Wednesday, July 17, 2013

The Art of the Stretch

Many things that contribute toward a successful software-development career have nothing to do with people skills or even with technical knowledge. A larger part of accomplishment than you imagine simply has to do with being comfortable with the physiology of an “office job.”

Essentially you sit in a chair a couple feet away from a screen with your hands on the mouse and keyboard all day. Folks euphemistically call this a “sedentary” job. Don’t think for a moment this implies that you lie in a hammock twirling a double mocha cappuccino.

Due to constantly changing tools and requirements the job is full of stress. Other stressful factors include too much work, frequent interruption, unclear or late information, career and job politics, and the pressure to outperform associates. Programming can feel as if you have five pots on the stove, the microwave whirring, and both ovens going, all while you are mincing onions.

So although the job is sedentary in the strictly physical sense it is far from stress-free. To really succeed you need to develop a strategy that fully mitigates this stress; here are some techniques I have used to good effect. First, why do you need to pile additional stress onto your work from commuting? When you drive your car to your job listen to something enjoyable or motivating. Or better yet ride public transportation to work and multitask your relaxed commute with some reading. When you do drive experiment a bit to discover which routes are the most scenic and least crowded.

Learn how to organize and plan at work. This mostly relieves stress by a process of self-education: once you get a good concept of how long things take you can also plan for your own personal slack time. Heck even back in school they allowed for “recess.” Pace yourself: avoid back-to-back scheduling and trying to fit too much into one single day.

List the things that you have to complete by priority; by accomplishing what is most important you will feel more serene. Don’t fret over finishing every last thing: modern lean-running offices always have more to do than the time available. Rest assured that most certainly your boss feels the same overwhelming inflow.

Laugh! Don’t overdo the clowning around, but when you find something appropriately humorous share it with your friends at work. Try to leave earlier in the morning. Even 10-15 minutes can make the difference between a frantic rush to your desk and having time to ease into your day. Stop adding to your stress levels by running late.

Finally, exercise. Every couple of hours take a brief break from your work to walk around outside, thus allowing your eyes a varying distance of focus. Do some carpal tunnel stretching at your desk and during your breaks. Pay attention to your sitting posture and consider the ergonomics of your work environment. Every so often sit quietly, turn on relaxing music, breath slowly and deeply, and stretch.