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We all have the same number of hours in the day. We cannot create more time, but we can better manage our time so that we can accomplish more in the same amount of time.

Time management isn’t just a feel-good concept that personal development gurus spout. The most effective time management methods are supported by scientific evidence.

Let’s look at how they can help software developers and development teams get more done in less time.

Where did my time go?

To better manage our time, we must first understand how and why we might be wasting it.

The planning fallacy is a cognitive bias first proposed by Daniel Kahneman and Amos Tversky in 1979. It is the tendency to underestimate the time required to complete a task or overestimate our ability to complete it within a set amount of time. This fallacy is caused in part by relying on overly optimistic performance scenarios in the absence of reliable data.

Most people struggle to begin work on a large project that is due in weeks or even months. It is because the pain of doing the work is greater than the pain of postponing the task. We don’t have a problem doing the work most of the time; we just have a problem starting it because we rely on vague, long-term goals to motivate us in the present.

When we switch from one task to another, just like a computer, there is a cost associated with context switching. Instead of doing actual work, your brain requires time to memorize the current task’s state and retrieve the most recent information from the other. When you return to the first, it must do the same.

The good news is that you can overcome these obstacles, and there are numerous scientific studies to support the most effective strategies.

Work in Sprints

Our brains cycle through periods of higher and lower alertness every 90 minutes. We use stress hormones for energy after working at high intensity for 90 minutes. As a result, the prefrontal cortex begins to shut down, and we lose our ability to think clearly or focus.

Rather than muscling through the dip with energy drinks and sugary foods, respect the body’s natural rhythm. Incorporate rest and renewal into your workday by scheduling a 15-minute break every 90 minutes.

Find Your Peak

Track your time and associate it with your effort to determine when you’re at your peak. Change your work schedule to do deep work during those hours if necessary, so you can do more meaningful work in less time simply by going with the flow.

When you’re in the zone, it’s much easier to keep going until the task is finished. Allow yourself enough time to ride the momentum and capitalize on the Zeigarnik Effect, which states that once you start something, the mental tension caused by unfinished work will keep your mind going until the task is completed.

Develop Productivity Rituals

You may be doing things the hard way if you rely on willpower to get things done. Willpower is a limited resource, and using it to complete a task depletes your energy reserves. Instead, reduce the friction of starting a task to reduce resistance.

Establish productivity rituals that make these processes automatic to foster productive habits and lower the mental costs of starting tasks. For example, you can pre-set a method for triaging tickets or responding to emails so you don’t waste mental energy deciding what to do with them and when.

Limit Your Decisions

In terms of mental load, did you know that decision fatigue exists? This term was coined by a social psychologist to describe the emotional and mental strain caused by a choice burden. 

Look for ways to simplify your personal and professional life in order to reduce the number of decisions you must make. Developing habits and rituals, for example, can help you automate many repetitive actions (for example, deciding which email to respond to right away and which to park) so you can focus your energy on important decisions.

Eliminate Unimportant Tasks

Minor and unimportant tasks can quickly become major distractions, and you should try to eliminate them as much as possible from your day.

Be disciplined and selective in your to-do list creation. Resist the urge to jot down anything and everything just to cross it off your list. Prioritize your tasks, and perhaps set aside an hour to cross small items off your to-do list as a reward after a long day of productive work.

Chunk Down Big Projects

Divide large projects into manageable milestones to increase urgency, lower the action threshold, and prevent potential delays caused by multi-step tasks. It’s easier to get started if the goal appears less intimidating.

Breaking down a project into smaller pieces allows you to more accurately estimate the time required for each. You can track the time spent on each work item, raise a red flag if a milestone is missed, and quickly correct course if something doesn’t go as planned.

What is measured is managed

To better manage your time, you must be able to accurately measure the time you spend on work items at a granular level, so you can say more than “I spent XX hours on this project” and instead say “I spent Y hours on this specific task, accomplishing A, B, and C.”

The information can then be used to calculate the time required for a specific amount of effort and gain insights to guide future estimations.

Keep in mind that time management is a long process. It is not something you can learn overnight. Successful project management necessitates consistency, resilience, and commitment. However, once it becomes a habit, you will notice a significant difference.