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Listener Pubudu Asks How to Avoid Procrastination and Boredom, and Find Renewed Energy for Work

Published 9/9/2015

Today, I discuss listener Pubudu's questions about how to find energy and enjoyment in his work, and how to stop procrastinating.

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Transcript (Generated by OpenAI Whisper)
Hey, everyone and welcome to Developer Tea. My name is Jonathan Cutrell and today I have a question from listener Pubudu. Today's episode is sponsored by Hired.com where designers and engineers can get up to five or more job offers in a given week. We'll talk a little bit more about Hired later on in the show. Pubudu writes in and says, thank you very much for creating Developer Tea. I started listening to podcasts only after finding Developer Tea. I have a question for you. Since you talk about many inspirational topics related to life and work, you might be able to help me. I am a web developer running my own business. Currently I'm on my own working from home. I don't get out that much and currently I do have a lot of work to do. The problem is to be honest, I try to find new technologies and try out new techniques, but I get bored easily and suffer from procrastination. I really like my work but I don't know why sometimes I just feel too tired to work. What can I do to stop the boredom, stop procrastinating and find energy to put into the work I'm doing? Thanks Pubudu. Thank you so much for writing in. I really love this email because I think everyone ends up in this position at some point or another in their careers. In a lot of the time, it's not so much an issue with the career as it is with our daily habits. The reality is a lot of our happiness and enjoyment of our work is a result of our day to day habits and our day to day routine. I want to talk a little bit about those things. I do want to say as an overview that it's important that the work that you are doing is something that you feel is fulfilling your personal appreciations and desires for the world around you. If you have the ability to do so, not everybody has that luxury. I don't consider it a right. I certainly consider it a luxury to work on things that you actually enjoy working on. The caveat there is to have a job, obviously, that you're doing something that you enjoy doing. If you don't enjoy doing programming, if you don't enjoy being, for example, a web developer, then maybe it's time to consider whether you want to do that long term. Maybe you want to program games or perhaps you want to get into app development if you're currently doing web development. But I don't think that's where Pubudu is in his email to me. I think what he's saying is that he enjoys the work that he does. He actually enjoys doing the web development business out of his home, but that he sometimes feels a little bit bored or he's looking for a burst of creative energy. I want to help you with that today, Pubudu. I think a lot of people are in the position that you're in and I think that it is something that we can work to avoid and work to create a better situation for ourselves on a day-to-day basis. I have four points here that I want to make. The first one starts out very practical. I think you should work in bursts and not exceed three hours on a given problem before you context shift, before you change to a different problem. Part of the reason for this is because our attention span is at an all-time low. In fact, our attention span is down to eight seconds on a given thing and that's actually lower than a goldfish according to some research. Now do I think that we have a lower attention span overall than a goldfish? I wouldn't say so. I don't think a goldfish can solve complex long-term problems like a human can, but the reality is that our attention spans are lower than they have been probably in your lifetime. So for that reason, unless you have an unusually high attention span, I recommend having short bursts of work where you work for three hours and then actually every 30 minutes or so, I recommend getting up and taking a walk, perhaps taking a walk outside. This has the added benefit that you are giving your brain more stimuli away from your desk. You're giving your brain variety and you're giving yourself the opportunity to context shift a little bit every 30 minutes or so. Just take three to five minutes to walk around your house. This is also really good for your health by the way to stand up and not be sedentary for longer than 30 minutes at a time. Take a longer break every three hours or so and give yourself a context shift at that point. Taking on, for example, for a web developer, a given page or maybe you're working on a design element, after three hours of working on a thing, try working on something different for the remainder of your day, I would recommend probably doing two of these three-hour sprints because really the three hours turns into about three and a half hours after you take into account some of the breaks. Some people like to do two, three-hour sprints, two, three-hour blocks, whatever you want to call them, sprints, blocks, whatever. And then they like to do their administrative work in between those and maybe take a lunch break at the same time. So that's something that I found has worked for me pretty well. Some people like to do two-hour or one and a half-hour versions of this. Whatever works for you is best, but I recommend doing these bursts rather than trying to attack your whole day at like an eight-hour block at a time and eating lunch at your desk and never moving from your desk. It's unhealthy and it's also not conducive to the way that your brain naturally functions. So take some breaks, walk away from your desk, work in these confined 30-minute blocks and overall the three-hour context blocks. Another interesting artifact of working in short bursts like this is that you can compete with yourself to see how much you can get done in the first 30-minute block versus the second 30-minute block and maybe you try to get better and better at each block. Of course, you don't want to rush for the sake of that game because then you end up with errors that you otherwise wouldn't have had if you were working slightly slower, for example. But it introduces a new dynamic that keeps your brain and your attention kind of focused in. One way of doing this blocked work schedule, by the way, it's called the Pomodoro Technique and I'll include a link in the show notes that describes a little bit more in detail what the Pomodoro Technique is. The Pomodoro Technique actually works very well for a lot of people who I would consider pretty successful, including Kent Beck. I talked to Kent at RailsConf. I went up and talked to him after his talk and asked him really briefly what he uses to stay focused, how he maintains focus and productivity. He said that he uses the Pomodoro Technique. So I would call that a pretty big endorsement. I would recommend that you check out the Pomodoro Technique. Again, a link will be in the show notes, which you can find at specfm.spect.fm or you can find them at developertea.com and usually in most podcast apps, you'll see the notes there as well. So the first point being that you should work in bursts. Don't exceed three hours and make those bursts about 30 minutes longer. So before you stand up and walk away from your desk, walk away from your working area, try to get outside if you can. Of course, not everybody can get outside, depending on where you are, but try to get outside if you can. So my second recommendation is that you exercise regularly. Now, this seems like it is something that we say over and over on the show. And that's because it is. Exercise has been shown time and time again to have a positive effect on cognitive abilities. Specifically, low intensity aerobic exercise has been shown over and over to be a good long term solution to exercising regularly. Exercise has also been shown to increase the energy levels of people who feel fatigued. And even though it seems disconnected, you should really treat exercise and nutrition and really health overall as integral parts of your career. If you aren't eating well, then your energy levels are going to be lower and you may feel sick. If you feel tired and sluggish and if you think that that is disconnected from your exercise or you're eating habits, then I would challenge you to check out some of the resources I'm going to put in the show notes. One of them is called the Healthy Programmer. It's a book by Joe Cutner and it is available through the Pragmatic Programmer's Bookshelf. They are not a sponsor of the show, but I would recommend you check out the research that has gone into this. Another resource that I'm going to include in the show notes is a podcast called Get Up and Code. And this is a podcast hosted by Jon Somez who I had on the show way early in the show's history. Jon talked a little bit about having a brand for yourself, but Jon is also passionate about programmers being healthy because our jobs are naturally sedentary and sedentary lifestyles typically lead to sluggishness and just not feeling very excited about a given day because our bodies adapt to that sedentary lifestyle and there's very little variety to that lifestyle. If this seems like a huge hurdle to try to be healthy as a programmer, then I can tell you from personal experience number one, you can do more than you think you can even with small changes. For example, I went through an issue with my back at what's called a long thoracic palsy and part of the reason I had that issue is because my posture when I was at my computer was so bad for so long that it caused my shoulder blades to be in an unnatural position and over time that caused a lasting issue. Since then I've gone to physical therapy and I have a standing desk and I have a better posture and even those simple changes of having a standing desk and being more aware of my posture each and every day, those simple changes have made a massive positive effect on my overall health. So do what you can, do one thing rather than nothing. Even if that one thing is just walking 10 to 20 minutes per day outside, take the break between your three hour bursts, for example, to go and walk outside, get a little bit of exercise. I promise you you will be astounded at the benefits that you get from just the smallest amount of aerobic activity every day. Before we jump into the third point, I want to talk to you guys a little bit about today's sponsor, hired. On hired software engineers and designers get matched up to companies that are offering them salary and equity up front and you can get five or more job offers in a week as a software engineer or a designer on hire.com. These opportunities are full time and contract so you have different types of jobs to pick from and they're at 2,500 different companies in 12 major tech hubs. The platform is free to use and on top of that, if you do end up getting a job through hired, you can get a $2,000 bonus immediately when you sign on. But here's the thing. If you use the special link in the Developer Tea show notes, you can get a $4,000 bonus when you accept a job. That is a double bonus if you use the special link. Now, even if you're not looking for a job but you know someone who is, for example, Pudbudu, if you know somebody in the industry who's looking for a job at a major tech company, then you can refer them to hired and you will get a $1337 bonus if they accept a job. That's just free money for you to take. Go and check it out, hire.com. Don't forget there's a special link in the show notes for you to get a $4,000 bonus if you accept a job through hire.com. I'm going to move on to the third point. We've already gone through the first two. The first one was work in bursts. Don't exceed three hours on a given problem, but work in bursts of 30 minutes or so at a time and give yourself a minute to walk around, take a break. The second one is exercise regularly and we've talked about all the cognitive benefits, all the health benefits that you receive if you do that. The third one is that you should be treating your distractions with hostility. A lot of the time, we treat our distractions as if they're kind of not a big deal, as if we can just kind of get over them. I really think this is underserving the power of those distractions in our lives. I think we should be treating them much more militantly and with much more hostility. Procrastination is often a product of inaction. If you are procrastinating, it's usually because you've allowed yourself to fall into the same traps that you normally fall into. You're usually not trying to procrastinate, but you end up procrastinating. For me, those traps are reddit, an email, and Twitter. For some people, those traps might be Facebook or video games or maybe even TV. Usually, these traps are digital because that's where we're working regularly. But whatever your traps are, when you are working, I recommend you treat those traps as kind of an enemy. Build up your defenses against it and when you find yourself falling into them, remind yourself how important it is that you resist those temptations and instead retain your focus on what you're currently doing. The way that I do this is I use an app called Focus. Again, these focus is not a affiliated with Developer Tea. At all, but I use an app called Focus to block the distracting sites whenever I am working. This makes me turn the app off if I truly want to procrastinate, if I truly want to visit Reddit. And usually, I don't truly want to. I'm just acting out of a lowered level of attention span or something like that. And usually, that focus app brings me back to what I'm supposed to be doing. So I recommend using something like that and treating your distractions with more hostility, treating them as the enemy rather than as just something in your life while you're working. The fourth and final recommendation that I have for you, Pubudu, anyone else who is in a similar situation is to practice focus and attention. Practice, focus and attention. Now all of these kind of follow the same theme of our attention being fought over and our ability to focus on something being taken up. The truth is, that is a real struggle for a lot of people. And part of the reason is because we treat focus as something that we already have mastered. And we treat attention as something that we've already been able to accomplish. But the reality is, most of our lives, we are distracted by something. And most of our waking days, we are thinking about something other than what we are doing at a given moment in time. For example, are you actually thinking about this podcast where you're listening to it? Or are you thinking about other things and hearing the podcast in the background? Do you try to multitask or are you actually truly focused on one thing at a time? I would recommend that whether you practice meditation or mindfulness or if you simply take 30 minutes in your day and force yourself to read an article that's longer than the average Buzzfeed, 10 list items and captions kind of article, focuses like most other things in your life. It requires intentional practice and none of us are masters of focus yet. But if you take the time to actually feel what it feels like to focus, force yourself to focus on one thing for an extended period of time every single day. You finally have the tools to fight procrastination. You finally have the tools to enjoy the things that you're doing without feeling like you need to go and do something different all the time. And that is truly what practicing focus and attention does for you in your career. It allows you to enjoy the things that you're doing and avoid procrastination. And that really wraps it up for this podcast, Pubudu. I think there are a ton of different sources of inspiration that you can go and seek out. I think there are a lot of people who have done a lot of research about how to stay engaged with the work that you're doing. Of course, this podcast is limited in its scope. But I do think that these are some of the biggest and most effective things that I have implemented in my own life and seeing positive results from number one, work and burst. Don't exceed three hours on a given problem and stand up every 30 minutes or so. Number two, exercise regularly, aerobic exercise. I would say, you know, 20 minutes a day, at least. Number three, treat your distractions with hostility and eliminate them as much as possible and be militant about that. And number four, practice, focus, and attention through something like meditation or mindfulness or reading long form reading every day for a set period of time. Thank you so much for listening to today's episode of Developer Tea. I hope today's episode has been inspiring and informational. And above all, I hope it starts a positive conversation with you and the people around you, your colleagues and your friends and your family. Of course, Developer Tea wouldn't exist without the awesome sponsors that make it possible. Today's sponsor is hired.com. If you are looking for a job, especially if you are a designer or a developer, go and check out hired.com. And remember, there's a special link in the show notes to double the bonus that you get if you do choose to accept a job through hired.com. Check out the show notes. They are available on spec.fm as well as developertea.com. Thank you again for listening. Today's episode is brought to you by spec.fm. Until next time, enjoy your tea.