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How Do You Maintain Your Work Focus? 153

Posted by Cliff
from the that-zen-state dept.
chowsapal asks: "I've recently switched from another line of work into computer programming, where I work as a contractor. I'm making more money than I need, and more than I'm used to even working 20 or 25 hours a week. I'd like to work more, and rake in even more money, but sometimes it's hard to stay focused for more than 5 or 6 hours at a time. What do other programmers do to motivate themselves? Do you work a specific set of hours? In a specific location? Are there types of breaks that you find really increase productivity? Does diet and/or coffee consumption make or break the deal? Do you end up working late at night for the quiet? I realize that on some level you just need to suck it up and put in the time, or stop worrying about it and enjoy your time off. However, the question stands: How do you work best outside an office environment?"
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How Do You Maintain Your Work Focus?

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  • Motivation (Score:4, Funny)

    by Rydia (556444) on Saturday July 15, 2006 @09:48PM (#15726402)
    Constantly remind myself of my company's small army of trained ninja.
  • Two Options (Score:5, Insightful)

    by acvh (120205) <{geek} {at} {mscigars.com}> on Saturday July 15, 2006 @09:52PM (#15726417) Homepage
    One - Provigil.

    Two - Trust your feelings, Luke. If you're already "making more" than you need, and you can't get motivated to make more, then don't. Go out and have some fun.
    • Re:Two Options (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Eideewt (603267)
      Indeed. If he know's he's got big expenses coming up and wants to prepare that's one thing, but he sound's like he's just wants to work more because he feels he should earn as much as he can. Don't do it, guy. Working five to six hours at a time is plenty.
    • Two - Trust your feelings, Luke. If you're already "making more" than you need, and you can't get motivated to make more, then don't. Go out and have some fun.

      Indeed. If he still persists in wanting to work more hours then I'd like to job-swap with him. 25hours/week would be just right both in the amount of money and time.
      • Even if he doesn't need it, there are lots of other people who are literally dying for lack of money. I recommend amphetamines. I can pull down 80-120 highly productive hours per week when it is expedient; but more than a couple of weeks over 100 hours, even with rigorously enforced physical fitness breaks and careful diet, would push the limits of sanity at my age (45).
      • 25hours/week would be just right both in the amount of money and time.

        I once had a job which I tried to negotiate down to 30 hours/week with a proportionate pay cut, but they wouldn't go for it; they wanted me there 8-12+1-5/M-F. {shrug}

        My current job is 32 hours/week, which is darn near perfect... except for the fact that being <40 means it doesn't include benefits, which means I'm actually missing out on affordable insurance, vacation pay, etc. They're saving a small fortune, while I get a mere 8
  • > What do other programmers do to motivate themselves?

    How do I motivate myself to work? Usually I just visualize my family and I living under a bridge and carrying a handwritten "will program for food" sign.
    • Don't laugh. I've seen a photograph of a retired professor of math holding up a cardboard sign reading, "Will solve partial differential equations for food!"
    • A couple years ago Linus came to speak at the monthly meeting of the San Francisco Bay Area Linux User's Group. They were giving out t-shirts with this [newbreedsoftware.com] on the front. It was kind of ironic because not soon after, One of the most visible linux companies in San Francisco (and a supporter/sponsor of SFBALUG) reached it's apex and began a downhill slide. What had been a cheeky joke had become suddenly very somber.
  • Priorities? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by sharkey (16670) on Saturday July 15, 2006 @09:54PM (#15726419)
    If you are making more than you need, and more than you are used to in a "shorter than normal" work week, perhaps you should go to the pool or something. It sounds like you are working to get money so you can HAVE money, not so that you can attain any other goal in life but to get more money.

    Perhaps your motivation problem is that you seem to have no goals outside of the numbers on your bank accounts.
  • by SubliminalVortex (942332) * on Saturday July 15, 2006 @09:54PM (#15726420)
    I'm almost convinced that programmers are afflicted with 'ADD' as a side effect. It's very easy to get bored with a programming task (especially one that is boilerplate) so we go off on a tangent trying to automate the process of writing boilerplate code.

    I find that when spending too much time looking at the same code, it starts becoming 'vague' and I feel as if I'm in a fugue. It's akin to the same thing as writing a story or some e-mail and thinking that you've misspelled the words 'it' or 'and'. It may very well be correct, but it looks foreign and you try to fix something that isn't broken. At that point, it's time for a mental break.

    I actually tend to take at least three breaks a day for about five to ten minutes each. The first two, I read Slashdot; usually around 10:00am and the other right before lunchtime. I don't eat out often, but I do pick up lunch and then around 4:00pm, I check out the latest 'IT' curiosity posted on The Daily WTF http://www.thedailywtf.com/ [thedailywtf.com]. I also check Slashdot again right before I leave so I don't miss some of the few gems posted here.

    A lot of IT shops have their eye on Web browsing, but they usually won't pay mind to it unless you're not producing or you have a tendency to frequent sites that raise an eyebrow or two (hint: pr0n sites tend to fall in that category). I do like to visit sites geared towards developers, such as GotDotNet http://www.gotdotnet.com/ [gotdotnet.com], CodeProject http://www.codeproject.com/ [codeproject.com], CodeGuru http://www.codeguru.com/ [codeguru.com] and the latest "up and coming" Krugle http://www.krugle.com/ [krugle.com] code search engine. Sometimes visiting those sites will give a tidbit or two that is useful; you may run across some code or solution to a problem that interests you. Also, you may end up learning something that you'll run into in the future. (Coders tend to re-invent the wheel if they don't have the code handy; however, if the code is there, they tend to add spinning rims to it.)

    Adding a bit of diversity to the routine helps keep you on the edge and refreshed to approach a problem in a new light.

    • I find that when spending too much time looking at the same code, it starts becoming 'vague' and I feel as if I'm in a fugue.

      Most programmers that have had a hardcore hacking session have probably gotten to this stage. I term is "code blindness" :)

      After code blindness is typefinger (you know, where your fingers start going cold, and you can't type as fast).

      Generally, either of these mean you've spent *way* too much time on your current task. Get some sleep.
    • I actually tend to take at least three breaks a day for about five to ten minutes each. The first two, I read Slashdot; usually around 10:00am and the other right before lunchtime. I don't eat out often, but I do pick up lunch and then around 4:00pm, I check out the latest 'IT' curiosity posted on The Daily WTF http://www.thedailywtf.com/ [thedailywtf.com] [thedailywtf.com]. I also check Slashdot again right before I leave so I don't miss some of the few gems posted here.

      Lucky you. My boss says that if I need a 5-10 minute

  • Slashdot! (Score:2, Funny)

    by Mini-Geek (915324)
    Are there types of breaks that you find really increase productivity?
    Slashdot
  • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday July 15, 2006 @09:55PM (#15726425)
    Step 1. Stop reading Slashdot

    Step 2. I still haven't gotten past step 1, but when I do, I'll let you know.
  • Get up and walk around. Chew a couple vitamin C tablets and drink some water. Read slashdot and get back to work. Sometimes music helps, sometimes it doesn't. Wished I had some better ideas...
  • Long lunches (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Bender0x7D1 (536254) on Saturday July 15, 2006 @10:02PM (#15726449)
    Where I used to work it was pretty normal for people to come in early (about 7:00AM), take an extra long lunch (1.5 - 2 hours) and then work until 5:00PM. They put in their 8 or 9 hours, but have a nice refreshing break in the middle so they can handle the afternoon. Also, people would go to the gym at lunch time to refresh their minds for the afternoon.

    Another tactic was for people to come in late, about 10:00AM, go to lunch at 12:00PM for an hour, work the afternoon, go home for an hour or two to eat supper, and work a few more hours from home. Some would also come back to the office for a few hours in the evening - but they generally lived pretty close-by. After work, they could go out, stay out late, but be able to sleep in the next morning.

    I think the important part is determining how long you can go without a serious break, and then figuring out how to work that break into your schedule. It may mean starting earlier, or working later, but you still get your time off. Why go to the gym in the morning, when you can go at lunch time and refresh yourself for the afternoon?
    • The problem I have with this approach is that I feel guilty, since every hour during the day that I don't work, is one hour I'll be squirreled away in my office after my wife comes home. However, working 5 or 6 hours a day tends to be more productive than working 8-10, unless I really just get "dialed-in" to a problem. Being an independent contractor (like myself, and the OP) means you can spare yourself the drudgery of those last few hours of consecutive work, and you won't have to look at buggy, opaque,

      • About True science means that when you re-evaluate the evidence, you re-evaluate your faith, I have to agree.

        Most truly impressive scientific advances come with re-evaluations, as Isaac Asimov once put it [wikiquote.org], The most exciting phrase to hear in science, the one that heralds new discoveries, is not 'Eureka!', but 'That's funny...' which will happen more often to people who take a break and a fresh look, as you advise.

        Mr Asimov also needed to re-evaluate a lot of his own principles, even though he did fairly wel
  • by mortonda (5175) on Saturday July 15, 2006 @10:03PM (#15726452)
    I keep my attention on task by .... um.... what was the question again?

    Seriously, I have the same problem, as a contractor... Some days I'm lucky to get 1 hour billed. OTOH, I have a 14 month old boy that keeps distracting me. :)
  • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday July 15, 2006 @10:03PM (#15726453)
    127.0.0.1 www.slashdot.org
  • I think (Score:5, Interesting)

    by countach (534280) on Saturday July 15, 2006 @10:03PM (#15726454)
    The best thing you can do is have a siesta. Sleep for half an hour and come back to work.

    But most of the time it's best not to work at all. I can get a ton of work done in a few hours in the morning, and the afternoons are often a write-off. I might as well have gone home. If mornings are you best, schedule meetings in the late afternoon as much as possible so that you don't waste your most productive times. Make the most of your most productive hours and do admin the other hours.

    Generally, I don't believe in the idea you can "push yourself" into creating more software by staying more hours. All you'll do is make yourself even more tired and not produce any more output.

    • The best thing you can do is have a siesta. Sleep for half an hour and come back to work.

      Ah, yes - the good ol' powernap. I spent many-a-lunchbreak in the high school library preparing for my excruciating AP English class that way.

      I can get a ton of work done in a few hours in the morning

      I usually get the most work done in the late evening, but I'm a night person anyway. Use whatever time works for you.

      Generally, I don't believe in the idea you can "push yourself" into creating more software by s
    • Holy hibernation Batman! They trained me in kindergarten to take naps when I didn't want to take them. What's the use of training a child (who is against them) to take naps when they aren't allowed to have them in the future workplace! The public school system needs to learn that the "real world" is full of coffee and danish, not tasty paste and naps!
      • What's the use of training a child (who is against them) to take naps when they aren't allowed to have them in the future workplace!

        Naptime isn't for the benefit of the children, but for the teacher. The fact that it reduces the chances of her strangling any of them is the main ancillary benefit they receive.
  • Temperature Control (Score:5, Interesting)

    by tansey (238786) on Saturday July 15, 2006 @10:09PM (#15726472) Journal
    You'd be amazed how much better you work at 65 degrees than say 72. The building my employer recently moved into is new, and was designed for normal 9-5 business days, so after 5:30, the AC cuts off and by 7 the temperature is around 75 degrees. Since I'm much more of a night person, I come in around 1pm every day and stay til around midnight--or at least I did until we moved into the building.

    The few of us who stay past 7 have all come to the conclusion that heat will make your brain slow down a LOT. It's gotten to the point where I just started going home at 8 or so because I would accomplish absolutely nothing by being there.

    So my advice is to make sure you keep your work environment at a slightly-less than relaxing temperature, just to make sure you stay on your toes.
    • So why have the number of "ice-cream" men been diminishing over the years?
    • At that temperature, I'd have my feet up on the seat and I'd be hugging my knees to keep them warm. All the hair on my arms would be standing at attention. My fingers would suffer reduced blood circulation, becoming slightly numb, off-color, and shrivled.

      Best is 81 degrees (22.22 for the French) while wearing shorts and maybe a T-shirt.
    • by Reziac (43301) *
      I forget if it was here on /. or where, but I just read an article about some research into temperature vs. productivity, and turns out that contrary to popular belief, most people work better in a comfortably warm environment (IIRC around 75F), and that dropping the temp to 68F was not such a good idea after all.

      Yeah, some individuals' metabolisms run at different rates, and it also depends on what sort of work you're doing (if you're furiously chopping wood, you can be overly warm at 10 below zero, even i
      • Sounds a bit like the experiments that produced the Hawthorne Effect [wikipedia.org].
    • If you can, change your chair. I recently changed my office chair from a traditional work-chair, to a full-mesh (see-through seat and back) model, and have found that I do stay much more alert. This is the case when driving, too -- if there is no circulation at the seat and back (leather seats, etc.), I'll often find myself becoming sleepy at the wheel. You might just get an extra hour or two of decent work in the evenings.

    • by gozar (39392) on Sunday July 16, 2006 @10:36AM (#15727933) Homepage
      You'd be amazed how much better you work at 65 degrees than say 72. The building my employer recently moved into is new, and was designed for normal 9-5 business days, so after 5:30, the AC cuts off and by 7 the temperature is around 75 degrees.

      I think the fine folks at Cornell would disagree with you. [cornell.edu]

      • The link you provided said a powerpoint(!) version of the study could be found at http://ergo.human.cornell.edu/ [cornell.edu] but upon searching, the only thing I could find was this [slashdot.org]:

        Optimum comfort temperature may be higher than optimum productivity
        - Heat stress effects on performance are not always linear
        - In temperate zones:
        - Critical temperature for performance decrements is 30C
        - Accident rates increase 30% at 24C and are lowest at 20C
        - Moderate heat stress:
        - impairs efficiency in men > women
        - Interacts

    • The few of us who stay past 7 have all come to the conclusion that heat will make your brain slow down a LOT.

      Next time you get a chance, try cooling your brain to absolute zero and see if it turns into a superconductor. Get a year's worth of work done in an hour. ;)
    • Since I'm much more of a night person, I come in around 1pm every day and stay til around midnight--or at least I did until we moved into the building.

      I'm not so good at mathematics, but I think that's 11 hours in the office a day.

      Do you work a 4 day week? If you do, you're "only" putting in hours for an extra half day per week.

      It's gotten to the point where I just started going home at 8 or so because I would accomplish absolutely nothing by being there.

      Oh wait, never mind. You only work 7 hours a day. Wel
  • I don't (Score:5, Interesting)

    by JanneM (7445) on Saturday July 15, 2006 @10:12PM (#15726480) Homepage
    I don't maintain focus for more than an hour at a time. In fact, I can't. And being involved in cognitive science research, I can state that for sustained work, neither can anybody else. Yes, once in a while, if your current problem is intensely interesting, you can zone out and work on it for many hours straight. But most work - however interesting it is - isn't able to grab your focus in that manner. To see it from another perspective, a movie is designed to grab your attention, is created by people devoting their lives to grab your attention as effectively as possible and has about every technical means short of drugs available to grab and hold your attention. And yet, few movies are longer than two hours, because people will not be able to hold their focus for much longer than that.

    If you try to force yourself by having only your work available and forcing yourself to sit on front of it, all that will happen is that after an hour or two your thoughts will start to drift, you'll get stuck in a rut reiterating old thought processes, and you may even nod off for short periods due to the imposed lack of stimulus variation. In short, "maintaining focus" is a good way to sink your productivity.

    Instead, accept that you can't single-mindedly focus on any one thing for more than about 45 minutes to an hour (there's a good reason class time seems to have converged to about 45 minutes the world over). Do one of these things in combination:

    * Get up, stretch and move about a bit. Go look out the window, find someone else on a break and shoot the breeze for a few minutes. Leaf through the morning paper, trade magazine, or that 2001 office supplies catalogue you never seem to get around to throw away. Go over to Accounting and ask about that missing trsvel reimbursement. In short, get yourself exposed to some new stimuli so you canh approach the next hour with a fresh mind.

    * Have a secondary task you can switch to whenever you get bored with the main one. Maybe now is a good time to answer a few email, or write some documentation (there's always documentation to write). Really the same thing as above - get some new stimuli - but with more of a work focus.

    * Set a goal for the day. And when it's done, quit. Sure there's more work to be done - but there's always more work to be done. You can stay 24/7 and there will still be more. Do what you set out to do, then go home. With a definite short-term goal, pacing yourself is easier, and it's much easier to focus on a comprehensible, digestible chunk of work.

    • Re:I don't (Score:4, Interesting)

      by Josuah (26407) on Sunday July 16, 2006 @01:32AM (#15726990) Homepage
      Instead, accept that you can't single-mindedly focus on any one thing for more than about 45 minutes to an hour....

      Or perhaps it takes a certain mindset. I have no trouble doing this when it comes to coding. But then I also have no trouble doing other things for hours on a time, including movies (all three LoTR:EE in a row), TV shows (10 episodes of 24 in one sitting), video games (earlier Zelda games in one sitting), books (read for hours straight). Earlier today I think I spent about 2-3 hours working on my postfix settings and I didn't even realize it'd been that long. There was one summer I coded for 16 hours, slept for 10 hours, and repeated that schedule for maybe two weeks.

      I'm not trying to toot my own horn. I just think making that generalization based on what you've learned in CogSci might be an incorrect generalization to make. Sure, all of those things interest me, but I've found myself doing that even when I don't particularly like what I'm doing. I have a compulsion to finish things, which one of my coworkers finds idiotic. He'd just stop watching a bad movie whereas it wouldn't even cross my mind to stop watching (and only watching, not doing other things at the same time).
      • Coding for 16 hours and sleeping for 10? Please share your day-lengthening secret with me - the extra sleep would be great.

        I'm a web developer - myself and my colleague run a web-app & eCommerce design firm (www.blubolt.com [blubolt.com]). He works 7am-9pm, with 1-2 hours off, 7 days a week - when he's working, he's working, and he doesn't stop/browse/whatever - he does the design/html/css. I work 9:00 am - 3:00 am - I stop what i'm doing and spend 5 mins browsing/whatever every 20 mins or so, and go for 20 min walks
        • No day-lengthening secret. I just slept and woke two hours offset each day. Which one of the guys I was working on the project with found quite amusing.

          I can't do this anymore because of the stupid 24-hour rotational behavior of the Earth and how that impacts the rest of civilization. Meaning my current job actually requires me to interact with others in a shared building on a daily basis. :P Otherwise I do still have the tendency to want 26-hour cycles and having to conform to 24-hour cycles means I almost
    • And yet, few movies are longer than two hours, because people will not be able to hold their focus for much longer than that.
      That and it gets awfully hard and expensive to keep a plot good after two hours.
  • What focus?

    If I was focussed, I wouldn't be reading /.
  • by JavaRob (28971) on Saturday July 15, 2006 @10:15PM (#15726493) Homepage Journal
    I work independantly as well. It can be tough to work up the motivation to get going on things, and I occasionally have the experience of realising at 10pm that I've spent about an hour of billable time that day -- the rest was running errands, procrastinating, websurfing, reading news, socializing, etc.. Sometimes I'll then work another 7 hours, which sometimes works okay (sometimes my brain really starts clicking only late at night)... but of course makes it that much harder to get started the next morning.

    Of course, the answer is self-discipline, time management, etc., but there are a lot of factors that affect how successful I am at that. Here's what I'm watching properly during the times that things are really working well:

    * Personal physical factors: I avoid caffeine, because it keeps me "awake" but destroys my focus. If I'm really focused, I simply won't get sleepy anyway. I avoid all alcohol during the week, and avoid sugary things at night, because those both affect my sleep patterns and sharpness in the morning. Proper sleep also makes a huge difference to focus... if I only slept 3-4 hours, even if I'm wide awake things just don't seem to get done.

    * Project factors: an interesting project that uses my knowledge/skills but also brings in some new things is much easier to work on. Boring projects (just solving the same old problems again in a slightly different way), overly tedious/frustrating projects (like cleaning up someone else's mess or working with really buggy APIs), or overly daunting projects (working with a new language, in a domain only vaguely understood)... that's when I end up bouncing off the work into random other activities like a stone skipping off water.

    * Work organization: I try to stop periodically to make priorities lists and to-do lists, and to break down tasks into smaller and smaller sections. It's important for scheduling purposes already, but the mental benefits are also huge. You can hit lots of little goals to keep you going, like "just get this query finished, send that email, then I can break for lunch".

    * Breaks: get up and walk around when you're stuck. Don't just sit in your chair (or take a break by going off to check /.) -- walk around and maybe get some fresh air. Let your mind play with the problem and come up with some new solutions to test out before you go sit down again.

    Now I just need to follow my own rules *all* the time....
    • I occasionally have the experience of realising at 10pm that I've spent about an hour of billable time that day -- the rest was running errands, procrastinating, websurfing, reading news, socializing, etc.

      OMG are you me?

  • If you want to do "something" and want to push yourself to get "something" then go for it but if you have the money to tell your boss to "take this job and Shove it!!"
    (ie six months worth of wage and relocate money). then don't push yourself*
    Dispair inc probably has a response to the "shoot for the moon if you miss you will be among the stars" that works out to
    Actually your results will be
    1 a large crater when you hit the ground
    2 LEO is very cold
    3 and what use is being off planet anyway??

    Just whatever you d
  • Since I've taken a stand in my life to only work 40 hours a week, I'm limited to working 8 hours a day. 2 to 3 of those hours are spent responding to e-mail, which requires very little concentration. "It's possible, but will take 30 hours...I can fit you in next September...What is your business need?" So I get all of my coding done in the morning, take a late lunch, then respond to all my emails in a food coma induced zombie state. Then I eat a chunk of dark chocolate, roll down all my windows and driv
  • Citrus Drop (Score:2, Insightful)

    by iced_773 (857608)

    Does diet and/or coffee consumption make or break the deal?

    Go to Kroger and get the store brand of Mountain Dew. It's called Citrus Drop. Whenever I need to concentrate, I chug one. The resulting burning feeling in my head from the caffeine and the fresh carbonation greatly improves my focus for the next hour.

    However, don't do this right before a gaming session. You'll just get jittery.
  • by muftak (636261)
    spend all day refreshing slashdot
  • Music (Score:5, Interesting)

    by WasterDave (20047) <.moc.pekdez. .ta. .pevad.> on Saturday July 15, 2006 @10:31PM (#15726536)
    Get a favourite album, one you know well. Put it on repeat, drop into the zone and code for an hour or so. Do this for ... dunno, maybe twenty or thirty repetitions and you'll quickly find that putting the music on drops you into the zone whether you want to or not. As an added bonus you'll find memories associated with the music so getting back into the work is faster.

    Clearly you're going to need to change music from time to time but because of the memory associations I suggest you have an album per module, or per project, or whatever suits you. The memory associations also make maintenance easier.

    But, danger! Do not listen to the work album and fsck about!

    As a starter can I suggest "Snivilisation" by Orbital.

    Cheers,
    Dave
    • I'd second this notion. I used to do this in college, where I found that blasting New Order through my headphones did more for my concentration than the quietest library ever could. Nowadays, I've got 80+ hours of random MP3s at work to zone out to.
    • Re:Music (Score:3, Interesting)

      by Reziac (43301) *
      I do something similar both for work, and for taking a nap.

      I have a playlist called "naptime", which is all my faves from one particular group, always played in the same order. I start WinAmp with the volume just high enough to be able to make out the words, flop down on the couch, and by the 3rd song I'm asleep from sheer habit. And somewhere during the last couple songs, I wake up.

      The object of a nap is to get some rest without going into deep sleep (since once that happens, the whole ~2.5 hour sleep cycl
    • One danger I've found with music is that if it has words that I can listen to or a tune that I can hum along to, I will. Meaning, I will sing or hum instead of actually working.
      To get around that problem, while also repeaing the benefits of using music to help me focus, I've started being very selective about the sort of music I listen to.

      - Electronica tends to be good (no words). I like Groove Salad on SomaFM.com
      - Non-english music works well for me. Particularly Hindi and Mandarin. The tri
    • In my experience, the greatest work music is the Brandenburg Concertos. My sister gave me a 2 CD set back in about 1988 or so, and I've been using them for heavy studying or work ever since. I very rarely listen to them just to enjoy them (it has been years since I did), but as the parent post notes, that actually makes them more effective as work music. When those CDs (or the MP3s I ripped from them) are playing, I find it much easier to get into "the zone" and work productively.
    • EDM is always my preference

      Get some techno/trance. Something uplifting and lacking vocals.

      It keeps you energized and not distracted.
  • by hobuddy (253368) on Saturday July 15, 2006 @10:32PM (#15726539)
    My work environment is very flexible, so I'm pretty much free to structure my time, as long as I get the work done. But let's face it: a larger slice of programming than we'd like is friggin' boring drudge work. Here's the most effective strategy I've found for concentrating on work:

    - Get enough sleep, and get up early (heresy for a geek, I know).

    - Have some breakfast and then *dive right into work while you're still fresh*. Don't squander these precious hours on Slashdot and Reddit! Do 3-4 hours of work until your morning high is gone.

    - Then stop and do some very intensive physical exercise for 45-75 minutes. By "very intensive", I'm talking about the frothin-at-the-mouth, panting, totally-drenched-in-sweat kind of stuff. My chosen exercise is to split firewood with a maul, at the fastest pace my body can handle.

    - After going all out on the exercise, take a shower.

    - Eat lunch and enjoy a bit of leisure (read Slashdot or whatever). At this point, the post-morning-high crash is long gone, but it should have been replaced by a feeling of relaxation (because of exercise -> shower -> lunch), but still with adequate energy because the exercise revved your body up. I find that if I don't do the (very intensive) exercise, I tend to be very sleepy from the time the morning high wears off until the end of the work day.

    - Do another 3-4 hours of work. You'll probably find it easier to concentrate on boring work during this period of the day, since you'll be mellowed by the exercise -> shower -> meal.

    - If 6-8 hours is enough, you're now done for the day. However, I sometimes find the very most boring work most tolerable between 8 p.m. and 10 p.m., when my body is winding down toward sleep. Just don't do anything so absorbing or intellectually taxing that it wakes you back up, or you'll be up really late.

    I know these suggestions are not realistic for most people, but for those who work from home, they're feasible. That mid-day exercise provides a huge boost to my ability to concentrate.
  • If you're already making more than you need, why work more? Go to the park, watch some TV, rent a hooker, something. You have the free time without the worry, so go make use of it. I would love to only work 25 hours a week making more than I need.

    Anyway, as to how I maintain my work focus- I don't. I've always had a poor short term memory and get distracted easily, so whenever I get something new to do or to get, I write it down. On a notepad, in a task file, anywhere that I can regular check when I say "No
  • by Pyromage (19360) on Saturday July 15, 2006 @10:47PM (#15726573) Homepage
    If it weren't for all the other people here saying 'enjoy the time off' I wouldn't say this, but: *no*, you're *not* making more than you need!

    Ok, maybe you are. But I doubt it. First, a contracting career is not secure. That's why they pay you a premium: because you constantly take the risk of being fired without another gig lined up.

    Secondly, how much are you saving? Emergency funds? Retirement nest egg? Do you have health insurance, 401/k, etc? Contractors usually don't.

    Just because you're more than covering all your bills now doesn't mean you're making enough. If you don't have enough cash or readily liquidatable assets to cover 6 months expenses, I wouldn't be 'not worried', I'd be absolutely panicking.

    My serious advice: see a financial planner, figure out how much you should be saving. Get a second contracting job to fill the other 20 hours of a full work week. You should be able to more easily focus when you have totally different projects.

    And as far as motivation goes, shipping quality products to customers who appreciate it is more than enough motivation. I love seeing a hearing a customer tell me he's happy with the product, even though it cost him around $300k.
  • Ritalin! (Score:2, Interesting)

    by wemgadge (774813)
    (I'm adult ADHD)
  • Why? (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Zadaz (950521) on Saturday July 15, 2006 @10:53PM (#15726594)
    Sounds like you are focused enough to make enough money. Take some time and enjoy the other 143 hours in the week. What's the point in making more money if you're working too much to enjoy it?

    I saw the coroner van in front of a $10 million house on Friday. See all the good that money did the dead guy.

    As a contractor for 12 years I found that I get more down in my part-time hours than most people get done in their full time jobs. What's the lesson there? Double my rates.

    On topic, you can stay focused by paying attention to your productive cycle. Do you work better in mornings? Evenings? Do you work better on a four or six day work week? My most productive times are 2-7PM and midnight to 5 am on a thirteen day work cycle (10 on, three off).

    Also you should have a designated office space if you're working from home, something closed off from the rest of your home so you don't suddenly realize you need to do dishes or get the mail, etc.

    If you don't have a lot of time specific events (calls, meetings, etc) throw away your alarm clock and find your natural sleep schedule. It will take around 6 weeks. Waking up and falling asleep naturally helps prevent fatigue and keeps you alert, and prevents burnout and mistakes.

    Take time to eat proper meals, and don't eat sitting at your desk. Eating properly will help your concentration and leaving your desk will a) keep you from becoming a fat bastard, and b) induce more natural breaks from your work.

    Of course some people just can't work in an unstructured environment. For them it's back to work.
    • Re:Why? (Score:1, Funny)

      by Anonymous Coward
      I saw the coroner van in front of a $10 million house on Friday. See all the good that money did the dead guy.


      Do you live in New Orleans? Maybe it was the coroner's house.
  • by wanax (46819) on Saturday July 15, 2006 @11:02PM (#15726623)
    1) Work in a cool & dry environment. If it's too humid or warm, you'll get lethargic and have trouble getting motivated.

    2) When you're sitting in front of the computer and the work is just not happening, and you've reloaded slashdot 5 times in the last 5 minutes etc, get up and take a break. Don't force yourself to sit there. Walk around the room, or better yet that's a good time to walk to the store and do errands.

    3) On the similar vein to #2, get yourself on a normal exercise program. Not a beat-the-crap-outta-yourself one, but something like trying to bike for an hour a day. When you're not motivated to work, get on the bike and go work out. It'll both give your mind a chance to float (and often come up with an idea about what you're working on), but once you make this a habit, you'll be more invigorated when you're done.

    4) Most people can work most efficiently on stuff like programming immediately after they wake up (whenever that is ;p). I find that if immediately after I wake up, I sit down in front of the computer and work until I'm bored it really makes me get a lot more work done. On the other hand, if I sit down in front of the computer and start checking news sites, etc. then it often takes me a lot longer to initiate doing the real work.. which is the major struggle in the first place.

    5) In terms of diet, caffeine and stuff like that.. I personally find that I work best when I'm not drinking, not eating sugary things that'll cause my blood sugar to fluctuate, and not on caffeine unless I absolutely need to stay up because a deadline is looming (another advantage of that is the caffeine works a lot better).

    But beyond that, I'd echo other people's comments that if you're not having a problem supporting your lifestyle workings 25hrs/week, then take advantage of that and do things you find fun, indulge your hobbies etc. Chances are you'll wind up being forced into 40+hr/week situations for periods in the future, so take advantage of your current situation.
    • I personally find that I work best when I'm not drinking

      I know that you were talking about caffiene, but your comment struck me with some significance.

      I've found that if I have a particularly tough time getting motivated, a couple of drinks will often soften up the boredom enough, and relax my brain enough, that I'm able to get back into things. I suppose it's all about defining "the zone" that others have mentioned here, and that every programmer knows about. In my experience, you will accomplish your best

  • This may be self-evident for most slashdotters, but I found that when I get the time to think about whatever it is I am supposed to accomplish, and plan it out ahead into simpler tasks, for example in a tree structure according to scope / dependence (eg. for software : Project plan + requirements doc -> use cases doc -> functional specs ) :

    - I get things done in time, and because I can finish-and-forget small bits, I get the warm fuzzy feeling inside of getting yet another thing done/leaping another h
  • I usually in the morning will catch up on what is new in the industry by reading various blogs and of course slashdot. I'm a java guy so I'll check out sites like theserverside.com. Then usually I'll start in on whatever I'm suppose to do. Fortunately, for me, my company likes me doing R&D most of the time so that means I get to play with new technologies (EJB 3.0 for example.) this is a lot of fun but it can still get boring. About every hour or so I take a walk around the builing and chat up anyon
  • by SocialEngineer (673690) <invertedpanda@g m a il.com> on Saturday July 15, 2006 @11:19PM (#15726665) Homepage

    For me, it really depends on the environment.

    While at college, I'd usually get the most work done listening to a loop of some pumping Nine Inch Nails while in a public place - people are usually too intimidated to walk up to you when you are banging your head and the keyboard at the same time (that is how I did a semester of programming in 3 days - 12 hours each day).

    For my current primary job (graphic artist and web developer for a newspaper), I'm lucky to not have to come in until 9. I'll usually come in, check my e-mail, plan out the order-of-business, and do misc things not directly related to graphic design or web development (my primary duties) - not wasting time, mind you (I have a few duties that are more organizational than "turn-crank, produce product"). I'll take my lunch at 11:30, come back at 12:30, and be ready to start cranking everything out.

    For my own web design business I run, I usually take my laptop into a public setting (I prefer the local coffee shop). I welcome interruptions, just because most people know I don't necessarily want to stop for a long period of time. Every half hour or so I'll have a 5-15 minute conversation. Sometimes I'll just quit working after an hour and socialize, but other times I'll work for 2-3 hours total, with solid productivity.

    It also helps, on occasion, to mix up whatever duties you have. I like to avoid doing the same thing for more than 2 hours straight.

  • For me it is a case of sleeping well and eating healthy and being fit. A decent cardio and weights session 3+ times a week helps with the sleeping, gives a decent appetite and helps keeps the mood up.

    I agree with those before who say take a break when you've lost focus. There have been more than a couple of times I've stared at a monitor for over an hour trying to force myself to see the bug, only to wander away for five minutes and come back to see the flaw straight away.

    Avoid places or situati

  • I have a hard time focusing. (Diagnosed ADD, among other things. And no, the drugs do NOT work for me. Not with serious and unpleasant side effects. Like losing weeks of memory.)

    I just shut out the world.

    I spent a hundred bucks on a good set of headphones for my laptop. I have a large collection of music on the hard drive.

    Lords of Acid gets me through the work day.
  • Be consistant:

    • Set up a regular work space
    • Keep it clean
    • Keep regular work hours
    • Keep a regular break and lunch schedule
    • Separate, as much as possible, your 'home-space' from your 'work-space'
    • Set goals for hours worked per week and per day

    Be your own boss:

    • Treat yourself as an employee
    • Treat yourself like you would want to be treated (hehe: kind of expected if not already practiced)
    • Construct as of the above as if you were going to be running THE BEST company in your field to hire and to work at: aim
  • However, the question stands: How do you work best outside an office environment?

    I think this is the key that many other people who have posted are missing. Outside of an office environment, it's really tough to maintain that discipline. There are too many distractions at home. Many can do it, but the majority aren't wired that way. So don't think that, short of drugs, you can just change a couple of things and magically focus twice as much. Odds are, you can't.

    My advice, having experienced the same thing, is this: find other contractors in your area who are in the same boat as you. Get together and get some office space and recreate the office environment. Generally what I've found is that what motivates people -- and I certainly fall into this category -- to work is being in an environment where everyone else is working too. Then when you stop working, you start feeling like the odd man out and want to work again. So if you can get a reasonable sense of the office environment, you can motivate yourself that way. And, if getting actual office space isn't feasible (and there are tons of reasons why it may not be a good good risk for you) then consider looking up various packaged/executive office spaces where you can rent a small office. If you're in a larger city, you're bound to find companies offering this service... generally anywhere from about $400 to $1000/month depending on size of office, what services are included, the going rental rates, etc. You often also get the benefit that they'll answer your phone professionally for you, which might be a plus for you too. If you're in a smaller city with a low cost of living, you might find something even cheaper. But the extra cost will more than make up for the increase in productivity.

    Or, partner up with a company that you've dealt with before. Many have more office space than they need and might be amicable to letting you take up an unused office or desk in exchange for some consulting work.
     
  • I have found that a chair that is neither too comfortable nor too uncomfortable helps out a lot.

    Also, proper lighting helps. I hate working under fluorescents. My office has a south facing window and in the winter I get lots of sunshine coming in and I can work without my office lights. If I bring my laptop home, I like to sit at the kitchen table because the lighting is nice and bright. The family computer is in a dark corner and it's impossible to do any real work on that machine.

    Also also, if yo
  • Seriously.

    I'd never kept a job longer than a year and half until i got a prescription for Adderall. Adult ADD is a bitch and seriously hinders one's performance at work.

  • by GreggBz (777373)

    I work as a systems admin, and program games for fun. I say fun, but in reality it's not much fun anymore. The reality of it is, that the project I'm currently working on is so large, and so much work has been poured into it, that I can't foresee giving it up, so I continue to plod along. With that being said, I can relate to your circumstance. It's hard to get motivated at home. Here are some things I find helpfull.

    1.) Keep a bug / todo / wishful feature list with EVERYTHING you can think of on it. If you

  • Pr0n

    Games

    Naps

    Caffine

  • get into a situation where you stop thinking of work as "work" but rather as your life.

    get to a place where over beers on sundays with friends you say things like, "And can you believe it, they actually PAY me to do it! I can't, I just to come in and do what I love and they give me cash."

    If you are having trouble with motivation on anything, it's because what you are doing is not what your brain wants you to do. There is a problem in aligning your interests with your actions. Meditate a lot. Read some bo
  • Morning hours for computations. Put in a 20 min nap at 1pm if you can. Avoid stimulants or else find a new brain to take your place.
  • I'm currently working on a project and I find that I'm usually most productive right after talking about some aspect of the project with the other people working on it.

    I think part of this is because if one person is focused it seem to help keep everyone around them focused as well. Just keep away from to many jokes and off topic discussions (although a few are good). When I'm working by myself my mind will wander but if I'm working directly with others I have to stay focused.

    With small projects/teams
  • $150 a month and free weight loss to boot!
  • I'm a tech writer. I'm writing all the new content for Windows Vista. How could anybody stay focused through that? I just let my mind unfocus a bit and get stuff done.
  • I often find that I encounter seemingly trivial setbacks that somehow end up taking forever to solve, such as an errant database connection or a z-index problem on a website or browser issues, etc. The documentation either doesn't address the issue or things simply don't work like they're supposed to. The snag isn't central to the actual project, but it ends up taking me forever to address, wasting hours of my time. Increasingly, I've begun to identify and define exactly what the issue is ("div over a windo
  • What do other programmers do to motivate themselves?

    I tend to listen to tunes a lot when I'm writing a lot of code or doing some heavy design work, and I find that certain types of music do help me focus. I also take web breaks from time to time, or sometimes I'll take a little time off to work on something completely different (since I wrote code professionally on two different platforms right now, I usually flip to the other side of my development life for 15-30 minutes just to clear my head out a bi

  • "I'm making more money than I need."

    Try opening a savings account. Also try considering the luxuries you do have, which ones you really enjoy, and spending more money on them.

    Have you considered a vacation?

    "sometimes it's hard to stay focused for more than 5 or 6 hours at a time."

    Yes, this is why we have lunch hours, and why crunch time mostly just results in frazzled developers and probably less actual work done, once you factor in fixing your mistakes.

    I'm not a programmer - I'm an illustrator and animator
  • If you're getting 5-6 hours of productive work done on most days, you're about maxed out. It's a rare day that I can actually write productive code for 8 hours. You need to fill the rest of the day with reading, writing doc, building test environments, etc. Or meetings.
  • I don't.
  • What do other programmers do to motivate themselves?

    You don't need to "do" anything to stay focused on programming... If you love doing it, your friends and relatives will complain that you spend too much time trancing out while staring at a computer. They'll worry about your mental health that you would rather pass the time reading what they perceive as meaningless blobs of punctuation with the occasional English-like word thrown in, rather than something "healthy" like watching TV. They'll irritatedly
  • Take up smoking - then you can have a 20 minute break every hour but be paid for the whole hour. As a bonus you get to piss off us non-smokers that get paid the same as you do for doing 1/3 less work (and that's now you make MORE money!).
  • First off don't let the job consume you. I personally suffer from this afflication. I'm young, single, making a good wage (could always be higher but it's not a bad wage at all), and I'm constantly learning things (a top 3 requirement for me). However I constantly stay late, I do things for work even after I leave the office, and I think about work 24/7. I have to get a life. You have to get a life. I started working out every morning at the YMCA. It's been a good means of relieving stress and I hope

It's not so hard to lift yourself by your bootstraps once you're off the ground. -- Daniel B. Luten

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