10 Time Savers for Every Developer and Programmer

Perhaps one of the biggest things every developer shares is trying to find ways to speed up their production.  Because after all we would much rather be out in the sun at the beach rather than stuck in an office.  Below are 10 tips and tricks (in no particular order) I have found to help speed up production, workflow and even working with clients.

1. Find a good medium for support whenever you get stuck.  We all have those moments were we can’t figure out a bug or the client has some off the wall request that doesn’t even seem possible.  At first I must admit I was very weary of forums or support communities but, it’s grown on me.  My favorite is webmasterworld.com they have tremendous support with everything from seo tips, to zen-cart help.  Whenever I get really stuck I’ll just submit a question to webmasterworld and within a day or two usually get the answer.

2. Create a code library.  Everybody knows starting from scratch on a project is never fun.  Whatever platform or framework you work on your bound to do the same thing hundreds of times and wouldn’t it be easier to just have a library you could pull from.  Spend the extra time to create a general template that can be used again and again.  What I’ll usually do is figure out what I use on every project regardless of what it is and have some code to support that.  For example, I have a general form set up script (html , jquery, and PHP).  I also have a general site template that I start off of in almost every project.  I’ve noticed this saves a tremendous amount of time in nearly every project and is an absolute must have.

3. When are you most productive? Perhaps the easiest on the list but often overlooked is trying to figure out when you’re most productive.  Everybody is different, some are night owls, and some are early risers.  During your least productive times try to save the easier tasks for that time or try to save things you do on a daily basis for that time.  For example, I’ve found I personally work the best in the morning.  I try to schedule all my calls, meetings, etc for in the afternoon when I’m not feeling at my best and do the harder programming or development in the morning.

4. Be honest.  How can being honest and upfront save you time you ask, you’d be surprised. I’m always intrigued to see what people will say and how they react when the question “How long will it take?” is posed.  Time and time again it seems that we underestimate how long things actually take.   For every task, no matter how big or how small, you need to have access to the site, look at what needs to be done, think about how you’ll do it, test it, send the email that it’s complete and then there almost always is that time you spend updating what you did because either the client changed their mind, didn’t describe the task right, or you just didn’t check your work.  This whole process is never taken into account, I always cringe when I hear someone say “oh it will take you 5 minutes” when in fact it takes you five minutes to start up your computer and look at the email.  Time management is perhaps one of the hardest things to grasp, but if you really sit down and think about how long each individual step will take, you can greatly cut down on spending an hour on a task you originally said would only take 5 minutes.

5. Install a web server.  This is an absolute must have for every developer.  Being able to test PHP/MySQL on the fly is a huge time saver.  Thanks to companies like xampp and wampp this is possible.  There are many out there but perhaps my favorite is wampp for windows and xampp for mac.  Could you imagine having to save files then upload them to a server every time you want to make a change, what a nightmare.  I’ve saved hours upon hours using wampp and is something I use every day.

6. Be organized.  This is something that over time you’re almost forced to do or realize.  I must admit I used to be one of the least organized people you would ever come across but it has gotten better and still can get better.  What happens when a client asks you to make a text change in the flash, and because your not organized you have an old version of it.  Now you have to spend hours of coding for a simple change because you weren’t organized.   This is just one instance that has happened to me, but I’m sure there are much worse cases.  Everyone has their own way of handling things and getting organized, but here’s a couple tips to get started.  For every project, I’ll create a folder for the project inside of that folder there will be a docs folder, design (psd/png, ai), dates (everyday I label a new folder with the date and put it in here), flash,  and a backup folder.   I’ll have active clients on the desktop in a folder and I’ll have the archived or inactive clients in one master folder.  Of course everyone has their own way of doing things you just have to find what you are comfortable with.

7. Firefox extensions.  We all use and love firefox right? (please don’t tell me your using internet explorer) Well one of the many advantages to firefox is the extensions. There are hundreds of them and you can even create your own.  By far, my favorite firefox extension is the web developer toolbar.  This is something I use day in and day out, and have saved tons of time using.  It has tons of little tools and tips you can use, but my favorites are the ruler, viewing the style information, resize your window to a specific dimension, and editing css and html right on the page.  Here’s you can find great firefox extensions article.

8. Familiarize yourself with other applications than just the standard text editors.  Believe it or not, I’ve come across some developers who have never even opened up photoshop or fireworks.  In nearly every project I’ve ever been involved in there comes a time when the designer missed a button, forgot to add something or the client wants a few words modified on the text inside the button.  Rather than ship it back to the designer wait for them to do it just open up photoshop and do it yourself.  I know there’s a fine line between designing a whole site and just editing some text on a button, but in the end if you familiarize yourself with photoshop or fireworks or other applications you can speed up the entire project and have more time to be out on the beach.

9. Blogs, news and social networks.  Some studies have shown that in an average work day users spend an hour to two hours on blogs, news sites, or social networking sites.  So really that means you’re only working about a 6 or 7 hour day, or in turn trying to make up for that lost time by staying at the office a few extra hours.  I’m not saying don’t go on blogs or social networks and sometimes they are a good break away from the daily activities.  But really try to figure out where your time is spent in the day.  If you find yourself constantly staying late than look at what you’re doing in the morning and during the day.  Are you always reading the latest post on five different blogs, updating twitter, or seeing that your ex girlfriend just got married.  Well then you’re more than likely on the computer for 10-12 hours a day.

10. Speak Up.  Now this one is definitely the hardest one for me to do and I know I need to do it more often.  But if you feel there’s an area in your company were you can speed up the project for not only you but everyone else involved speak up.  There may be a point in the project that always takes the longest or never gets completely finished before passing it to the next step.  You’ll find that if you speak up and provide constructive comments than people are willing to listen.  One thing that never works is constantly complaining, and then expect the complaining to lead to change.  People don’t respond well to complaining but are always willing to listen to constructive advice and any new ideas you may have.

Gary Howell