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Coding with Care

thetuftii profile image Claire Pollard ・3 min read

I like to think of myself as a hard-working person, and regularly work 14 hour days in a combination of my software developer day job, helping out my fiancée with his robotics business and volunteering in the community at my local BMX club. I very rarely fully unwind and chill out. I'm the first to admit it's not healthy and burn out is a regular worry for me, and does happen a little too often for my liking.

After the first 4 months of 2017 have flown by in a blizzard of deadlines, weekend events, hospital trips, becoming a qualified cycling coach and redesigning a couple of websites for good measure, I found myself sitting in the doctors surgery not feeling so great. Thanks to my doctor running late, I came across an interesting article on the Verge combining mindfulness and coding.
Tiny Care Terminal
Google Developer Monica Dinculescu has designed the lovely Tiny Care Terminal, using the ever wonderful Party Parrot to help deliver useful mindfulness quotes and advice to your terminal window to gently remind you to take care of yourself when coding.

At some point we're all guilty of becoming welded to our desks and peering at emacs (other editors are available) for what seems like an eternity, whilst slumping into a heap with an awkward posture, and downing that 8th cup of coffee in the vain hope that the buzz will get us that little bit closer to the Ballmer Peak (don't drink and code kids), and we'll eventually fix whatever bug has been hassling us for days.

Ballmer Peak XKCD

But with Party Parrot on hand to remind you to take a breath, practice some mindfulness techniques, and give yourself a break, we can all take a little bit better care of ourselves and attempt to de-stress from those times when professional coding gets too intense. And ultimately feel better and code more effectively. While stress can be a useful thing to have at times, too much can prevent us from thinking clearly and rationally, potentially making bugs for our future selves.

The Tiny Care Terminal pulls tips from three Twitter bot accounts, caring bots @tinycarebot, @selfcare_bot and the mysterious storytelling bot @MagicRealismBot and presents them along side to do, done, and commit lists in the terminal window. You can change which bot accounts are used for advice if you prefer a different style of messages. Whilst most of us have Twitter accounts, we don't sit glued to our feeds to catch each and every tweet that's posted, so rounding up a selection of helpful caring tweets and putting them somewhere we're looking all day just gives us a reminder to look up from our screens and breathe for a second.

As I'm still sat in the doctors waiting room (she's now 50 minutes late) I haven't had chance to try the Tiny Care Terminal for real, but I'm running to Github as soon as I'm back at my desk to get it. Well not running... But sauntering and breathing deeply :)
Party Parrot says take care
Does anyone else have any different techniques for relaxing whilst coding? Or work routines that help limit stress? I'd love to hear them in the comments.

Posted on by:

thetuftii profile

Claire Pollard

@thetuftii

C++ backend developer for Imagen

Discussion

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As a newbie I've seen a huge skew in the other direction from this, toward praising and even competing to work longer hours, do nothing but code code code, so I really love reading perspectives like yours. While I'm learning I use techniques for vision health to help limit stress -- like look away from the screen for a few minutes every 15 minutes or so and being mindful of my blinking so eyestrain doesn't become a stressor in and of itself. I know a lot of developers get so deep into coding that if they get interrupted they lose their entire train of thought, but I'm trying to learn to be able to be "mindfully distracted" now while I'm forming habits so later it doesn't totally throw me off my game to be interrupted by something minor.

 

It's a good habit to form, as unless you're lucky enough to work from home or a relatively quiet and distraction free place, you're never going to get a 100% perfect working environment. So being able to bring yourself back to focus without losing your train of thought. I struggle with this, so kudos for being able to do it!

 

This is such an interesting subject. My personal experience is less about the stress but more about focus. I've always been intrigued by meditation and mindfulness. I started about a year ago to just sit and count my breath for a few minutes. I'm trying to make it a more regular thing, especially every morning before I start anything programming related.
Well, even if I am not a mindfulness guru, there is no question that I am feeling more relaxed, more focused and more productive after those meditation sessions.

So, whenever I have the willpower to do it, I sit down, close my eyes, count from 1 to 10 with each breath. Whenever I notice that my mind is not focusing on my breath anymore, I gently bring it back. And, even if I am not as regular as I would like, I do feel a difference in my mood and focus for a couple hours after this.

If I ever feel really stressed about work, there is no question that sitting down for a few minutes is the first thing I will try. Slowing things down, clearing my mind. I guess it's very similar to people telling programmers to just walk away from the computer when they get stuck.

 

Burnout can happen so easily especially under pressure of deadlines etc so this is very important. I always use a countdown timer to enforce taking a break every 45 mins. Some people do this for 25 mins (the pomerodo technique) to match the average human attention span and focus the mind for productivity too.

 

I try to keep breathing and in good posture. And frequently go around the house to stretch my legs. I have three playful doggies, so that helps!

After years of serious stress and a couple of bad burnouts, I committed to mindfulness and meditation. Add some exercise, music and a couple of other ingredients… works for me!

I think that what costed me more was letting go of my appreciation of work as means to make money. I try to be careful now and only do things that bring joy into my life. That means choosing my gigs with care.

 

I am learning to deal with this too. Making sure my life is balanced in other areas helps a lot. Getting into an exercise routine helps you lose that restlessness, eating right and drinking plenty of water, but also treating yourself every now and then. I have also replaced coffee with green tea and I dont drink more than one cup a day. If I'm tired after that, I'm just tired. Your body is telling you it's time to chill. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with doing deep work or whatever the hell they’re calling it, as long as you really unplug when its time to stop.

 

You're right Bobby. It's about knowing when to push it, but also when to step away and say enough, rest and do something different, but sometimes its easier said than done when you are determined to get something finished.

 

If all else fails.. get a dog! :D