Don’t work yourself Sick

Posted by on Mar 19, 2010 in Career, Development, Lessons | No Comments

Software development has for some time been a personal, introverted and lonely profession. Teamwork is essential to the modern development environment on large projects, but there are still lone wolves out there hacking out 10,000 lines of code an evening.

If you’re a developer, and if you aren’t this is still good advice, just not your metaphor, how many times, have you suddenly straightened your back and realized you’ve been starring and or typing for more than two hours straight? You’ve been largely motionless, extremely focused and blissfully unaware of the limitations of your body and spirit. You have been fixing things, making things and now you are suddenly aware of your bladder, colon, stomach, spine and eyes. It’s time to move and bend and be a human being again.

It’s taken me a long time to learn this lesson, but don’t work yourself sick. This is an interesting sentence with two meanings.
1. Do not, by the action of working, decrease your immune system, damage your joints or organs or tax your caloric reserves so greatly that a chronic or temporary illness is your reward.
2. When sick, you make more mistakes, are less focused less aware of your mistakes and thus unable to fix, respond to and solve the problems you have as readily. You can go the extra mile and check your efforts, and while this rule is like the saving your mule on Sunday proscription in the Bible, ie sometimes you need to work sick, the advice in this lesson is to save yourself the trouble it will take once healthy, to fix the problems you caused when sick.

Let’s discuss the items in Item One that need to be addressed.

A. Eyes: I like to keep a colorful picture, toy or other item to the right of my two monitors. About every fifteen to thirty minutes or so, I turn, face the object and go through a process that takes less than thirty seconds to complete.

  • I try to smile at the object. My preferred item is a picture of my wife or a small list of Arthur C. Clarke’s Rules of Science Fiction my Grandfather gave me. I also have a USB rocket launcher I’ve used in the past, but that’s also a comedic release. I also like to keep house plants around, they make a huge difference on eye strain, especially if the plant is healthy.
  • Blur and un-blur your focus 4-7 times. Your eyes need the exercise, you need the break and the consequences of your brief interruption are nothing short of miraculous. Eye strain is real people, and it hurts like a mother when your eye starts twitching uncontrollably.
  • Count something about the picture, and I mean something greater than 3. I try to pick something different each time. This makes sure you’re recognizing the item in question and making a conscious effort to focus on it. For example, I count the number of r’s in the three laws.

B. Hands and Wrists: I don’t have to swing the dead cat in a room to find people who know about or have Tunnel Carpal. It’s the “And the Band Played On” of the IT world. The keyboard is the best input tool known to man. The Mouse is a crappy pointing device that’s a series of compromises. Using either or both will wear out your hands and your wrists if you don’t:

  • Stretch your wrists and fingers. Cramps will happen, but there are better ways to handle this.
  • Proper posture is proper hand position. If you’re perfectly comfortable, you’re probably not in the best position. It’s going to take some effort to get into the best position, but not too much.
  • Take breaks.
  • Play with Play Doh. Hear me out. oily, soupy starch will help you grind out the kinks in your hands. I put mine in a pair of sandwich bags, and knead it cleanly. I keep it in the side pocket of my laptop back pack if you need to borrow mine.

C: Spine: Odds are high that you didn’t get to buy your own chair at your workplace. I’ve been able to buy two of mine, and both were mistakes. My home chair right now is a good compromise, but it’s no Aeron chair. If you can’t get the chair you want, follow these steps.

  • Stand up and pace when you don’t need to type or read to figure out a problem.
  • proper posture, proper posture, proper posture. Imagine that there’s a jug of water on your head.
  • Set a reminder of some kind, and ever hour on the hour, do some simple neck exercises to loosen tension in that melon supporting structure. Your Axis and your Atlas will thank you for it.

D: Get some sleep. I suffer from insomnia when a big project is due or when something is on my mind. Lack of sleep leads to a depressed immune system, poor regeneration and eventually to mistakes…. Oh the mistakes I could have prevented had I slept more, gotten sick less and healed faster. I’m still learning on this one, so no more tips.

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