Identifying voids in time for a software developer’s efficiency.

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A simple twitter search would reveal “Meetings” and “Commute” are the two most disliked things by software engineers. We all dislike meetings and commute maybe because we ending up loosing “a lot of tiny amounts of time” before, during, after and between them.

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During my Senior Year (12th Grade) I had this book called “Flamingo” as part of my English curriculum and when I was writing this post the memory (8 years now) of a chapter related to time kicked in and a few searches later, I was able to find it. The book had a chapter called “An Interview with Umberto Eco which covered time management, below is his answer on “I can’t understand how one man can do all the things he [Eco] does”.

Did you know what will happen if you eliminate the empty spaces from the universe, eliminate the empty spaces in all the atoms? The universe will become as big as my fist. Similarly, we have a lot of empty spaces in our lives. I call them interstices. Say you are coming over to my place. You are in an elevator and while you are coming up, I am waiting for you. This is an interstice, an empty space. I work in empty spaces. While waiting for your elevator to come up from the first to the third floor, I have already written an article! (Laughs). ~ read more here.

The point is to identify empty time slots in our busy schedule and make the best use of them.

Let’s assume it’s Tuesday (so no Monday Blues) and you have two meetings scheduled at 11 am to 12 pm and another from 12 pm to 1 pm. Now you get up at 7 am get ready grab coffee and out of the house for work by 8:30 am (considering an hour of commute) and reach office by 9:30 am. You meet everyone, catch up with them and you actually sit to work by around 10 am (now these are just averages from a simple search from the internet). It takes you about 10 minutes to orient yourself to continue where you left off and 20 minutes later (it’s 10:30 am) you’re already in your zone burning those user stories. 20 minutes later (10:50 am) you get a calendar alert for meeting starts in 10 minutes. Your zone is now broken and you’re getting ready for the meeting because you don’t want to be late. The meeting starts on time at 11 am but ends early at 11:45 am. You have 15 minutes for the second meeting. You won’t be as productive in those 15 minutes and you would be on time for the meeting at 12 pm. That meeting takes longer and ends at 1:15 pm. It’s almost lunch time (usually 1:30 pm is when you take lunch) and the entire 1st half of the day is over.

One reason programmers dislike meetings so much is that they’re on a different type of schedule from other people, meetings cost them more. ~ read more here.

In the above example, we lost some time but not every second was an actual waste. Let’s put them all down:

  • 30 minutes: Greeting everyone and getting your day started.
  • 10 minutes: Orienting yourself, figuring out to continue where you left off. (10 am to 10:10 am)
  • 15 minutes: Between the two meetings (11:45 am to 12 pm)
  • 15 minutes: after second meeting before lunch. (1:15 to 1:30 pm)

Now let’s just be straight, it’s not possible to eradicate all time waste and some things are not really waste of time like greeting co-workers. But what we want to do is reduce the time wasted and get more out of them.

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This is a strategy that I use to organize my work in quantifiable time slots of 15 minutes each.

The underlying thought process is how Army Professionals across the globe measure distance. To measure any distance they take a measurement they know and then multiply it e.g. from the current point the target is 3 football fields away (1 football field is 100 yards meaning target is approximately 300 yards away)

So basically we know the amount of work we cover in 15 minutes and then multiply the number of 15 minutes of slabs we would take. This strategy is extremely useful in dividing huge tasks/user stories into quantifiable time units that can be achieved using iterations.

Now what I do is classify using sticky notes (because I love em, they are my favorite office stationary),

  • Green is for a task that takes only 15 minutes. This can be a python script that operates on a database to validate data or pull useful content out into a spreadsheet. (usually a sub task of a user story)
  • Orange is for a task that takes up to 30 minutes. This can be a complete user story based on the task itself or maybe a section of the user story that’s broken into smaller parts.
  • Pink is for a task that takes longer than 30 minutes. This can be a full blown feature or a service method covered with test cases (TDD).
  • Yellow is mostly a self note to yourself to help you quickly resume back the work you were doing before you get interrupted.

Note: the examples of tasks in the slabs are just for references and they would differ developer to developer based on the work they can pull off in 15 minutes. Also feel free to switch up the colours if you wish, they are for you.

While breaking down your tasks in such slabs you’ll have to remember to put in all the information that you’ll need to get started on the task without wasting any time thinking. e.g. a Green slab would look like: “Write a python script to pull out records from DB-Collection A, match them with uniqueId to DB-Collection B and delete all records from DB-Collection A that didn’t exist in DB-Collection B and export the uniqueIds of all the records deleted”. This ways you waste 0 time in understanding what needs to be done.

Now the benefits of this approach is that as soon as you get 15 minutes of time slab between two meetings or before lunch, you can quickly finish up a small task that was lingering on top of your head adding to “Yet to be finished” pile of work.

Another advantage of this is that it acts as a perfect orientation to start work in the mornings. As soon as I am done greeting/catching-up with colleagues I pick up a Green slab and finish it within the first 15 minutes, this gives you a productivity and mindset boost since you just got in, completed a task and now you’re already into that zone of getting stuff done with a quick win at a personal level.

Time is the most unbiased thing on this planet. Everyone gets 24 hours of it. What’s different is the way we all use it. And if you pick any successful person on this planet they knew at least one thing in common, How to efficiently use time. I’ll leave you guys with this quote:

“Time is free, but it’s priceless. You can’t own it, but you can use it. You can’t keep it, but you can spend it. Once you’ve lost it you can never get it back.”
~Harvey Mackay

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A Tech Enthusiast, develops software at Amazon, made a computer print “Hello World” once; didn’t leave software since. Such an obedient fella that computer 🖥️