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How to be productive and deal with time management

Hi, my name is Julia, and I'm a self-taught Accessibility & Frontend Developer in my 30s who is now helping others make it into tech too.

I'm often asked by my followers how I structure my day and make sure I stay productive. Further, this topic was discussed in several Twitter spaces lately. It seems like a lot of developers struggle with these things.

So let me tell you my story.

Table Of Contents

(For simplicity, I will shorten "Time Management and Productivity" to TM&P.)

  1. TM&P on my journey to becoming a developer
  2. TM&P during my first professional project at work
  3. TM&P during precise goal setting
  4. Conclusion

But first, let me tell you some important details about me so you know what the starting point is. The most important one is that

๐Ÿ™…โ€โ™€๏ธ I DO NOT have any real commitments, like children, a dog, or someone to take care of.
Thus, this article may not be of much help to a person who needs to take care of their family.

๐ŸŽฎ I DO have hobbies, like reading, Netflix, video games, and playing the piano.

๐Ÿ‘ฉโ€โค๏ธโ€๐Ÿ‘จ I AM in a relationship for 8 years with a man who has a similar lifestyle to mine.

I'm going to break down my insights into the three different phases of my developer life so far, because depending on the situation, my productivity and time management changed quite a bit.

I would also like to mention that since the beginning of my Dev journey I have been exercising regularly (walking at least 50 minutes a day, yoga 1-2 a week), which I think is also a reason why my brain is able to concentrate much better than in my younger days.

Phase one

1. TM&P on my journey to becoming a developer

When I first started learning how to code, it was pretty hard to stay focused on learning after I had mastered the basics. At that time, I didn't have a job, so I could focus solely on coding.
But I didn't know what my real goal was (other than getting a job in tech, of course) ๐Ÿคทโ€โ™€๏ธ. So for about 2.5 months, I only watched 3-5 hour tutorials and felt pretty lost.

Team project

Things changed when I started working on a React project with three other developers for about two months. I finally had a clear structure, I had issues (on GitHub) that I could work through in a structured way, I had a team to talk to, I had a framework (Scrum) that I could rely on, and more. My time spent coding (I refer to researching and writing code as a general term) went from 3-5 hours a day to about 10 hours a day ๐Ÿ“ˆ.

This might seem like a lot, but I didn't even notice because I liked what I was doing. I went through different phases, like a deeper understanding of React at the beginning, code reviews, code demos. After a few weeks, I started working with Figma (what I learned along the way) to create a design for the app, implement it as code, and deploy the app on Netlify.

Those two months went by really fast, and I was super productive and learned a lot because it was like a real life project process. After I finished the project, I continued to be productive for the next 3-4 weeks, because now I had something to pimp my CV with, so I learned all about how to write a good CV. I pimped the project's readme on GitHub as well as my personal GitHub profile (readme project).

After I got all that "done", I felt a bit lost again because there was again no clear goal of what to learn next and how to measure it. I started teaching other beginners what I knew so far and watched tutorials on topics like Instagram cloning to dive deeper into React, but I fell back to 3-5 hours a day.

Hackathons

My productivity increased again when I participated in my first Hackathon. I had a month to create a project and write about it, and it had my full attention again - 10 hours a day with a clear goal in mind to have a project ready in a month. And luckily my project was among the runners-up ๐Ÿ†, so I even got a reward for my hard work.

The following month, another Hackathon took place and I participated in it again. I also started applying for jobs and soon found one. So the pressure of what I should do next was completely off.

Phase two

2. TM&P during my first professional project at work

When I started my job and was subsequently assigned my first project, I still had personal goals that I wanted to achieve in terms of my career and technical knowledge.

Goals

๐Ÿ I wanted to improve my knowledge of JavaScript, git, project setup (like CI/CD), architecture, testing, SCSS, accessibility.
๐Ÿ Furthermore, I wanted to deepen my React knowledge, contribute to open source and create my learning website for my followers.

I thought I would accomplish most of these points anyway while working on the project, but unfortunately that was not the case. I had almost nothing to do with JavaScript for the whole five months, and since I only had bugs to fix, I did get in touch with SCSS, but never had the chance to write functions or anything like that myself.
Since the project was already in its final phase and I was therefore under time pressure from the beginning, I could hardly deal with the project structure, CI/CD, architecture or our test.

I didn't feel productive at all

To achieve all my points above, I would have had to do pretty much everything during my free time, and that was just too much. During the week I was too exhausted after work due to stress, and the weekend has only 2.5 days.

So I had spent those five months mostly dealing with accessibility and git during work, and only half-finished my learning website on the weekends and participated in open source twice.
I hardly felt productive during that time (even though I was working on one of the biggest projects in my hometown every day. Crazy, right? ๐Ÿ˜…)

Phase 3

3. TM&P during precise goal setting

The good thing about the past few weeks, however, was that I found out more and more for myself in which direction my professional future should go.
Through the project, I have developed a great interest in accessibility and have set a goal for myself:
I want to be able to call myself an Accessibility & Frontend Developer (ReactJS) at the end of the year.

With this goal in mind, it was now easier to divide small steps to be able to reach this goal. Time management suddenly came naturally and my productivity has been at its highest point ever since.

Clear goals

๐Ÿ To pass the IAAP Web Accessibility certification at the next deadline (which will be at the beginning of August).
๐Ÿ Google UX Design Certificate (to understand accessibility at an early stage).
๐Ÿ Deepen React knowledge
๐Ÿ Gain knowledge in Design System, Software Architecture, Testing and much more (as I think it is important to understand accessibility in its full span and to be able to develop a project with accessibility-first approach).

Advantages

The good thing now is that my current project is a React project, plus, it is in the early stages. I am therefore involved in the complete setup, such as testing, CI/CD, software architecture and much more, and do not have to worry so much about it privately.

The whole month of June I can use my working time to study for the IAAP certificate. This also facilitates my goal achievement enormously.

Spare time and hobbies ๐Ÿ“š

Since June I use the weekends for the Google UX Design certificate, because I also want to finish it in August at the latest (according to Coursera it is planned to take 6 months at 5h per week). I have it well structured, so I think I can do it.
I also want to increase my open source contribution and focus mainly on accessibility issues, because that's the field I feel comfortable and confident in now.

Even after work, I still have energy and motivation to work on things like my learning website for my followers, writing blog articles and much more. Working on my clearly defined goals is so much fun and enriching for me that I leave my other hobbies completely out of it, without even thinking about them.

It doesn't feel like work, it IS my hobby, my passion โค๏ธโ€๐Ÿ”ฅ.

Since my boyfriend is in a similar situation, the big commitment doesn't interfere with our relationship but actually enriches it since our future plans are the same. We have lunch together every day and spend our short breaks together talking about anything. Then on our vacations we focus 100% on us (we love to travel and before Covid we travel really often - no laptops allowed ๐Ÿ˜œ).

4. Conclusion

I was never good at school. I couldn't concentrate on learning or on the lessons. I couldn't make sense of why and for what I had to learn certain things, and barely managed to pass school. This didn't change for years, which is why I worked almost exclusively part-time.

But when I started studying Japanese at the age of 29, it changed completely. I was so interested in learning the language and culture I love so much that it became my hobby to study Kanji at least 3 hours a day. It was a lot of fun. And I was good at it. Same with my journey into coding 3 years later.

So I've come to the conclusion that if I have a clear goal and am passionate about something, I have no problem at all staying productive or managing my time. And it just took me what felt like an eternity to figure that out ๐Ÿฅฒ.


Thank you

Thanks for your reading and time. I really appreciate it!

Discussion (18)

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paulknulst profile image
Paul Knulst

Thanks for sharing your journey.

I totally understand the problem with time management. Have you ever tried to use techniques to master time management?

For example I often use the Pomodoro Technique. With this technique I am able to focus especially on specific task and avoid getting interrupted. Also with the planned breaks it optimizes my productivity during the day. I have written an article about this technique some time ago that could maybe help you (or others) if they want to test it: levelup.gitconnected.com/manage-yo...

Another nice approach to master time management issues is the Ivy Lee method. Currently I am working on an article covering how to apply it. It will be published this or next week at knulst.de

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yuridevat profile image
๐•๐•ฆ๐•๐•š๐•’ ๐Ÿ‘ฉ๐Ÿปโ€๐Ÿ’ป Author

Thanks for your input. I guess I do have some missleadings in my article, since I do not face problems with time management per se (actually I am
pretty good at it, otherwise I would not be able to handle all the things I do ๐Ÿ˜…).

But I am sure others will profit from your suggestions! ๐Ÿ™ƒ

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paulknulst profile image
Paul Knulst • Edited on

Oh then I totally misunderstand your article. I will read it again. Thx for clarifying!

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attkinsonjakob profile image
Jakob Attkinson

Thanks for sharing this.

My struggle with time management comes when I do have a clear goal, but not a clear path to it.

Say I want to start a project with a specific stack that doesn't have a lot of love from the internet. Enough to get started tho.
So, I create a quick plan on what I want to tackle in the first month. I finish my daily job at 18. So I plan 1.5h to work on my project. Around 7 hours a week, excluding weekends. Now, I have days where i work 3 hours, but then another when i meet people for dinner so no coding at all.

First 2 weeks, it works great. But then I stumble on a problem that doesn't have a clear solution on the internet. First day, I spend 5 hours on it. 2nd day, I spend 4 hours on it. First week, I'm over 20 hours (including the weekend), and I'm not on the solution. My time planning is out of the window, I'm consumed by this...
And there's nothing to show for all the time invested. Just 10 hours of youtube videos, with no real conversion and a bunch of solutions that failed....

No my time planning is ruined. Even if I find a solution, I feel like I need to catch up, cause I don't want my project to last 1 year...

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yuridevat profile image
๐•๐•ฆ๐•๐•š๐•’ ๐Ÿ‘ฉ๐Ÿปโ€๐Ÿ’ป Author

I feel you. I was not able to finish any of my side projects in order to land a job. But I got lucky and got one anyway.

But after all these months I do now have more confidence and knowledge to finish them.

Donโ€˜t give up. Maybe make your projects open source to find someone to helps you at certain stages.

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zangassis profile image
Assis Zang

Thanks for all these insights, I'm currently studying English, and your post motivated me even more! ๐Ÿ‘๐Ÿฅ‡

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yuridevat profile image
๐•๐•ฆ๐•๐•š๐•’ ๐Ÿ‘ฉ๐Ÿปโ€๐Ÿ’ป Author

Glad it did.

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geesilu profile image
Luthira Geesilu

AMAZING! Thanks for sharing

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yuridevat profile image
๐•๐•ฆ๐•๐•š๐•’ ๐Ÿ‘ฉ๐Ÿปโ€๐Ÿ’ป Author

Thanks, Luthira :)

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ajshivali profile image
Shivali Pandey

This one is really great!

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yuridevat profile image
๐•๐•ฆ๐•๐•š๐•’ ๐Ÿ‘ฉ๐Ÿปโ€๐Ÿ’ป Author

Thank you, Shivali :)

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phyesix profile image
Ibrahim Nergiz

Thank you, great article ๐Ÿ‘

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kaviiiiisha profile image
kavisha-nethmini

Thank you so much for sharing this <3

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yuridevat profile image
๐•๐•ฆ๐•๐•š๐•’ ๐Ÿ‘ฉ๐Ÿปโ€๐Ÿ’ป Author

You are very welcome.

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andrewbaisden profile image
Andrew Baisden

Great article Julia!

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yuridevat profile image
๐•๐•ฆ๐•๐•š๐•’ ๐Ÿ‘ฉ๐Ÿปโ€๐Ÿ’ป Author

Thanks Andrew.

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arimtiaz profile image
Abadur Rahman Imtiaz

Thank you so much for sharing your amazing journey and how you faced your struggles.

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yuridevat profile image
๐•๐•ฆ๐•๐•š๐•’ ๐Ÿ‘ฉ๐Ÿปโ€๐Ÿ’ป Author

Glad it helps ๐Ÿ™ƒ