I believe that fixing your physical well being is important to do first, it makes the mental part much easier to do. However, once you’ve got your tools in perfect order, knowing what to do with them is an essential part of the puzzle too.

1. Free Your Mind from Psychological Blockades

If you’ve done all you can to make your metabolism healthy so that your brain can do what you ask of it more easily, you’ll find that your psychological well being improves naturally. It is still important, however, to guard your mind against things that can mess up your productivity after all that hard work.

Not calling back a good friend, blowing off your kids, not paying your taxes on time or a leak in your roof that you should really do something about. They are all potential distractions that can block development. Development is a process that requires uninterrupted thinking. The maximum difficulty of a problem you can solve depends on how long you can stay focused without interruptions. On rare occasions, you can focus on a problem for several days, which can get you through something that you have been stuck for weeks, or months even. This doesn’t mean you cannot take breaks in such a period, but if during your break your thought processes get interrupted, it’s game over and you have to start at the beginning.

2. Take Care of Your Social Network

This isn’t about Facebook, I’m talking about real friends and family. People around you need to understand what you’re doing and accept that sometimes you’ll not be a good conversational partner for longer periods of time, you’re not going to respond to all their chats on Facebook and you’re not going to pick up the phone. You get up, you eat, you do your exercises, but you’re not really there. The best way to keep this healthy is to also schedule times when you’re really there for your friends and family. That way you don’t have to carry any guilt when you’re doing your job.

3. Working with Clients

Clients are like friends and family, but they pay you for your time and attention. In that sense, they are worse because they can claim your time during business hours when you might have wanted to be coding. Just remember that you being unproductive eventually hurts the client more than an unanswered mail, or phone call. You can prevent a lot of calls by calling them first. If you’re really productive and set fixed times in your schedule to communicate your progress or questions with your clients, you can actually have them in trouble instead of you. If you then schedule these times with them they will be ever so grateful.

4. Deal with your problems

Procrastination is familiar to all of us. Some tasks are so boring and painful to do, that it is just too easy to leave them for tomorrow. And even worse, some chores don’t take priority ever, but they stay somewhat important and you keep getting reminders for them. My strategy for this is to either do or not do. The decision not to do something is liberating. For example, I decided I’m not going to write case studies for the Squads website. We need them badly, but I see no way to prioritize them. That means that if I get reminded about having them, I can say: if we need those we’ll need to get somebody else to write them. I’m not going to do it. And poof it’s off my plate.

The decision to do something means you schedule it for the next few days, and then do it at the designated time as the most urgent thing you can think of. Being as strict as I possibly can about this has helped me a lot, and every time that I don’t manage this, it hurts like hell and cuts into my dev time severely.

The benefit of dealing with your problems is that you can schedule a time for not dealing with your problems. And do some development then of course.

5. Unwind, Meditate

I’m no expert on meditation. I’ve tried a few different meditation techniques and I think that they all do sort of the same thing: clear your mind of rubble. If (like me) you find sitting down for a long time concentrating on your breathing a bit too much, you can also go dancing (Argentinian tango was it for me), practice Bikram yoga (crazy, but awesome), build a tower of blocks, go snowboarding, or take a walk with your dog. The important thing is to not focus on the exercise, but focus on the meditative aspect, or not focus… Did I mention I’m not an expert?

Remember that breaks are not the time window to make that call or check your Twitter feed. Or finally, get that mail out before it’s too late. No. Breaks are to get ready for the next productive hour. Or to get ready for the next week. You don’t have to meditate all weekend, but it would probably have a positive effect if you did.

From my personal experience, I can say that taking care of your body first, and then taking care of your mind makes all the difference between being on top of things, or running after them. Don’t be fooled that I think of myself as an example or that I think you should. I know both sides of this equation well, the bad side probably better than the good one. Let me know how you stay productive as a developer or creative person. I love to learn.