If you were to ask software developers about how to become a better programmer, the most common answer would be to practice and gain experience in the field. While learning and coding are indeed the main aspects of software development for obvious reasons, I feel that other facets are commonly overlooked and even taken for granted.
What aspects do I mean? Pretty much every action or behaviour that has a meaningful impact in the link between software development and our health, both physical and mental.
I believe it’s really easy for us to develop behaviours that have a negative impact on our health, while dropping them and instead creating behaviours that are beneficial is often very hard. Many of them do have either the potential to improve our life, or the potential to make it decay slowly.
Don’t stay put
It’s no secret that programming is an activity that’s not really physically demanding, since you just sit in front of a computer for hours typing in your keyboard. And it’s easy to imagine that sitting in a comfy chair, in a comfy office or home is really close to being an ideal day compared to working in a restaurant or moving products in a warehouse.
To be honest, it is a pretty relaxed activity. However, it’s really important to consider that our bodies are still there with us and that they need maintenance and care from our part.
From lower back pains to eye strain (even when using the superior dark themes), there are a lot of consequences for our bodies when we sit each day in front of our computer for long periods of time. Due to this, it’s essential to do consistent exercise and have a correct posture whenever you spend hours programming.
I know doing exercise can feel like an extra burden and it’s even harder to do it consistently, but it really ends up being worth the effort and paying off. Even going for a 10 minute walk can make a positive difference in your health. You don’t need to be an incredibly fit person to be healthy, sometimes you just need to use something more than your eyes and fingers.
Also, you can use exercise as an activity to relax and take some time out from programming.
Remember to socialize
The whole Introverted vs Extroverted way to define someone’s personality has become common knowledge and we tend to polarize it a lot: either you are an extrovert and like people, or you are an introvert and don’t like people.
Although this method is really useful for describing a variety of traits in a concise and clear manner, there’s absolutely no way your whole personality can be detailed and identified within these two broad categories. This becomes a problem when we base our social-related choices and activities entirely on being an introverted or an extroverted person.
Sometimes, in order to overcome the barriers that keep us from socializing, we have to remember that not only we as humans are a social species, but also that talking and establishing relationships with people is such a vital aspect of our overall lives. Likewise, if we come to think that there’s no way we can live and spend time by ourselves, we have to remember that the “us” is as important as the “me”.
I’m, by no means, saying that socializing is easy for everyone, nor it is hard for everyone. I am really aware of problems like social anxiety, speaking too much, speaking too little or even misinterpreting what others are saying. But to be honest, the simplest way to reduce them is to go out there and talk with people. Yes, you may be embarrassed from time to time. Yes, you are totally prone to mistakes. And yes, some people may not treat you well. But you really should try.
Know when to pause
Focus has become a truly valuable resource in today’s world, where it’s not easy to make up for the time we waste doing “non-productive” activities. Not only does it help us achieve progress, but it also makes the process to this objective a lot smoother and easier.
We all know this moment where we just can’t get to do something and feel like going to sleep at 5pm. In this scenario, being able to take a break seems like a dream come true.
On the other hand, I’m sure you’ve also experienced the opposite: you are fully focused on what you’re doing, being productive and getting stuff done. Just thinking about stopping feels like a betrayal to ourselves, since we believe that we must make sure to make the best out of this rare moment of focus.
Furthermore, we love getting breaks and being able to do enjoyable things, yet when someone on our team takes one, the world is falling apart for everyone else. We tend to see relaxation as a coin with two sides; either something extremely lazy, or something extremely lucky, but I believe that we should see breaks as something that helps us be productive.
Some time ago, I remember reading about “productive procrastination”. I know, it sounds like it doesn’t make any kind of sense (isn’t each the complete opposite of the other?). But if you think about procrastinating in the sense of doing some other activity which is not work related, but is still something productive, it stops being procrastination and instead it becomes an activity which provides value to your day while giving a reset to your mind.
This activity can be anything you want as long as it gives you some sort of value. Some examples of this can be:
- Going for a walk.
- Talking to colleagues or friends.
- Reading or listening to podcasts.
- Learning something new or practicing a skill.
As much as we like to be productive and focused on our tasks, we must realise that rest from now and then is as important as completing the tasks themselves. If you were to “be productive” for 10 continuous hours a day, in the best scenario you’d likely find yourself burned out and out of ideas. When it comes to programming, you definitely don’t wan’t this to happen.
Adjust the parameters
Alright, we know some activities and habits we can do to improve our health, focus and that even if we spend plenty of time in them, we still get a lot of value in a lot of ways. I believe the two questions that remain to be answered are which activities will you do, and how much time will you spend on each of them.
So how can we know which activities to do? I’d say that trying out and being open to discovering new activities is really easy and entertaining, since you can even find a new hobbie or connect with different people. If you find something you like and provides you with value in some way, go for it.
And what about time? The hardest thing is to actually start spending a fraction of your day to take a walk, cook a nutritious dinner or pretty much any productive activity. Once you have overcome this initial difficulty, the next step is to adjust the time you spend based on your schedule, other activities you do and how you use the time for the specific activity. Maybe 30 minutes is very little time for exercising, or an hour and a half are way too much for cooking.
I’ve said this before, but feel like I really need to remark the importance of finding activities and a schedule that work right for you.
Often we just focus too much on learning, achieving a goal and overall improving our lives that we come to forget that we are still people and as such we need to take care of our bodies and help with the environment we are in. Remember that there are many ways to improve.