WordPress Developers: How to Create a Productive Working Environment

Posted on July 21, 2015 by in Resources | 18 comments

WordPress Developers: How to Create a Productive Working Environment

Ah, the life of a WordPress developer. Long hours sitting in a chair, staring a screen, an occasional glance outside to relieve your eye strain and your back, your poor aching back. Haven’t you heard sitting is the new smoking?

I get it though, you’re busy. Your inbox is beeping, clients are emailing to ask for a progress update and you’ve got three deadlines approaching midweek. What’s a person to do?

You might think (like I did for a long time) that grinding it out was the path to improved productivity. Seriously, when your workload is piling up, is there any better way to get things done than buckling down and burning the midnight oil?

There might just be. If you’re a WordPress developer who spends the majority of your day with your tush glued to a chair, listen up – this post is for you.

The Problem With Productivity Science

Is it just me, or are there a lot of productivity studies being referenced around the web these days?

If you were to spend a few hours reading through all the studies in circulation, it wouldn’t take long before you became convinced that we live and work in a nation of unproductive nitwits. Whittling away our days, surfing the net, updating our Facebook news feeds and checking on our Farmville crops. (Do people actually play that still?)

It’s well documented that we should take what we read in most scientific studies with a grain of salt. Is it possible that improving productivity has become a business?

I’m not going to stand here and tell you that the science isn’t relevant. I’m not qualified to debate that topic. Honestly, I believe most of the productivity studies that I’ve come across provide valuable information and great insights, even for the layperson. I’m also not going to tell you that productivity isn’t important; of course it is. You’ve got work to do and it needs to get done. Your clients are counting on you, and the livelihood of their business depends upon you getting their website up and running.

But you also have a life to live. As much as you love building websites, you’ve got outside interests – hobbies, kids, a home to maintain and hopefully you fit in some exercise. Nobody is questioning whether you need to be productive. So if you’re going to put the science aside, quit reading research reports and get back to work, what should you focus on if you’re bound and determined to get more done in a day?

When you’re looking to improve your productivity, the first thing you should realize is that there is no perfect answer. What works for me, might not work for you.

In the next few paragraphs, I’m going to present some specific ideas you could experiment with. I suggest you do just that – experiment with these ideas and see how they work for you. If they don’t work, make a change and reassess or try something different.

Seek First to Find Balance

Being more productive doesn’t mean finding more hours in the day to code – it means getting more coding done in the same or even fewer hours. When projects start to pile up or when clients start reminding us of pending deadlines, it’s easy to compensate by increasing your screen time. But that’s typically not the best solution and can even cause you to become less productive.

Personal experience has shown me that spending too much time on one area of your life is a quick way to throw things out of balance. Not eating properly, not exercising and not spending time with friends or family is not a path to greater productivity. It might be for a short period of time, but then it’ll catch up to you, and I guarantee the first thing to suffer will be that which you are trying to improve.

One of the best things you can do for yourself is to map out the parts of your life that you value the most. Then, decide how much time you want to reasonably spend on each one. Consider mapping out the following areas of your life:

  • Work
  • Health and fitness
  • Friends
  • Family
  • Time with kids
  • Your hobbies
  • Sleep

There are only 24 hours in a given day, so if you’re going to increase your time spent working on client projects, you’ll have to take that time away from something else. Choose wisely.

Consider Your Work Environment

Your work environment has a tremendous effect on productivity. Look around you. Is your desk clean and organized? Does your computer desktop look like a digital hurricane swept over it? Are your files easy to find?

I’m a huge proponent of an almost empty desktop, both physical and digital. Keeping yourself surrounded by a blank slate keeps your mind creative, less distracted and stress-free.

I mentioned in the opening paragraph that sitting is the new smoking. Have you ever considered how a stand-up desk might impact both your productivity and your health?

Structure Your Day in Intervals

“Intervals?” you ask. “I thought those were something reserved for athletes?”

You’re half right. Intervals are an increasingly popular way of training for both long and short distance athletes. What researchers found (pass the salt, please) and presented in a research article snappily titled “Effects of high intensity training and continuous endurance training on aerobic capacity and body composition in recreationally active runners” was that athletes who performed intervals saw a 10% greater improvement in heart stroke volume over the athletes who performed long slow distance training.

So what on earth does this have to do with WordPress development?

Great question, and here is my point. We are taught that the way to be more productive is by sitting in your chair, buckling down and getting your work done. Long, slow, distance – work 7-10 hours with a short break or two, then call it a day. If you’re lucky, you’ll have some time (or energy) for exercise, a chance to play with your kids or enjoy a conversation with your significant other.

What if you tried something different? What if you incorporated the principles of interval training into your WordPress development business? Your daily structure might look more like this:

6:15 Rise and make coffee
6:30 Client project work – work hard with no distractions
8:15 Breakfast
8:30 Off to the gym or exercise
10:00 Client project work – work hard with no distractions
11:30 Respond to emails and client inquiries
12:00 Lunch
12:30 Marketing and social media
1:30 Easy client work
2:30 Brisk 15 minute walk
2:45 Work on personal projects
4:00 Family / Social Time / Dinner
7:00 Plan for tomorrow, check emails
7:45 Read and relax
9:00 Bed

At first glance, it seems like a very segmented day and it is – by design. It will require some personalization and flexibility, but I think you’ll find that shorter, more focused bursts of energy result in higher productivity.

Prioritize and Focus

Part of improving your overall productivity means learning to prioritize more effectively. If the Pareto principle holds true, 20% of what you do during the day is responsible for 80% of your income. Make sure you’re prioritizing the 20% and scheduling those activities early in the day. If hitting a client’s milestone this morning means you can send out the next invoice, that should be a priority.

Sitting in front of a screen all day means you are also faced with distractions at every turn. There are times of the day when getting sidetracked by a distraction is going to happen. But there are other times when you need to make distractions unacceptable. Your first and second 90-minute work interval are two of the times where you should be 100% focused.

Plan Ahead

Have you ever tried starting your day without a plan? I imagine we all have. Unplanned work days are almost never productive. As you roll your chair up to your desk you review your list of 25 unprioritized tasks, your mind shifts into overwhelm mode – you have no idea where to start. May as well open up Facebook right? Next thing you know an hour has gone by and you still haven’t started your current project.

The last interval of each day should involve planning and prioritizing for tomorrow. How you go about accomplishing that is up to you. You might prefer a handwritten list or maybe a tool like Trello or AnyDo is your modus operandi.

Get Started Now

The final item on our list of ways to create a productive working environment is the easiest of all – in theory.

Getting started almost feels too obvious. That is, until you add up the number of days in the last month that you looked at the clock mid morning only to realize that you had yet to do anything productive.

One of the biggest barriers to productivity is our failure to jump feet first into the task at hand. If you’re managing multiple client projects, it’s often easier to find small, menial tasks or ways to waste time than it is to actually get started on something important.

Planning can solve this problem. If you look at the days where this pattern occurs, I’d be willing to bet that more often than not, you didn’t have a prioritized list of things to do. As a result, you magically find a way to fill your time with things you shouldn’t be doing. This links back to planning ahead, and making sure you have a prioritized list made up the night before.

Be Willing to Experiment

We’ve covered a few important concepts in this article. Not all of them will necessarily work for you, but most of them can make a real difference. Plus, they’re all practical ideas that can be implemented with relative ease.

These are the basic steps:

  • Create an organized and clean work environment.
  • Map out the different areas of your life.
  • Prioritize and focus on the areas and tasks that are most important.
  • Structure your day with intervals.
  • Plan ahead.
  • Get started.

Finally, be creative. Experiment with structuring your day differently. Discover what works well for you and what doesn’t. I think you’ll be surprised at how your productivity improves over time. If you’re hungry for more productivity ideas, check out this post.

Have you experimented with improving your productivity? With improved productivity, did you reward yourself with free time or focus on getting more work done? Let us know in the comments!

Image Credit: Bloomua / ShutterStock

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18 Comments

  1. Really. I was just about to sit down and create an agenda for the next 2 months to make sure I got everything I’m committed to completed on time. And then I read this.

    So, I copied your segmentation and will adapt it to MY timeline (I HAVE to exercise from 10 am to 11 am. I have committed to that $)

    Thanks,
    Randy

  2. Your areas of life neglected to mention the most important

    Seek first the kingdom of God and all these things shall be added unto you

    • Seriously? maybe God can give me more clients :/

      You’re in the wrong blog, buddy.

  3. great points, thank you! I will test it in the next days….
    jan

  4. That’s a long sleep!

  5. Excellent post! I’ve noticed that as I work on client projects, I get these spurts of momentum. The momentum lasts for an hour or two and then tails off. Pushing on during the lull feels so laborious. I can see where shifting gears to a different task or daily segment just might keep the productivity going. I’ll try this out for sure.

  6. Bed at 9… as a developer? Come on!

  7. Great, now I am excited. But do you know what just after 3 to 4 hours “from now” I will forget everything I read over here and will start doing exactly what will destroy my timetable. The biggest problems are my clients phone calls, even when I ask them to call me on specific time, they won’t listen and will start the conversation with ” I am extremely sorry I am calling you at this time “.

    BUT I feel its all my mistake.

  8. My computer makes every hour a Rockabilly song and gives me a break for some sports.

  9. @Anna @Will – bed at 9.30 wake up at 6.15 for me as well. And I have to tell you, I am way more productive during the day with this schedule than when I was getting by with 6h or less. Yeah sure, you get more work done, but with 5 or 6h of sleep only, you will also be less focused and make more mistakes, and then you have to spend more time fixing the mistakes. Working more during a day does not mean you work better. I read somewhere that 3 or 4 days of 6h nights, has the same effect on the body on the 5th day like staying awake for 24h straight, so no more 5 or 6h of sleep/night for me.

  10. As a software and wordpress developer, I’m going to stick my neck out here and say – this post may be useful for “Website Builders” but is definitely not aimed at “WordPress Developers” as mentioned in the title.

    I doubt very much that you could make sufficient progress as a software developer of any nature with a “push” covering only 3 hours per day.

    My typical day will have 3-4 sessions of 2-2.5 hours each where I turn off all distractions such as email; I open a new browser window to have tabs just for the task in hand and bury myself in coding for at least 2 hours without even looking up.

    You then find time between sessions to get a coffee, walk the dog and answer client emails.

    Social media, surfing and reading about latest trends is for those “down” moments – for me this is winding down at the end of the day with a nice drink out on the terrace in the evening sunshine!

    • Good points Chris,

      I fit more into the website builder category having responsibility for a number of my company’s sites. With a commitment to working contractual hours per week your approach is good for me. I’ve tried this before but it tends to fall by the wayside, mostly due to disatractions, the biggest being email – as I write this the emails have started and I can’t but help to look at the pop up everytime one comes in – even my wife has pointed it out no end of times – even when I’m talking to her – if it pings I look (dangerous move!!!!)

      I’ve tried shutting it off but sometimes forget to open it back up causing issues later in the day. However it does prove more productive as I was so into the Important work, that’s why I forget to put it back on!

      Tom’s article makes some great points and I did try a recommendation of 20 minute spurts of foccused effort but in this type of work you’ve just got started when you stop!

      I feel privilidged to be able to work from home and when I first started a year and a half ago I was very regimented in fitting in exercise, finishing on time and also adopting a routine – a routine that can actually waste more time sticking to it!

      Malcolm made the good point that working at the office structures your day for you but half day solid blocks of work and distractions often fell far short in terms of productivity for me.

      This post and everyone’s comments have inspired me to get back to it and stick with 2-2.5 hr blocks and build exercise, friends and family around them!

      I seem to have tried all sorts but any tips on taming the email beast welcome!!

      Thanks everyone

  11. Wow, I must be working way to hard and long. Every day I am sitting at my desk by 5:30 AM and don’t leave until 4:00 pm. The only break I take is to walk to the breakroom fridge and get my breakfast or lunch out, to take back to my desk to keep working. And the occasional bathroom breaks. I thought this was normal, no?

  12. Good thread, as Tom mentioned you have to create time for everything else in your life, and structure your day. Lets face it if you were working for a company this wold be done for you already, so it makes sense to adopt this if you work from home.

    As for staying up late, I do that once a week, I mean 2pm type late, The shops in the Uk stay late Thursdays’ so thats what I do, otherwise I shut up shop by 9/10pm, its no good to keep on working when your body needs to sleep, it wont do your work or your health good.

    The one think I have issues with at home is surfing the net and Facebook, I’m a BNI member and I do the chapters social media, as you all know doubt know Facebook and Twitter can suck you in, so I really do have trouble turning that off and getting on with what Ive set myself, that and News, I worked in that industry for 16 years, and dont watch live stream any longer, I guess none of us do, but I do like to get my news from the source all the others do, Reuters ans AP.. again, best done in the morning and night, otherwise its just a distraction, Ive even written a list on a post it note on my screen of BANNED Websites… just to remind me…

    Mal

  13. As I don’t just build websites, but maintain Systems from Home Users to Business as well as build new machines and repair along with Website Builds, I seriously need to arrange my time better.

    My biggest problem is called the sucked in effect. I I am in the flow say building a Website, I can get sucked in when it is flowing and literally have 12 or more hours pass by, which then impacts on the other jobs I need to do!

    I find it hard to break concentration once I am in the flow, maybe time to set timers.

    Will try scheduling a week of “interval training” and see how it works.

    Most of the time people ask why I dont just stick to one thing, Say maintenance, new-builds, business support or Website creation, but this would drive me potty as I like the diversity.

    Also pretty much all the website work comes from existing clients that I look after and am booked up for websites for six months in advance.

    I like to have 1 Large project a month ( 20+ pages/Ecommerce/Specialist) or 2 small (5-10 pages /personal or business portfolio sites)

    Any more than that and it becomes full time and no other work which is vital to my well-being and lead generation for websites.

    Great article though, plenty there to try and work with to organise my time better.

  14. Taking some time for some downtime makes a tremendous difference in productivity. I tend to notice that the quality of work goes down as I’m hammering at my computer for long extended hours. I think the key success to productivity is slow and steady, it might not win you the race, but it helps you produce the best work.

  15. Great post! Now, to do it. It was almost like you were sitting in my office when you wrote this. 🙂

  16. Confrontingly true, lol 😉

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