The Zen Den – Amplifying Productivity (Developer Edition)


Productivity is a matter of habits. A developer-centric approach should seek to maximize it without impinging on the unique demands of a ‘programmer’s lifestyle’. Productivity tips that might apply for the general masses often need to be turned upside down to meet the needs of a programmer.

Case in point: most productivity experts suggest working in an airy, well-lit room. Programmers, on the other hand, often prefer to work in dim lighting with little to come between them and their machines.

For developers, productivity comes down to carefully selecting and integrating tools and techniques from the broader productivity movement into your work habits. Some of these may include:

The Power Office

Computers – desktops, laptops, even tablets – occupy pride of place over filing cabinets or extensive desk space in a programmer’s office, in sharp contrast to the conventionally defined ‘productive office’. A few key things to include in a developer-centric office would be:

1. Desktop PCs and Multiple Monitors

Eschew laptops in favor of desktops for lower costs, better speeds, and most importantly, the ability to add multiple monitors. Dual screen workstations are old-school; amplify productivity even further by adding a third monitor to the setup. If you have more cash to work with, consider streamlining with couple of 27” Apple displays. A second workstation – a laptop or even a tablet – can be kept alongside for media consumption and delegation of secondary tasks.

2. Whiteboards and Wire Ties

A physical whiteboard is one of the most underrated organizational tools in an office. Install one, and use it diligently to record to-do lists, flows and project progress. Your productivity will see a manifold increase. Wires are a distracting, ugly eyesore on any desktop. Keep them organized and out of sight with wire ties. Velcro ties are the best – easy to add and easy to remove if you need to move something. Consider concealing your power equipment (battery backups, surge protectors, etc) underneath or to the side of the desk for a clean, minimal office that helps you focus on the work.

3. Organize with Labelers

Productivity guru David Allen calls labelers a ‘surprisingly critical tool’ that can be the single greatest organization aid you can buy. As obsessive-compulsive as it may sound, label everything, especially boxes and file holders.

4. Invest in Comfort

Buy the best chair you can afford – if you are going to spend dozens of hours a week staring at a computer, you ought to make it as comfortable as possible. Ensure that trash cans and paper shredders are at an arm’s length from your chair at most.

5. Move

The physical side-effects of sitting hunched before a computer screen for 10 hours a day can be devastating. Make a habit of getting up and moving around every 45 minutes or so. Install the printer at the opposite end of the room to enforce breaks from the computer screen.

6. Keep Water at Hand

It’s easy to forget to stay hydrated when you’re zoned in. However, man does not live on coffee alone. Your body will feel better and you’ll be more alert if you are careful to stay hydrated. This will also help with enforcing those regular screen breaks ;-)


Going beyond the office, this selection of software tools can further enhance productivity for developers:

1. F.lux

F.lux is a free tool that calibrates your computer screen’s brightness with your local sunset and sunrise time. Thus, your screen is brighter during daylight hours, darker during night-time. This not only places significantly less strain on your eyes, but also reduces the eerie ‘blue-glow’ that all programmers working in dim-lights are intimately familiar with. Most importantly, it will help your body follow the natural rhythms of day and night.

2. Evernote

Evernote is a free online note-taking tool that helps you organize and catalog all your notes in labeled notebooks. Since everything is stored in the cloud, you can access your notes from anywhere, on any machine.

3. RoboForm

RoboForm, which is available in free as well as paid versions, is a password management tool that also assists you in filling forms online. It can be installed in Firefox or Chrome as an extension, and offers easy, secure form-filling at the click of a button. One of many free alternatives is LastPass.

4. Wunderkit

Wunderkit is an organizational aid that helps you track and list all your projects – from the short to the long term – from one dashboard. Close integration with sister website,, allows for easy to-do lists as well.

Productivity Tools

Stepping further, these productivity practices for programmers ought to be part of every developer’s toolkit:

1. The Printable CEO

For everyone, especially freelancers, it’s a daily struggle to ignore distractions and focus on productive labor. The Printable CEO (now named the ‘Concrete Goal Tracker’) is a printable weekly focusing aid that helps you to prioritize tasks effectively.

2. To-Do Lists and Time Tracking, on Paper

Sometimes, a notebook and a pen are better organizational tools than many high-tech alternatives. Before signing off from work each day, write down a list of tasks on a sheet of paper and create an hourly schedule and assign tasks to different time slots. You can prioritize tasks by labeling them as A1 (highest priority), and so on. When you actually start working the next day, flip this sheet around and create a table that lists the time you started working on a task, and the time you finished. It may be low-tech, but is extremely effective, nevertheless.

3. Hit the Gym

This may seem incongruent with this list, but it is, by far, the single most important productivity practice you can pick up. Even half-an hour of exercise daily will affect your mood and energy levels significantly. Plus, a trip to the gym helps negate the physical side-effects of sitting before a computer all day.


If you’re a developer, it’s critical to create a zen-ified working environment so you can maximize productivity. Follow the tips in this article to get the best results possible in your work. You’ll work better, feel better, and get more enjoyment out of your life as a coder.

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