The Clean Coder : Time Management


Programmers should spend most of their time writing code for their projects, this is their job. But on a 8 hours work day how much time do you actually spend doing this ? In some organization meetings can take a huge amount of your time and you also have to control the amount of focus you have for the day.

Unless you work alone you certainly have to deal with meetings within your company, especially if your team uses an Agile approach for software development. But be careful not to spend your days in meetings, it can kill your daily productivity.

Attending meetings is important in order to follow the life cycle of your project but you are not required in every one of them. In this case you can politely decline the invitation if your presence is not mandatory. It’s no better to be present and play with your smart-phone because you’re bored or because you’re not involved.

There are also some cases where you can leave a meeting. I know it might look rude to do so but it can happen that a meeting goes not as planned and take much more time that you have anticipated. In a situation like this you can politely ask if your presence is still needed and negotiate your exit. There is nothing worst than a meeting without an agenda and/or without a goal, there is no better way to waste time and energy.

If you use an Agile methodology such as Scrum at work you certainly have to do stand-up meetings every day (mostly at the beginning of the day). Each member of the team should answer the 3 following questions :

  1. What did I do yesterday ?
  2. What am I going to do today ?
  3. What’s in my way ?

And no more, each person should be able to answer these questions in less than one minute. With this short and simple meeting you can easily know if your project is on track or no.

During an iteration planning meeting a development team select and reject backlog items for the new sprint/iteration. The estimates (our next chapter) should be done for every candidate item and if possible some of the acceptance tests. The chosen tasks should be clear and ready for the development phase (coding) and this meeting aims to allow the team to briefly discuss over the items.

Iteration retrospective meeting are designed to share what went wrong and what went right during the last iteration and to present demos to the clients/business. It should not extend 45 minutes, 20 for the retrospective and 25 for the demos which are prepared in advance.

Uncle Bob defines two truths about meetings, finding the correct mix between them for your team can be challenging :

  1. Meetings are necessary.
  2. Meetings are huge time wasters.


Writing code is an intellectual exercise that requires long periods of concentration and can be exhausting for your mind. But your focus is not infinite and can be depleted, if you are familiar with Role Playing Game (RPG) see this as an empty mana pool. Unfortunately unlike in RPGs you cannot drink a potion to recharge your concentration in a blink but you can refill it.

Sleeping is the best way to replenish your concentration, a good night of sleep (7~8 hours) can give you enough concentration for an entire day. Coffee is the developer’s best friend and can definitely help you regain a small amount of concentration for a short amount of time but don’t let this beverage send your focus in the wrong direction.

It’s also possible to partially recharge your mana batteries by taking breaks during your day, it allows you to de-focus. If the weather permits it you can go out for a walk, have a conversation with a friends, even meditate if you want. You can also practice a physical discipline, it also demands concentration but not intellectual focus : muscle focus. This type of focus can help you increase your mental focus and give you mana. Programming is a creative discipline then exposing yourself to other people’s creativity (books, comics, movies, etc…) is also helpful to boost your own creativity.


When producing code you will sometimes encounter “blind alleys”. It means that the path you’ve taken leads nowhere, in other word your algorithm does not what you want, your solution does not answer your need. It’s impossible to avoid every “blind alleys” but it’s important to realize when you are in one of them to back out.

What you definitely want to avoid are software “marshes”, “bogs” or “swamps”. Unlike “blind alleys” they don’t stop you, there is always a way forward that looks shorter than the way back but that is not. Sticking to a bad software design is a typical example of a swamp, the more you advance the harder it is to advance and at the end you end up with a colossal Technical Debt without noticing it. It kills a team’s productivity and can sometimes kills and entire project/company because maintenance has become overwhelming. If you discover that you are in a situation like this you should definitely turn back before it’s too late.


Clean Coders manage their time and their focus to keep their productivity up and running. They also know how to detect traps and know when it’s time to go back.

See you next time for Estimation !

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