I just graduated from Flatiron as a software engineer, and even though I just spent over 3 months diligently studying and working on projects and lessons and learning so much, one of the things I have found extremely difficult is staying productive and focused now that I don't have that framework. I know I am intelligent and clever, and my logical brain realizes how important it is to stay on top of things and continue to work on developing my skills and networking, but let's be honest...The world is in a weird place right now and even in the best of times it's easy to lean back and let the current take you where it wants to. I decided to share some of the tricks and tips I am using to keep myself motivated, accountable, and driven. If you find them useful, great! If you have extra tips or advice, also great! I will try to keep this updated as I see how I react to things and what resonates with me or not and why.
There are plenty of sites that can teach all kinds of pros and cons to checklists, but personally I find them a great way to organize my train of thought and begin to break things down into actionable tasks rather than nebulous anxiety sources. You can find all kinds of methods and styles you can use, I'll walk through my starting point when I approach any new project whether it's coding or cleaning the closet:
-Figure out the scope of this "task". I know this seems arbitraty, but for any project it's easy to get distracted or overly enthusiastic at some point and end up re-organizing your bookshelf when you started sweeping your floors. Whether it's deciding that your starting MVP for the project will have only 4 models and bare-bones interfacing or specifying you will be focusing on yardwork in the front yard specifically, giving yourself an end goal (even if there are more steps in the future!) will make it easier to "finish" and feel accomplished.
-Break the task in to as few "large" sub-tasks as you can. For our yardwork metaphor, it could be knowing you have to (Mow, Weed-whack/edge the sidewalk, tend the planting beds, Pick up the disaster area your kids left, Sweep/wash the sidewalk and driveway) or for our coding metaphor it could be (Set up backend models, create routes/database interaction, set up frontend, create simple user interface).
-This is where you can pick what works best for you. Personally, I like to take each large task and break it down into almost as small of an "actionable task" as you can. This lets you take time to actually plan and organize your project and method of approach and, when done correctly, can vastly minimize the amount of double-work or corrections you might have to make. I tend to go into the overkill on this personall, where I will take a large task and break it into smaller tasks, and then break of those tasks into smaller tasks still, until I get things that I can accomplish in 30 minutes to an hour. This makes it easier for the next step:
-Check things off!! You did it! I know it's easy to feel like a small task is meaningless, but it's even easier to not do that task at all. Allow yourself to feel proud and get a nice dopamine release, you earned it! This is the part that helps me the most...It's common tendency to think that it's not worth celebrating an achievement until the "big picture" is finished, but if you do this you are vastly under appreciating your worth. The largest, greatest, and most impactful things in history were build one piece at a time, allow yourself to appreciate every step of the journey for what it is: the results of your hard work and dedication.
//This area talk about benefits of habit tracking maybe?
Me and a few friends have started using Habitca as a way to track our tasks. This combines all the wonderful things I have mentioned above with task-lists and habit tracking, but one of my greatest constant motivators is mutual accountability. Find a group of people you trust and respect (even if it's just one person!) and talk to each other about what you are doing. Share your task lists (full details or just highlights), talk about what's going on and what your gameplan is. An idea in our head can be ethereal and lofty, but having someone you can be open and honest with about your progress (or lack there-of) can help you both stay on task and grow. Some tips for people making/forming Accountabili-buddy groups:
-The only criticism is constructive criticism. You are here to support and improve not only yourself but everyone in your group, negativity will only create more negativity.
-Be open and upfront with what you want from the group. If you want someone to message you every day and make sure you are on task, let it be known...but on the flip side, if you want to keep to yourself and have the group there for questions or specific feedback, that is fine too! Take the time early on to set boundaries and expectations, I know it feels clinical and abnormal but it will save you a lot of misunderstanding later on!
-Respect each other. This kind of group activity is opening yourself up to a level of vulnerability that can be easy to underestimate. Allow yourself to be patient and kind in every interaction, the best accountabili-buddy is stern but supportive.
Habitca has (thusfar) been a great resource, it allows us to have private lists of things we are tracking or (in the paid version) group tasks that we can all do/track together.
Set up a work area! It's that easy! The harder part is making sure it's the only place you work. There are plenty of sites to tell you ways to organize your home work space, tips and tricks about ways to design your space. I could (and may eventually) write a whole post just about setting up an ergonomic and functional workspace, but the key thing I want to focus on is true regardless of what your setup at home is.
-Designate a "work only" space. Your brain is surprisingly good at catching onto habits, both good or bad. If we use the same table/counter/desk to do all of our work at, we train our mind that this location is for working, and will be much easier to stay focused and guided in that direction.
-Honor the "work only" space. Avoid doing anything that isn't work related at your work area. As soon as your start to spend time browsing Reddit or perusing Amazon at your work station your brain is going to get distracted. Is this a place where we focus on work, or a place for recreation?
Its important not to bite off more than you can chew! Trying to change too much at once will only make you feel overwhelmed, focus on one habit/task at a time.