As a web developer/designer I often get caught up in what I’m doing, mushed with information, confused about life, and see time pass by without stopping or even slowing down for me. I’ve been a practitioner of Zen habits for a few years, meditating, drinking all kinds of awesome tea, and honestly, living life very well. Yet, when I design or program, that Zen has started to leave me and for a variety of reasons. I’ve noticed my attention straying, deadlines slipping, projects left without being finished (which really screwed me over a few days ago). Let’s list the issues so we can deal with them:

  • too much information to process and keep up with
  • too many projects that I want to start but never finish
  • too much time without making a decision
  • not enough time
  • too much stuff I want to learn!

Let’s overview a few habits I’m currently implementing and that YOU should go ahead and try to add to your life as a developer and designer.

Instead of reading blogs…

I get bogged down with thousands of articles from informative blogs every week. A few weeks ago, I left my google reader unattended and reached that 2K status. I thought to myself…really? And started wishing that there were better filters, social media algorithms to weed out stuff that I’m really interested in, something that could help with what I’m dealing right now and I came to a conclusion.

What’s great about blogs and having so many subscriptions is the vast wealth of information you can learn. In a day, I can master creating a slider that works only on CSS3, read up on philosophy of minimalist design, develop a new plugin for wordpress, jumpstart a company, and redesign my logo fifty times according to how a developer/designer I admire describes “proper branding”.

Well, let’s drop that. You can do several things instead:

  • read a book on programming. This information will be concise, well written and informative, and useful. Pick a topic that interests you and stick with it. Instead of reading 50 articles on CSS3, why don’t you read Stunning CSS3: A project-based guide and learn something useful and long lasting?
  • trim your blogs. Okay, take that time you would to normally read a few useless articles that repeat what you down and trim that list down. Better yet, abandon the whole “subscribe” to blog thing and make a folder of bookmarks with your favorite blogs. Stick to those and change them out whenever you change interests. Do you care more about entrepreneurship? Just read up on that. Do you care more about MVC PHP programming? Go for that.
  • write an article. That’s right. Instead of reading, write. Write an article or a tutorial on something. You’ll learn that “something” better and you’ll have a post to show for it. I did the same thing with Knockout. I got the basics down because of that article :)

You don’t have to abandoned reading blogs entirely but this will trim it down. Don’t focus on filtering apps like Flipboard, or Pulse, or whatever. Filter it yourself and spend less time looking for that “app” to do this for you.

Sometimes you network too much…

I’m a huge victim of this. I spend a huge amount of time on Reddit and Forrst. Now, I know the developer/designer community needs more active members and everyone writes about that. Just become more…”productive” active. Cut down on your time on Forrst and Reddit, refreshing and looking at all those funny pictures associated with a sub-reddit that has nothing to do with development.

Keep away from the network. Get on there once a day and look through some posts, comment, be helpful but don’t stalk it like you need to be the “first!” comment on a post. That’s just ridiculous. Contribute, rather, to the community by doing something else from writing an article, to writing an application that you can discuss on there, to writing a tutorial that will answer someone’s question thoroughly. It will help them more than a “Man, same thing happened to me last week” comment or a “looks cool” comment.

Indecision is a bad decision…

Having many routes to take will give you exactly what you don’t need: a moment of doing nothing. A few days ago, I had a few hours to myself without any chores to complete and found myself utterly stunned with the number of things I wanted to do. It’s happened many times before and I usually ended up waiting 5 minutes for something to load up/download. Trying out a bunch of stuff, checking Forrst and Reddit. Commenting, writing stuff I would never finish…Annnnddd my time is up.

What I did this last time was make a decision. I committed myself to spending an hour on a website I’ve been working on and really pushing it forward. And I spent the rest of my time dutifully relaxing in front of the TV and talking to a few friends. Relaxing time is okay, it’s essential. Downtime is okay, and it’s essential too so put it on your list of things to do.

If you have a million of projects to do, just go for one. Random one. It doesn’t matter. Were you working on a poetry-generating engine in PHP a year ago that you’ve been meaning to update? Go for it. And put a great UI on it.

Keep an idea cabinet in your Evernote or whatever else, and pick one. I’ve a slew of them. Commit to it and spend an allotted amount of time on it without stopping to do something random.

You’re not relaxing right…

You’re not. Admit it. You spend your “relaxing” time coding, designing, or just sketching something in your head. If you’re not doing those, you’re writing an article, checking out twitter, or reading something up on that will help you with your next project.

Bad move bro. If you spend 12 hours a day on your computer for development or design. Leave it. Just leave it. Lose it for now and do something else. Go out for a walk, play video games on a video game console, hibernate your computer as an encouragement, take a long shower and try to figure out whether to shave that mustache or not (or whether you should redo your nails or leave them half chipped). Here’s a quick list of good stuff:

  • walk.
  • talk to a friend and NOT about computer stuff.
  • watch a movie without opening your laptop or checking your phone.
  • play video games and don’t pause to check “something” online.
  • read a fiction book that doesn’t involve programming.
  • take that damn shower. You stink! ;)
  • turn off the light and just sit in the dark (don’t freak out when you start to see shapes that resemble your latest design)
  • cook something without looking up a recipe. This one is one of my favorites
  • work out. Do a few push-ups and sit-ups
  • reorganize your pokemon cards because I know you have them

And so on. A few things to watch out for:

  • it’ll be uncomfortable at first. You’re not used to it. Neither am I.
  • you’ll want to cut your time down by “5 minutes” just to do something you’re itching to do.
  • You’ll want to do stuff. Stop. If yuo have a great idea, forget. You’ll get that idea again in a day or two.
  • You’ll want to find an app to keep you in line. Don’t you dare!
  • You’ll code in your head. This is normal and will go away.
  • You’ll get inspired. Good! That means this is working! :)

Coding is a lot like making love…

Leaving in the middle of it will leave you in pain, wondering if you made the right decision, thinking back on it and so on. Without the nasty details, it is more like being IN love. Every new project is a love affair that you so passionately threw yourself into and then left. Because you’re a player and one of those guys that don’t want to get stuck in the friend zone.

Well, my friend, it’s time to become polygamously married, have long-lasting friendships, and enjoy life to the fullest. And by life, I mean coding.

Here’s the thing, every new project you want to start is a great project, a great idea ready to be made. But we all abandon projects because we lose interest, find something better to do, and then we wish we could get back in the groove or had more time to get to it. Well, up your project’s priority to top whenever you can so that you finish it.

Here’s what happened to me in the past few days:

  • I found out a fellow developer pursued a half-baked, half-finished project I was going to “get to” eventually (ie never)
  • The developer marketed the idea, and got a lot of recognition, and was praised for the idea.
  • I realize the idea WAS great and I could have integrated it into my workflow and make great and better products

What did that feel like? Like that girl you’ve been eyeing, or that guy you were into, or that ex you’ve been meaning to get together with and see if you two were still into each other, but instead, that person got married. Bam! Don’t you just feel like you missed out on something awesome?

Advantages of finishing your projects:

  • possible great recognition
  • awesome use in the future
  • FEELING OF ACCOMPLISHMENT that will carry over to the rest of your life. It’s like giving that “dream job” a shot, sending your resume in, and being accepted or even rejected, as long as you can say you tried
  • learning experience that will win over any experience of wasting time. Instead of sitting on your computer ooohing and awweeinng at Dribbble shots, make a project, take a screenshot. Sweet.
  • No more crying over how that “other developer” stole your idea (which is what I did)
  • Sweet.

Disadvantages:

  • It may feel overwhelming. You can do it though!
  • Time lost. Well, of course you’ll spend time on it
  • Developers with half-baked solutions will hate you

Sweet.

Unfortunately, you take someone else’s advice…

Just by reading this you’re doing the un-Zen thing. You need to find your own path. Don’t let people tell you how things should be or what you should do. I’ve heard developers and designers give me all kinds of advice that was great for them but not for me. Examples:

  • code an app a day. (yea, right!)
  • design something that will help someone every day. (don’t have time bro!)
  • The more you code, the better you will be. (until your brain burns out)
  • Stick to one thing and one thing only. (unless you’re human, because then you’ll have multiple interests. Coders aren’t human.)
  • Stay up to date with trends and read blogs. (this will eat up 90% of your coding time by the way)
  • Get on twitter and help someone out. (then get on Forrst, linkedin groups, dribbble, and wonder why day turned to night and back to day again).
  • Use the “pomodoro” technique and section out your time. (but if someone walks into the room and needs something, you’re f***ed)
  • If you can’t do it in 10 minutes, leave it. (which is just about everything).

In all honesty, those are great ideas. They are. Everyone has something that works for them. Those things don’t work for me. I have a different flow. I’d rather spend 20 minutes taking a long hot shower and contemplate on life than spend 20 minutes browsing through the latest tweets and reading through articles that Flipboard so neatly aggregates. I’d rather spend my evening reading a sci-fi book (because I like those) than coding an app.

I’m not perfect though and this won’t make you or me perfect. I have too many interests right now and having to proportion my time just sucks. I want to write, do 3d modeling, learn more about javascript, code a custom CMS base to use in the future, and so much more. Yet, there isn’t the time for that and my family of dogs. So, I’ll keep on adding tips until I figure this stuff out :)