To increase performance, scale up, not wide

In this short article I’ll share some experience and tips how to increase performance in creative jobs by scaling up. I will write about two contexts / areas:

  • Developer’s tools and workflow
  • ‘Life-related’ areas: sleep, sport activity, food and diet, etc.

What is scaling up?

By scaling up I mean doing more and smarter in the same amount of time. Perhaps the term comes from server world, but it can be applied in more contexts. Most of us, at least at some point in life confuses being busy with being productive. It’s easy to be trapped in busyness: there’s always something to be done, to be perfected. The Parkinson Law states that:

Work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion

This means that if a lady at Post Office had eight hours to send an envelope, it would take her those eight hours. This is why you should always try to set some interval for any kind of work to be done.

Developer’s tools and workflow

I’m not the smartest person, let alone most skilled software developer. Suppose that you know two smartest developers that have ten years of experinece. Even if the two knew everything about development under the sun, and were extremely fast at typing, in order to compete and win they had to hone tools, strategy and perfect techniques. Now replace developers with long-distance runners (or think of your favourite sport discipline) and you know what I’m getting at.

How does it apply to software development you would ask? Well, taking aside what editor is the best (Vim vs. Atom vs. whatchamacallit) there’s always something to be improved. To give you more concrete example, let me talk about the recent strategy and goals I chose.

A few weeks ago, Pawel Duda, a colleague from Selleo showed me how he can be more productive with tmux and tmuxinator especially when it comes to restoring session. You know, when you have to run a few commands everytime you start your work, this is counter-productive. tmux and tmuxinator saves me time.

After I saw that improving workflow made me faster and productive, I decided to spend up to an hour per day to get to know my tools better:

  • Vim (neovim)
  • git
  • shell

It pays off! In short: be curious and have fun exploring your tools and learn new ones!

Everything that surrounds you

Knowing your tools well is not enough, though. To increase performance or cognitive skills, one has to pay attention to everything that happens during the day; observing yourself and your habits. Don’t take it for granted and blame me if it doesn’t work for you. Use your gut feeling and adjust or cherry-pick what might work for you.

Sleep. It’s unbelievable that most people think that in order to get more done one has to cut down on sleep. It does not work. An average person (me included) needs at least seven hours of sleep. I won’t dig into details, but the mere amount of hours does not matter if the quality of sleep is low. This can be measured by percent of deep sleep; REM phases in particular plays important role.

Sport activity can also increase cognitive skills or memory span. You don’t have to spend hours on the gym to start with. Start each day with 30 minutes of stretching and soon you will learn that it pays off.

Food and your diet. You are what you eat. Food is your fuel. It makes me wondering why the heck people care about the quality of fuel for their cars and don’t do the same with their diet! You don’t have to turn your diet upside down; start with something simple like:

  • Getting rid of white sugar and salt,
  • Starting day with lots of water (with lemon juice for instance); not reaching for a cup of coffee,
  • Eating vegetables as a last meal

Be curious and selective, but don’t exagerate! If you like cookies and would like to eat even more, do it, but after a run! (I do that, by the way)

Food, diet, sport, sleep affect your performance in all areas of life. For the last few months I’ve seen that many colleagues at Selleo changed their eating habits and joined many form of sport activities. I can assure you that it has the ripple effect: those who are not convinced can feel a little (positive) pressure to change bad habits. It’s strange to say, but developers at Selleo break the stereotype of a typical developer.

This article just scratches the surfuce. Read, experiment, and observe yourself!