The beginning of the year is a great time to start new habits that can help you to achieve your personal and professional goals. That's why I decided to share one of the most important habits I developed in the last years which considerably impacted my health and productivity as a Software Engineer. Very straightforward: Drink Water!
Although everybody knows that drinking water is healthy, most people don't drink enough, especially programmers. I bet many of us drink more coffee than water. I do not intend to convince you by listing here the obvious and well-publicized benefits of drinking more water. Instead, I want to talk about a valuable consequence of this habit: going to the restroom frequently to pee.
What are you thinking right now?
- "That's weird!"
- "I hate going to the restroom too often"
- "That's why I don't drink water"
- "That's not water, it's beer"
- "Ok, tell me more..."
I usually drink between 3.5 and 4 liters of water during my working hours. Consequently, I go to the restroom 5~7 times during this period. You may think that this is a major productivity killer. In fact, it is the opposite for several reasons, especially if you know how to use it to your advantage. To this end, all you need is a bottle of water with the proper size to implement the following cycle:
- Fulfill the bottle with water
- Drink the whole bottle gradually while working in a period of time
- Go to the restroom
I call this the "drink water and pee" routine.
Ideally, whenever you get up to go to the restroom then you will complete your bottle again (and vice versa). If you use a bottle that is too big or too small, you will get up more often than necessary. That's why you will need to make some tests to figure out the proper size of the bottle that better works for you to perform this cycle (between 500 ml and 1000 l). Here is mine:
Somehow, that beer bottle triggers something in my brain that makes me want to drink its contents, helping me achieve my 4 liters by day personal goal. By the way, what a great beer =)
How does this routine can improve my productivity?
Good performance is about the capacity of focusing to get the work done. However, everything around us seems to dispute for our attention: social media, chats, emails, and even your coworkers. They are distractions that surround us and distractions are killers of productivity. You can't go on 8 hours without any distractions, but you can manage your distractions in such a way that they don't affect your work so much.
In this sense, Pomodoro is a highly used technique to improve your focus and performance to accomplish tasks. It is based on dividing the workflow into intense concentration blocks separated by distraction periods. If you haven't heard about the Pomodoro technique yet, you can easily find tons of articles explaining how to use it, its benefits, challenges, drawbacks, possible adaptations, and so on.
At the end of the day, the best benefit of Pomodoro is providing a proper way to manage our time aimed to accomplish our tasks by proposing the periodization of focused work with intervals to handle distractions.
Well, my point is that you can use the "drink water and pee" routine as your Pomodoro. Instead of using a timer to mark your focus periods, let your physiological system tell you when you need to take a break. By doing
this, you will be improving your health and your productivity at the same time.
In my case, by applying the "drink water and pee" I have about 1 hour and 15 minutes of focus period for every 10 minutes of distractions. The distraction phase includes going to the restroom to pee, fulfill the bottle of water, check my smartphone or perform any other activity that is not directly related to the development of the software that I’m working on, such as take a walk into the office.
To enable this routine, you need to manage your environment so that you can really be productive during the focus period by turning-off social media notifications and asking your colleagues to do not interrupt you during this period. If they need to talk to you, ask them to leave a message or an email that you can handle at the beginning of the next cycle.
Moreover, different from Pomodoro, the “drink water and pee” forces you to stand up from your chair and take a walk. That’s great for, again, improving your productivity and health.
Developing software requires you to tackle a set of different problems constantly, from designing the system to fixing bugs, which considerably involves creativity skills and processes. According to science, taking walks during your work period can significantly help solving problems, especially when you are stuck in a hard problem, taking a walk helps you to look at it with different perspectives.
Also, walking during your work time can positively impact your health since it prevents you from sitting for long periods of time. An impacting text titled "Sitting is the new smoking" explains the main threats to your health caused by spending too much time in your chair, including cancers, diabetes, and cardiovascular disease. While sitting kills, moving heals. The text also exposes that even if you work out several times per week, it cannot overcome the damage done by extended periods of sitting. I strongly recommend the reading of this text.
By the way, do you know any developer who has to treat back problems constantly?
Back pain is a major productivity killer since it destroys your focus and forces you to go to the doctor more often than you would like =)
Obviously, the "drinking water and pee" routine works for me on a regular working day as well as may vary from day-to-day. That's totally fine. When this routine becomes a habit, that cycle becomes so natural that you run it without even thinking about it, while still getting its benefits.
Adopting new healthy habits such as drinking water can be hard and "improving your health" reason may not be enough to convince you to adopt
them (otherwise, you would have already adopted them). The same can be said for productivity techniques, such as Pomodoro. However, associating health habits with practical productivity gains can be effective in convincing your brain to develop new habits. At least it works for me =)
Let's get moving on!