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4 Practical Tips for Improving Your Programming Focus

Vini Brasil
I am a software engineer working with Elixir, theology student, and musician based in beautiful Curitiba.
Originally published at vnbrs.com on ・3 min read

You choose the best focus playlist on Spotify, use the best tools money can buy, turn on “Do Not Disturb” on all your devices. But still, at the end of the day, you’re really tired but you’ve done nothing. And that happens day after day.

I faced focus issues for a long time, but I used some tricks to boost my attention while programming. Without further ado, let’s focus on the tips:

1. Prepare your day

That might sound cliché, but you have to plan on what you will work on your day. Either you prefer an online to-do list or paper and pen, have a list of things that you will do on your day. For example:

* Write tests for the Users API
* Investigate on yesterday's lag spikes
* Start working on the Google Analytics feature
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It doesn’t have to be very detailed, but enough for you to recall what you have to do.

2. Break down your tasks and focus

Now you have a list of to-dos. Let’s suppose you will start to work on “Write tests for the Users API”. My tip is to break down that task in subtasks. For example:

* Write tests for the Users API
    * Test unauthorized requests are blocked
    * Test admin users are filtered
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Once the task is broken down, you will start what I call a “focus session”. It’s a timeboxed moment where you will focus ONLY on that subtask.

The main problem with focus is that we’re trying to fill many holes at the same time. I had to learn to focus on a very specific thing and get it done. That is the best tip I can give: do one thing at a time.

3. Improve your focus session

For me, the Pomodoro Technique works the best. While focusing on my very specific subtask, I use this technique for time management. In case you never heard of, it consists of a 25-minute deep work session, then a 5-minute break, and back to another 25-minute deep work session. After 4 working sessions, you get a longer break.

This changed my work life. That helped me focus on specific tasks, even the boring ones.

4. Cut that distraction!

No tip will matter if you still have a lot of distractions during your day. Only you know what distracts you, and you have to cut the interruptions if you want to be a focused developer.

For me, browsing Instagram, Reddit, GitHub or StackOverflow really destroyed my productivity. By using the Pomodoro Technique, I’d only access those websites while on my 5-minute break. What worked for me was:

  • Turning on “Do Not Disturb” on my devices while focusing
  • Making sure my co-workers wouldn’t interrupt me by working somewhere else or wearing my headphones
  • Listening to instrumental music, or songs that I didn’t know (so I wouldn’t get distracted by it)

Do what works best for you!


It is not about how much time you work, but how much you deliver. Working for long hours without focus will only give you tiredness, and not work done.

Even though attribution is not required, I’d like to thank those amazing photographers that freely distributed their photos for this post on Unsplash. Thanks Charles Deluvio and Andrea Riezzo.

If you want to see more of my posts, check my dev.to profile. And follow me on Twitter if you really liked it 😅.

Discussion (3)

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elliot profile image
Elliot • Edited

I really like #2.

I think spending even up to an hour or two just to think through what you want to do, and then writing it down as very simple tasks in bullet form is really valuable. When you write down a bullet point that is extremely easy to do, it becomes like "why don't I just do that? It'll take me 3 minutes."

Even very complicated programming tasks can be broken down into very simple parts.

It also avoids the problem of going down a rabbit hole that ends up being a dead end.

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stacy_cash profile image
Stacy Cashmore

Love this list. I do 1,3 and 4 (most of the time) and feel it when I do! But I like the idea of 2 to really give you that focus and not have too many focus sessions to get one thing done!

Experimentation for next week!
Thanks for posting 😊

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nuculabs_dev profile image
Nucu Labs

Preparing my day works perfectly for me, not just in programming but in everyday life. Knowing that I have some tasks to do helps me avoiding procrastination.