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I am a master student currently doing my Internship in a software development field. This is my first work experience and one thing that I notice is the fact that it is difficult to always concentrate from 9 to 5 (with 45 minutes break).

On the first month I think that this is because I'm still not experienced enough and also not physically and mentally trained to concentrate whole day. I thought that this problem will gone after some time. But then after around three months, I still experienced the same issue. I find it difficult to finish some simple tasks because of lack concentration and tiredness. This results on low productivity and boredom at work.

I already tried some ways for example:

  1. Sleeping early - but still feeling tired every morning.
  2. Eating light lunch.
  3. Drinking coffee - Caffeine does not seem to be effective on me.
  4. Eating Candy occasionally. 2 or 3 candy per day.
  5. Walking around office for some time does not seems to be good idea. What I understand is other colleagues always sit in front of computer most of the time.

Since my internship is going to finish soon. What can I do now is just keep grinding and finishing my task. I understand one of the reason is because it is a transition from to college life to full time work life, as explained here. However I don't want this to be happen on the next internship, thesis, or even the entry-job later. So I would like to know what are suggestion or tricks to stay alert and keep on being productive during 9to5 work?

Note: Before posting I already read the related post:

How do I stay awake during work without the use of coffee? - but this one seems to be focused on coffee.

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    "What I understand is other colleagues always sit in front of computer most of the time" - It's important to take breaks from sitting at a computer, regardless of what your colleagues do. – Brandin Dec 2 '15 at 22:58
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    I'm voting to close this question as off-topic because it's a better fit for Productivity.SE. – Jim G. Dec 3 '15 at 0:11
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    Whether a question is on-topic on some other site isn't relevant. The OP asked it here; is it on-topic here? If so, it should stay here. – Monica Cellio Dec 3 '15 at 1:53
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    Joe is right, chronic fatigue despite putting in enough hours of sleep can indicate a medical condition called cataplexy or narcolepsy (they're related but somewhat different), and it can take years and years to diagnose. It leads to burnouts, depression, lack of concentration, unstable personality (do you easily anger over trivialities for example?) and other mental and physical problems. It's not all that common, which is why it often is misdiagnosed or overlooked and only the superficial symptoms treated. But if you have it, it's very bad for your social life as well as your career. – jwenting Dec 3 '15 at 7:01
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    Very few developers fire on all cylinders eight hours a day. If possible figure out when you're most productive (e.g. morning, or after lunch), and maximize your use of that time. Do the hard stuff when you're most effective; leave dumb bug fixes and expense reports for your low-output hours. If you're a morning guy like me, don't sit down first thing and check stackexchange and start writing comments instead of working on the design for the new search feature. Obviously that's a purely hypothetical example [nervous laughter], but you get the idea. – Ed Plunkett Dec 3 '15 at 15:08
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Welcome to the workplace. Everyone, from the newest intern, to the most senior dev has the same issue.

After a few years of working as a developer what I've noticed is that senior devs either have too much pressure on them to experience boredom, or they've gotten very good at hiding that they're slacking off every once in a while.

Here's some things to keep in mind:

STOP CONSUMING COFFEE AND CANDY!!!!!!!

This is probably the biggest trap that office workers, and developers in particular, fall in. That sugar/caffeine rush sure makes time fly, and it helps you focus too! But you're endangering your health, and developing an addiction, and I'm not kidding when I use that word - sugar has been found to be more addictive than cocaine. Look it up if you don't believe me.

It's not a long term solution, and you will feel the consequences, as you start to pack on the lbs. Find a different way to clear your head and refocus. For myself, I'll get up and walk over to the kitchen for a glass of water. I'll chat a bit with whomever is around the water cooler, and maybe take a minute to look out the window in order to rest my eyes. I'll take a look at the newspaper on the cafeteria table. Last but not least, I'll maybe answer a question on Stack Exchange.

But cut the sugar and coffee abuse off right now! Believe it or not, healthy snacks such as a banana, or an apple can also "wake you up". Don't eat 20 apples a day though, as they contain quite a bit of sugar (fructose) as well. Everything in moderation.

You can't stay "plugged in" for 8 hours straight

You will have bursts of productivity and inspiration, while on other days you'll feel burned out and barely write a ling of code. It's typically exciting to develop system architecture, etcs. It's not nearly so fun to do the grunt work of hunting recalcitrant bugs in a few thousand lines of code (which is typically the territory of junior devs). Or developing unit tests, that's always fun, right?

Almost everyone procrastinates! There's very few people who naturally manage to remain focused on their task 8 hours a day, 5 days a week.

Now keep in mind, I'm not saying that slacking off at work is to be encouraged. I'm saying that it's natural for your mind to wander, and to sometimes not feel engaged in your work (especially the mindless, boring stuff that interns typically get assigned)


So why do some of your co-workers always appear to be working?

People typically focus because they're stressed

Most often when you're working on something there will be an expectation that you should finish within a certain time frame. The motivation and stress of getting done on time will be a pretty good motivator to keep you going (at least right before the deadline, when you'll panic, and suddenly feel very motivated indeed to find that last bug you've been putting off for the past week).

The more senior you are, the more fires you have to put out, and the more updates you typically have to provide. That will keep you pretty focused.

Advice

  1. If you feel that you're underutilized, find a project you think could be improved. Identify a feature you could work on and speak to your manager about implementing a fix/upgrade on the side of your regular responsibilities. If you don't express a desire to do more they may not think you're actually capable of more.

  2. In addition to going for a short walk, or chatting with a colleague every once in a while, try finding an innocuous activity that you can perform at your desk, such as taking 5 minutes to read the news, or a Stack Exchange thread. It will be a good way to clear your head when you just can't stand to look at another line of code.

  3. Set daily objectives for yourself. The most difficult part of a task is getting started. Knowing that you have to dig into something you'd rather not be doing, break down the task into smaller, bite-sized chunks, and reward yourself for completing each one. For example, once you've reached your first goal, go for a short walk. Once you've reached your second, bigger goal, spend 5 minutes browsing Stack Exchange, or eat an apple while looking out the window and just spacing out. If anyone asks, you just needed to rest your eyes ;-)

  4. Try listening to music, ebooks, or podcasts. I'm not advocating coming to work and slacking off for the entire day. However, having something like that playing in the background can help relieve the tedium of "working in a bubble", and feeling like you're stuck. Hearing a joke on the radio can lighten the mood.

Now I know what some of you are thinking: this is a guide to utter procrastination. And it can certainly be used to that effect, yes. It's up to each person to find that balance between simply relieving tedium and stress, and being a parasite who doesn't do anything at the office.

  • @AndreiROM Thanks a lot for your effort to write this great advice! Well maybe I work with the very few people who is naturally manage to remain focus 8 hours/day/week . Therefore sometimes I'm a little bit stressed too. I drink coffee to socialize with others. But I will keep your word in mind. – user2015 Dec 3 '15 at 20:57
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Consider using the Pomodoro Technique to break up your day into chunks of work. For example, set aside 25 minutes to work on a very specific item and when done, then take a 5 minute break. I hope this will help you accomplish more and break up the day enough to reduce the boredom.

  • Thank you. This is a nice suggestion. I should have make a better work plan/steps before actually do the work. – user2015 Dec 2 '15 at 23:06
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I am going to focus on your lack of focus and the fact that you are an intern, not your tiredness. Being tired is just too big of an issue. And I am not qualified to address health related issues.

My hypothesis is that your lack of focus is due to your lack of motivation. And your lack of motivation comes from the fact that you feel neither progress nor being useful on a daily basis. You may be isolated from the rest of the team. Why do I think that?

  1. You refer to your work as my task, in singular. Which means you feel like something you have to deliver at the end of the x months internship. Plural will mean you feel like you have to deliver something regularly.
  2. Because your work is not delivered frequently, you don't have ownership. Furthermore it seems you have a limited professional interaction with other people in the office. Are your coworkers using your work while you are developing it? Do somebody else? Do you feel part of the team? How often does other people contribute to your work?
  3. Companies often give "will be nice" projects to interns. Projects with limited risk and lower priority. Because of that intern projects don't really interest a lot of people around. Is this your case? Have you tried making people interested in your work? Have you asked for small code review or Hallway usability testing?
  4. A common behavior at college is to wait till an issue becomes critical before asking for help (Like mailing the professor a day before submission to say that a team member hasn't done a thing, which screwed up the project. I did that a lot, my mates too). Did you ever went to someone else (your manager) and share some of your concerns and asked for guidance? Do you talk about some technical problems you are working on with others?

Aside of all that staying focused from 9 to 5 everyday is just pure fantasy. You need to find a good rhythm, ie what time of the day you are more focused and how long you can stay focused. Go from there, and try to build gradually. Experiment.

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    "Aside of all that staying focused from 9 to 5 everyday is just pure fantasy." ==> Couldn't say it more. Especially on focus-demanding tasks as software development. – gazzz0x2z Dec 3 '15 at 10:53
  • 1. I actually have many tasks in sequence (which could also be said as one big task) but I often switch tasks too. 2. My project is totally different with other colleagues. Only my supervisor will use my program. 3. They said it in the beginning that my task is not critical to their current project. But it is really useful experience and knowledge for me. 4. I did ask often for guidance too. But my supervisor often tell me to solve it by myself. – user2015 Dec 3 '15 at 21:18
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You are not a robot. You are a human being, and you have your own rythm. An important thing is to know yourself. How long are you efficient? What is the most efficient method to get quickly back to a productive status?

I know I cannot make long days. Usually, when I finish a complex coding(or testing, I've got both roles), I'm going to toilets. Even if I don't need. It's a cut in my effort. Others go smoking, or drink a coffee, or lose 10 minutes on workplace stack, or whatever. You need pauses. Find the proper way for you doing pauses, and your productivity is going to skyrocket.

  • you could see my productive time on my comment on my post. Of course it can only be applied if I work as freelancer. I still need to train myself for 9 to 5 environment. – user2015 Dec 3 '15 at 21:52
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When you're flagging, Talk to People.

Everyone has moments of flagging throughout the day, and context-switching to a new task is a productivity killer, so what you need is someway of being "productive" against your task without staring at a screen and wishing you were elsewhere.

So talk to someone about the work. Get a fresh perspective, or at least think about your project in a different way by trying to explain it. Or talk about their work; they may be in the same position, and benefit from the break.

Also, as an intern, part of your task is to become someone they remember with fondness. Being bright and personable and eager to learn and be involved will, at least in general, have way more of an impact than your code contributions, especially at the intern level (even exceptionally good intern code should be reviewed and tweaked, simply so the maintainer takes ownership of the code before you walk out the door).

Now, if you are asking a ton of stupid questions in a "I need to be asking questions" way, or interrupting someone who's obviously busy, that's no good. But asking about the company, and just general chatting about the work should be both expected and welcomed.

One way into this is just to openly say

"I need to take my eyes away from the screen for a few minutes, can I grab you a tea and ask you a question about what I'm working on? I just want to get my ideas clear."

Then do that.

  • +1 for your third paragraph. I don't think I can say just exactly as you said in my office environment. But I get your idea. – user2015 Dec 3 '15 at 21:53

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