Brain running from distressed programmer

Software engineers suffer from procrastination. You’re likely high in conscientiousness and have tried every trick to overcome it. Yet, nothing seems to work: you feel stuck.

You might be looking at the problem from the wrong level of abstraction. It’s like trying to fix issues in your Angular code when migrating to React would solve all your problems instantly. Your emotions are the operating system your work runs on, but they remain invisible to you.

Understanding your emotions, rather than searching for the next productivity hack, is the first step towards becoming more productive. This is not about finding a quick fix but about addressing the root cause of procrastination and inefficiency. Focusing on emotional awareness will add 10 points to your IQ [citation needed].

Not too long ago, I found myself frequently irritated by bugs in the codebase or by things not working properly. This landed me in a cycle of anger that not only hampered my productivity but also clouded my ability to think clearly. In hindsight, everything seems obvious, but I could only grasp what was happening by carefully analyzing what I was going through when negative feelings arose. Here’s the method I used:

Starting Small

Seeking a professional is a good first step. Everyone could benefit from therapy, and yes, that includes you. But you can start improving your emotional awareness today. Think of it as a muscle that gets stronger with exercise. Here’s what I tried:

  • Grab a Piece of Paper: I advise against doing this digitally because, let’s face it, you lack self control (for now). A physical piece of paper is best for this exercise.
  • Define Your Task: Having a clearly defined task helps focus your mind a lot. Write down the task, the time you start, and set a timer for 30 minutes (or whatever duration feels manageable to you).
  • Work on the Task: Dive into your task with the intent to stay focused.
  • Reflect When the Timer Ends: At the end, jot down any distractions or off-task activities. More importantly, write about your feelings. Were you frustrated? Bored? Excited? Try to be detailed about your thoughts and feelings regarding the task.

Questions to Ponder:

  • What distracted you, and why?
  • How do you feel about the task itself?
  • Did certain thoughts or feelings lead you off course?
  • What could make this task more engaging or manageable?

I know, having tried and abandoned various strategies, you might be skeptical. However, this isn’t meant to be a permanent part of your workflow but a temporary exercise. Even if you do it just twice a week, the insights gained can be significant. Trust me on this. It might seem challenging at first, but consider the alternatives: the stress of performing badly on your job or disappointing those you care about. This small effort could yield big results in understanding and managing your work habits and emotions.