. On the other hand, I can’t
listen to random songs all day long because they are taking too much of my
attention. Anyways the point I am trying to make is that you should create an
environment that lets you concentrate on your task. This involves other things
such as:

  • enough fresh air in the room you are working.
  • the right amount of light.
  • the right temperature.
  • ans so on.

Catalize your thoughts through writing

Another strategy if you don’t feel like making any progress is to take a few
minutes and write things down.

Write about your problems. It’s more precise than thinking.

Francoise Chollet, creator of keras

Writing forces you to express concisely what the problem is, why
your solution does not work and what it may take for a solution to work. It
forces you to abstract from the irrelevant, focusing on what the key drivers of
your problem are.

I hope reading this blog post will help you mastering your day. And those to
come. Feel free to comment below if I missed an important point. I may add it
later to the post if you permit.

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