Alias Your Mom, and 4 Other Tips for Productive Development

As a software engineer, I’m like an over-caffeinated monkey for two reasons. First, much like most monkeys caffeinated or not, software development doesn’t come naturally to me. I’m sure you’re thinking, “How could that be?” I know. I know. I work for Intridea, which means I should be a rockstar ninja Ruby pirate with a double-rainbow tattoo, right? Wrong. This stuff is difficult for me which means I have to work really hard at it. Where some guys can play with a new technology over the weekend and come out with a firm and thorough understanding of it, I would need a week of working with it every day in order to achieve the same results.

And second, I’m easily distracted by shiny things, like internet video or sites with nothing but animated GIFs. Don’t you dare send me that YouTube link before noon. This is a recipe for disaster, and I will let you know it by replying in ALL CAPS with lots of exclamations points at the end!!!!!

So, what do my monkey-like tendencies have to do with anything? Well, this means that I need to be as efficient and focused as possible to get the job done. Here are a few tips in no particular order that I use to help me get through my day:

  1. Alias everything. Seriously, I would alias your mom if I thought it might actually save me a few keystrokes. If a command is either not that long but I use it every day, or long and tedious but I know I’ll use it occasionally, then I’ll alias it. And the vast majority of my aliases are only 2-3 characters. What’s the point in an alias if it still takes you several seconds to type it out?
  2. Vim. Fullscreen. You do use Vim, right? If not, you should. Nothing beats Vim, in fullscreen, on the biggest monitor you own. The benefits of Vim usage are two-fold, even as a novice user. Split-pane view, modal editing, and hundreds of plugins lead to serious productivity gains. Then there’s the fullscreen mode, which I love. It hides everything else and lets you focus on just the code. There’s no distracting menu bar, osx dock, or instant messenger windows.
  3. Turn off notifications. I would say quit the apps entirely, but c’mon – let’s be realistic. Just turn off the distracting notifications. That means growl notifications, dock icon badge counts, audio notifications (ding!), and anything else that might pull you away from what you’re doing. Whatever it is, be it a Twitter reply, Campfire chat, or another email in your inbox, it can wait.
  4. Quick docs. I have a horrible memory, so I look at documentation a lot. So instead of opening a new tab in a browser, then either searching or typing in a url, I keep a folder of links to API docs that I browse frequently. Then I have QuickSilver (any app launcher should work) scan this folder regularly so that I can quickly and easily pop open whatever docs I need, usually in 2-3 keystrokes.
  5. Mobile browsing. I won’t pretend like I’m 100% focused during the day. I take breaks and do my fair share of casual browsing, but when I do I try to force myself to browse on my iPhone. Sitting there, hunched over, staring at the little screen keeps me from getting too sucked in by anything.

There you have it. Five simple tips to help keep your inner monkey focused and productive.