11 Ways to Save Time as a Programmer

Is your day as a programmer always busy? Do you find that you never have enough time for things at work? There are a few things that you can do to save time as a programmer.

1. Use the Windows Startup Folder

One of the most helpful things that I’ve done to get more time in my day is to use the start up folder in Windows.

If you’ve never heard of it, let me explain. It’s a folder on the start menu called Startup. You can add shortcuts into this folder, and every time your computer starts up, they automatically run.

I’ve found this to be a big time saver, especially in the morning. There are programs that I run every day, and now I use this folder, I don’t need to wait for my computer to start and click the icons or browse for them every day.

Some things you can add are:

  • Email client (e.g. Outlook) – this is open for me all day, and used heavily where I work.
  • Evernote – my note taking app of choice.
  • Web browser (e.g. Chrome) – I have Chrome start up every day so I can read a few websites while I drink my coffee.
  • IDE – whatever IDE you use, you can add it to this folder.

It doesn’t need to be restricted to programs. You can add any shortcut to this folder.

  • Links to websites
  • Links to specific documents
  • Links to scripts to run

Because these are being run on startup, you don’t need to wait and run them manually. You can go and do something else while you’re waiting – get a coffee, read email on your phone, get some water, talk to your team members.

Once you start using it, you will probably come up with even more ideas for shortcuts.

2. Write Scripts for Common Tasks

Another way to save time as a programmer is to use your programming skills.

There are probably some tasks in your day that you need to do quite often. It could be a once a day backup, an email clean out a few times a day or a weekly summary report.

You can save a lot of time on these tasks by writing some kind of script to automate them. Depending on the task, you can use a variety of scripts.

Do you need to copy certain files? Write a batch script to do this. Set it up as a shortcut that you can access easily. Or, to go one step further, add it to the task scheduler to run automatically at a certain time.

Do you have to sort through emails every week? Write a saved query or a macro to do this for you.

Do you send a similar looking email to people? Write a template or a script in your client to automatically create the email for you. You might not be able to automatically send it, but you can get the script to do a lot for you.

Basically, if there is any task that is going to be done more than once, ask yourself “how can I automate this?”. You’ll be surprised at what you can come up with. It’s better to put in the time up front to create something and save time later.

3. Use Excel For Common Calculations

Microsoft Excel is a great program, and has a variety of uses. One of the ways you can use it to save time as a software developer is for any common calculations that you do.

Once again, creating a template is a good way to do this. Have a template that has all of your common functions and calculations it it, create a shortcut, and your life is easier.

So what kind of calculations and I talking about?

  • Time estimates – Converting between hours and days is a common one, especially if you have to provide estimates. If you need to provide an estimate in days, you can convert it to hours or weeks using some simple formulas in excel. This can really save time as a programmer, as we do this often.
  • Salary planning – you can use excel to work out what any increase in salary will have on your take home pay. I do this every year when my annual review comes around. I put down my gross salary, and then remove the deductions to get to the net. Of course, it might not be exact, and will vary for countries, but it can help to see how it might impact you.
  • Percentages – often we need to work out or perform percentage calculations. Use an excel formula for this.
  • Conversions – sometimes when converting units or resizing things, Excel can help. Converting between time zones, units of measurement, and even keeping the same ratio when increasing or decreasing sizes of images can be easily calculated.

4. Create a Timesheet Template

One of the most annoying things about working in IT is preparing a timesheet. Most companies that I’ve worked for need developers to log the time that they have spent against the projects they are working on. In concept, I think this is a good idea, as it helps to get accurate reporting of the costs of a project, to see where time is being spent, and to help with checking estimations when everything is completed. However, it means that developers need to spend time every week thinking about where they spend their time.

As I’ve been a software consultant for almost eight years, I’ve had to fill out not one but TWO timesheets. One for my consulting company, which is used to bill the client, and one for the client, which is used for project tracking. This can be quite time consuming as it needs to be done every week. What I’ve done, and what I recommend, is creating a template.

A template can be created for your timesheets in a spreadsheet program, like Excel. Put in your projects (or the areas you need to charge your time to) on the left down the column, and dates across the top. At the end of each day, put the number of hours you worked on each against each item. The granularity will depend on how much detail is needed for the project, but I recommend doing it in half hour blocks.

Now that you have a template, that you fill out daily, you can use it at the end of the timesheet period to enter into whatever system is being used. This can help save a lot of time. (Related: how to get the best projects to work on)

Also, you’ll probably get requests from project managers about your hours. Questions like “how many hours did you spend on Project X in June?” You’ll be able to tell them in seconds, by looking up the template, rather than giving some kind of estimate or looking back through your system.

Big time saver.

5. Get a List of Shortcuts For Your IDE

A big way to save time is using shortcuts. Keyboard shortcuts are helpful as they take a fraction of a second to perform an action that would normally be done using the mouse. Adding these up can save a lot of time.

If you’re a developer, you would spend a lot of time in an IDE writing code. There are probably a lot of shortcuts available in this IDE. Do a Google search to find a list of shortcuts for the application that you can use to make your life easier. Save it to an easily accessible format and location. Perhaps you PDF it and save it to your computer, or bookmark the website. It’s up to you.

Refer to this list whenever you need to do something – compiling code, starting the debugger, opening the options menu, searching for text, and so on. Rather than opening up the menu for this, look up the keyboard shortcut. Over time, you’ll start remembering the ones you use often, and you’ll save a lot of time.

You can also discover shortcuts for things you didn’t even know. I have used Microsoft OneNote in the past to take notes, and I liked to add a heading style and the date and time at several points in the note. I used to select the heading, format it, then type the date and time manually. This would take about 10 seconds. I discovered the shortcuts to do this, and then all I had to do was press CTRL + ALT +2 for Heading 2, then ALT+SHIFT+F for the date and time, which took about 1 second. Another big time way to save time as a programmer here.

6. Create Your Own Shortcuts

Another way to save time is to create your own shortcuts. This also applies to your IDE, or really any application that allows you to add your own shortcuts.

Many IDEs allow you to add shortcuts for common commands or scripts. Doing this will allow you to save time in a similar way to the previous point. You can add a shortcut for a commonly used feature, and use the shortcut every time.

Years ago I was using a tool for writing SQL code, and there was no shortcut for formatting the SQL code to make it consistent with the rest of the application. I added the shortcut (which was something like CTRL+ALT+F) into the programs shortcut settings, and whenever I pressed that, it would format the code. This would save me several mouse clicks every time I formatted it.

Shortcuts also impress other co-workers, as they see you press a few keys and something happens, often resulting in “Wow, how did you do that?”

7. Use the Favourites Section in Windows Explorer

When I upgraded from Windows XP to Windows 7 (yes, I skipped Vista), one of the only things I missed was having the Favourites toolbar in Windows Explorer. I had a few folders on there, where I could click them to take me right to the folder location on the computer. This was how I navigated around to common folders.

I then discovered that Windows 7 had a similar favourites feature, but it was in the tree structure on the left. You can add folders and other things to that Favourites section, which operates in the same way. This is a great time saver.

For any directories that you visit frequently, put them here. You can access them in one click, rather than browsing through the full structure each time.

You can update them as you like, so as you change projects for example. It’s easier to click on the link to go to the “source” folder for one of your projects than to go through the full path of “D:\Projects\Project X\Development\version 0.18\source”, for example.

8. Get Lunch Outside The Busy Period

If you like to go out to get lunch, you might notice that some places (or all places) get quite busy during the lunch hour. This is obvious – everyone goes out to lunch at roughly the same time. This can result in you waiting a while to be served, then waiting to get your food, then finding a table or going back to your office. All of these are a big use of time.

Something that I’ve found is that if you go for lunch outside of this busy period, it can save you time. The shops near most places I work have a busy period from about 12:30 to 2:00. If I’m going out go get lunch, I try to go just after 12. This way I can avoid the crowds and get in and out faster. I can spend my time doing valuable tasks like work or speaking to other colleagues over lunch, rather than waiting in line for your order to be ready.

While this is not specifically a way to save time as a programmer, it applies to working in an office in general, and it can still save time.

9. Create an Easier Directory Structure

The way we store our files on our computer has a big impact on how much time we spend looking for them. If we’re looking for a specific file, we need to think about where it’s stored, then browse to that location, maybe work out which file is the right one, and open in. This can be quite painful if our directories are not structured very well.

I suggest creating a directory structure that makes sense for the work you’re doing. This could be a directory for each project, and subdirectories each for code, documentation, images, diagrams, and so on. This way, if you’re looking for the design diagram for a particular project, you know where it most likely is.

If it’s not something you do already, it might take some time to set it up. But, it’s well worth it. Moving from a messy directory structure, or one that’s “kind of alright”, to something that’s fully organised, might take some up-front time, but the rewards are well worth it. You’ll be saving heaps of time in the future.

10. Create Shortcuts to Common Files

This tip is an obvious one, and you might have heard it before. A good way to save time as a programmer is to create shortcuts to the files you use most often.

Rather then browsing through your hard drive to find a file, create a shortcut. The shortcut can be placed wherever you like that you can access easily. I recommend placing it on the task bar of Windows 7 (I believe these are called “pinned lists”). This way, you can access it from wherever you are and whatever you’re doing on your computer. The time saved from looking for the file will add up.

I wouldn’t suggest putting the shortcut on your desktop. This can be good if you only have a couple of shortcuts, but if there are a lot, it can make things worse as your desktop gets messy. The only thing I have on my desktop is the recycle bin – everything else is in pinned lists.

What kind of things do I create shortcuts for? Currently I have shortcuts set up for:

  • My timesheet and project template file (as mentioned above)
  • A couple of diagrams for projects I’m working on
  • Documentation for a couple of projects
  • PDF file with some keyboard shortcuts

11. Use Bookmarks for Common Sites

The last tip that I have may also be one that you’ve heard before, but I’m adding it as it’s a good way for developers to save time.

Use the bookmarks section of your favourite Web browser, and use it heavily. Save sites to this section that you use a lot. They can then be accessed with a couple of clicks, rather than searching for them or looking in your history.

The bookmarks can be set up in two ways. You can have your bookmarks toolbar on the browser which has a list of links there, accessible with one click. These can be for the sites you access every day or on a regular basis.

The other way you can store bookmarks is within subfolders. You can have the subfolders on the bookmarks toolbar, which act as menus, and inside those are the sites to visit. These are best suited for those that aren’t visited every day, or if you have a lot of them.

I’ve got a few folders of bookmarks set up on my browser for links to internal resources, some definition sites for programming, and documentation. My bookmarks toolbar has links directly to sites I use frequently such as Gmail, Google Calendar, and my work webmail. This is a big time saver.

Are there web sites that you access frequently? Add them to your bookmarks section. This could be a development environment, a server, or a list of functions for the language you’re working with. It can be a big time saver.