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Developer Productivity

Always Be Optimizing

How Java developer Jeanne Boyarsky finds flow

By Alexa Weber-Morales

January/February 2019

By day, Java expert and Oracle Code One speaker Jeanne Boyarsky works for a New York City bank. In her spare hours, she’s a distinguished toastmaster, a volunteer high school robotics team mentor, and a developer with Code Ranch. So when she added authorship to her overflowing plate, she put a lot of thought into how best to manage her time-consuming hobbies and side projects.

“When I started book writing, I set boundaries on how much time I was willing to let that take up,” Boyarsky says. “It’s too easy to sacrifice time with friends and family—and relaxing, for that matter. Productivity isn’t about getting the most out of each moment of the day. It’s about getting the most done within the time limits I’ve set for my work and my hobbies.”

Sustainable Pace with Pomodoro

The Pomodoro technique—named for the red, tomato-shaped Pomodoro 25-minute kitchen timer—is a popular method for improving concentration and productivity by working in 25-minute increments. It has inspired many books and videos, as well as a simple timer app, which Boyarsky swears by.

A morning person, Boyarsky knows that her most productive time typically is the first two to two and a half hours of the day. At work, Boyarsky finds that “getting in the zone” is time-boxed by meetings, questions, and other interruptions—and that turns out to be a good thing. Because she works on a team that follows the Scrum Agile methodology, “the daily standup meeting will prevent me from staring at the computer for too long,” she says. “At home, there aren’t such constraints, which means I could easily write while staring at the computer and forget to drink water for hours.”

Not only is that unhealthy but she has also learned that doing too much computer work for too long results in a giant productivity hit. “After a few hours, I have a headache, and instead of working on the book, I’m taking a nap. Using the Pomodoro timer app gets me to take breaks and work at a sustainable pace,” she says.

Do Not Disturb

Now that digital nomads are the norm, traditional office setups often seem “uncool.” Boyarsky doesn’t agree. “I’m sorry to the ‘open office’ folks,” she says, “but just sitting at a table with a laptop is not as productive as a proper setup.”

At work, she swears by her “Do Not Disturb” sign. “Seriously, it’s an actual physical red sign,” she says. “When it is up, I know nobody will talk to me unless there is a production problem. I set ‘Do Not Disturb’ on Skype at the same time. This combination gives me a period of uninterrupted time to get into and maintain flow.” When she flips the sign over, it’s yellow, which means she’s on a phone call or webinar but available by instant message.

Productivity isn’t about getting the most out of each moment of the day. It’s about getting the most done within the time limits I’ve set for my work and my hobbies.”– Jeanne Boyarsky, Java expert

At home, her “cubical” is laid out in an L shape for productivity. Next to a computer desk with a slide-out keyboard tray, there’s a table with a second monitor, papers, and frequently referenced books, including those she’s written. (She wrote Sybex’s wildly popular Java 8 Oracle Certified Associate and Oracle Certified Professional certification books.) The whiteboard directly above her desk lists keyboard shortcuts and other optimizations. “At both home and work, I have some motivational posters and tchotchkes, plus a few toys,” she says. “Never underestimate the impact of a ball or yo-yo in becoming unblocked.”

A Culture of Optimization

A Java developer for 16 years, Boyarsky is a longtime user of the Eclipse IDE, but she is now considering alternate code editors. “I’ve always been reluctant to switch, because learning a different tool and set of keyboard shortcuts results in a temporary productivity hit. But I’ve seen some IntelliJ wizards, and the refactorings do seem better,” she says. This year, she’s trying it out. “The robotics team I mentor is using Visual Studio Code, which means I already have to deal with two sets of tools and keyboard shortcuts,” she says. “Since I’m already taking that hit, I’m using it as an opportunity to give IntelliJ a serious try.”

It’s worth taking the time to learn your tools inside out, she says—even the mundane ones, such as web browsers. Further, Boyarsky believes in fostering a team culture of optimization. “We say ‘Control W’ instead of ‘Close’ when looking at defects in Jira [a project and issue tracking tool], so it is clear whether we are closing the browser tab or the defect. My teammate taught everyone how to close the most recent browser tab and how to change between tabs. When we are in the IDE, we share faster ways of doing things,” she adds.

Here are some examples of optimizations Boyarsky and her team recommend:

  • Make sure your Scrum team has a stable definition of story points so that you can compare the story points completed after each sprint.
  • Share useful dashboards when using a DevOps tool such as Jenkins.
  • On the whiteboard, keep a list of the keyboard shortcuts you’re trying to internalize.
  • Create keyboard shortcuts for launching common configurations, tests, and programs.
  • Learn Gmail shortcuts such as # to delete a message.

“These micro-optimizations may sound silly,” Boyarsky says, “but saving 5 to 15 seconds adds up when you do something hundreds of times!”

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Photography by Christopher Farber/Getty Images