How to Create a Habit System and Stay Motivated as a Developer

Do you ever find it challenging to work on your project, side hustle, or even your hobby?

Have you ever had those moments where nothing feels exciting? You lay in bed thinking – is it me, or is my work that boring?

I have those days too. Some weeks I am charged up and determined to take over the world. Other weeks, I feel low, bored, and stuck, and I feel like I don’t have the motivation to write even one line of code.

This article will discuss what to do when you are not motivated and how to manage procrastination.

What to do when you don’t have motivation to work on anything

We must remember that motivation comes in many shapes and forms. Some days, motivation looks like creating art, whereas other days, it inspires you to create a blog post.

Some days motivation looks like going on a 7-mile hike, whereas other days, it is about taking care of yourself and working your butt off.

Acknowledge and appreciate each type of motivation and its form. Let it encompass you, take you on a ride, and bring you new experiences, joy, and fulfillment. Let yourself feel motivated – no matter what form it takes because motivation in one form bleeds into another.

Some days when I feel low, I pull out my paintbrushes, put on a Bob Ross painting tutorial, play my favorite show in the background, make myself a cup of tea, light a candle, and start painting.

It feels good to use this time to de-stress. I don’t care too much about the quality – I care about how I feel in the moment. I feel relaxed, inspired, motivated, and like I am taking care of myself and feeling creative while I am doing it.

Even though I may not feel motivated to write code, I feel motivated to paint – and that’s okay!

I then take that feeling to the next day, either to let my creativity work on my art or to help me create something else.

An important thing to remember is that motivation is fleeting. A burst of inspiration usually lasts 1 – 3 weeks. By only relying on motivation to fulfill your dreams and goals, you are not creating a strategy for being consistent.

What you need is discipline. You need a system of habits. A habit system keeps you going day after day and becomes part of your daily routine, even when motivation has left you.

What is a habit system, and how do you create it?

A habit system is a carefully thought-out daily routine of habits that take you closer to your goal.

It is a system of what you need to do, how long you need to do it, what ambiance you want to create before you do the things you need to do, and how you will put yourself in the right mental frame of mind.

For example, as a developer, think about what goals you have set for yourself? They may look like this:

  1. This week: create a feature for a project you are working on.
  2. This month: learn TypeScript
  3. This quarter: release project
  4. This year: be proficient in React and TypeScript, speak at a conference, and create one blog every month.

Now, think about how you will break down these goals into tasks, and by what deadline are you hoping to get it done. Work backward from that deadline, and see what tasks you can achieve in the short term to achieve that goal.

Here is an example of one of the above goals:

Goal: create a feature for a project you are working on

Deadline: 1 week from today.

Steps:

  1. Research what I need – dependencies, stakeholders, assets.
  2. What are the steps for creating this feature?
  3. What are some open questions?
  4. Who can help me?

Timeline:

Day 1: Research
Days 2 – 3: Development work + testing
Day 4: End to end testing + fixing any bugs.
Day 5: Deploy to staging env and get ready for demo.

The next step is to “make” the time to do these steps. You carve out in your calendar to make it happen.

Look at your calendar, and block out “focus time”. This is the time when you will get these tasks done.

Next, create a system of “setting your mental frame”. This is how you get yourself in the mood for getting work done.

My Habit System

I’ve developed my own habit system that I use to keep myself on track. I’ll explain each part so you can adapt it to your own needs.

How to find ideas

Often, I don’t feel inspired to do anything because nothing is on my plate to do. I may have a lot of items in the backlog that I could work on, but I haven’t given much thought to any of those ideas. And because I haven’t “brought them on my plate,” they don’t feel as exciting.

So I go through my backlog or idealist and see if anything inspires me to overcome that. If not, I will browse blog articles on dev.to, freeCodeCamp, or Medium to see if any trending articles inspire creativity.

If not, I will find exciting conversations on Twitter. If that doesn’t work, I will open Udemy or YouTube and find something to learn.

If none of that works, it is a signal that I need to chill out and take time to myself. I give myself a “creative” break – go on a walk, listen to a podcast. When something does inspire creativity during this break, I will write it down.

How to set a timeline

Once I have a few ideas in mind, I will pick the one that excites me the most. I will put a soft deadline for me – often two weeks. Then I will work backward from the deadline and mark time in my calendar to work on that topic.

I usually set 1-hour slots in my calendar if my calendar is busy and longer if I have more time. Some weeks, I may only be able to carve out 2 hours, okay.

Once it is on my calendar, I will force myself to sit down and get myself ready for focused work hours.

How to set a mood

Setting a mood is crucial because having a good ambiance is vital for me and creates a stimulating environment. My stimulants are sound, smell, and sight.

Sound: I put on a lofi or focus playlist. This is the one I commonly watch.

Smell: I have candles and diffusers set up in my office to create a “focus vibe”. Sometimes, when I need a kick, I will also use roll-on essential oils.

Sight: I feel most motivated when someone else is working with me or when I am outside in nature. This is why my work desk faces a window where I can see trees, wind blowing, leaves rustling, and birds chirping.

In the youtube video I linked, the guy is also working, which makes me feel inspired to work. It’s like having a working buddy.

I created a Twitch stream and discord server for this reason. When sitting in my home office alone is not enough to motivate me, and I need external motivation, I go to a cafe. Lately, I have also been going to a neighborhood park to write, which has been very helpful in creating articles.

How to cut out distractions

This is very important to me because I have the attention span of a goldfish. If given a chance, I will merrily browse away on Twitter, keep clicking notifications, or keep scrolling on Instagram.

So during my focus time, I put my phone on silent, quit my email applications, and turn slack to Do not disturb mode. I tell myself that for the next 45 minutes, I will not look at my phone, answer emails, look at Twitter or open Slack.

If I need to stop getting distracted, I will log out of these applications. Out of sight, out of mind. 😄

How to get things going

At this point, I have got my idea picked out, my vibe setup, my drink in my hand, my music playing, and the only thing I need to do is start typing.

I begin my Pomodoro timer. I work in 45-minute sessions with 15-minute breaks. I use the video I linked above as my Pomodoro timer. My goal is that I should work through the whole video by the end of the day.

Once the bell in the video hits “ding,” I am ready. I start typing whatever comes into my head. I don’t care much about polishing the content or code in the first go. This is a first go anyway. I will come back and revise the code or content repeatedly.

The idea here is to get it going and get the juices flowing. It’s all about getting your mind to dump all the ideas out on the page.

Don’t forget to take a break

Once the timer is done, it’s time to take a break. I force myself to get up, take a walk, go outside, make a new cup of tea, do an errand – anything as long as it is not scrolling away mindlessly on Twitter or Instagram.

This is the time for me to give myself a break. Sometimes towards the end of the break, around the 10-minute mark, I will check Slack, emails, or any urgent notifications on my phone. Sometimes, nobody needs me ☹️ so I get back to work for another 45-minute cycle.

Wrap it up

I realized during these sessions that to have continuity and be motivated in the next session, I need to know what I have accomplished, where I left off, and what I have to do next.

For this, I will make notes at the end of the sessions, usually a revision of the above outline – what I did, what open questions I have, what I need to do in the next session, action items, and people I need to reach out to for help.

And so, the cycle repeats.

Wrapping Up

I hope this article helped you get inspired to create a habit system for yourself to keep you on track.

If you would like to work together on Twitch or Discord, DM me on Twitter telling me what is your preferred work schedule:

  1. 9 AM – 11 AM PST Weekdays
  2. 9 PM – 11 PM PST Weekdays

In the next article, I will talk about what to do when motivation does not strike, no ideas come to mind, and you need to give yourself a jolt. Stay tuned. You can also receive notifications about the next article directly in your inbox.

Posted by Contributor