Successful programmers all have their rules — some of the most important ones, however, have nothing to do with coding.
Coding may just be the single hottest skill on the job market right now, with far more companies looking for it than workers boasting it in their CVs. While this urgent demand leads to all sorts of goodies in terms of salary and company perks, there is sometimes a risk that it may promote a “work before life” sort of culture — one in which programmers are told that being stressed, overworked or under pressure is ‘normality’. (Spoiler: it isn’t).
If you are new to this world, then word to the wise: do not underestimate this. Being passionate about what you do is awesome, but if you don’t give yourself enough room to breathe and time to recharge, then on the long term you won’t be doing any favours to yourself — nor to your career.
So, here are six golden rules to make sure you are leading a balanced, sustainable lifestyle in the often frenzied world of coding.
1. Take active care of your body
Nope, you can’t wriggle out of this one. Coding being exclusively a mental exercise, it’s only too easy to fall into a routine of bed — work desk — sofa — work desk — bed. But precisely because your body isn’t part of your job, you must take care of it outside of that time.
Go for walks or swimming, or do yoga or Zumba, or play football or basketball — heck, pick up Japanese kendo if that’s what makes you happy. The how and the how much are up to you, as long as you do it regularly. Remember: your creativity and concentration don’t magically appear out of the ether — they sustain themselves directly on the physical energy produced by your metabolism. The mind functions well only when the body does too — so don’t let the latter go untended.
2. Code out of love
Here’s a little motto to take to heart: your salary is the reward for your work — not its purpose. You may think you have the grit to take any job in coding, or that you can power through years of menial tasks as long as they are well paid. Take our word on this: if you bring yourself to a place where you’re doing work that is not morally meaningful to you (or worse, morally questionable), then no career boosts or bonuses will make it easier to get up in the morning.
Work on projects that let you give back to the world, and work itself will be invigorating. It will also be less stressful, if not totally stress-free. Finding meaning in what you create shouldn’t be an afterthought of your coding — it should be the reason why you code.
3. Divide your (work) spaces
If you work from home, then don’t do it from the couch (or wherever it is that you usually unwind). The mind has a way of associating places with activities, so mixing up where you work and where you relax will make you distracted while doing the former and mildly aggravated when doing the latter.
Instead, set aside a space to be used only for work — it can be a desk, or a whole room — keep it clean and tidy, and don’t go there for anything other than work. Are you working and feel the urge to nab some cookies? Cool. Leave the work-station and enjoy your snack somewhere else, giving yourself as much time as you need. When you’re ready, go back to where work happens.
4. Leave room for creation
Good work isn’t just about what you do for someone else — it’s also about you, and how it makes you grow. Sometimes this is already happening as part of your job, but if it isn’t, make room for it: spend 10 to 20% of your working time learning something, or doing something outside of your minimum requirements.
If this isn’t an option, then set time aside to do something creative outside of work. Keep a journal, learn to craft or build things, take up cooking or meditation. Just make sure that you are investing in yourself. You should never be working so much that you don’t have the time for it, and if you are, then that’s your cue to lighten the workload.
5. Cultivate community
You are not working alone, even if it can sometimes feel that way. If you code in an office, make it a habit of inviting a colleague to a coffee break once a day. If you work from home, be proactive in organising regular drinks or dinners with colleagues, or at least with others working in coding. Having a relation with others who share your work (or field thereof) is key to feeling part of something meaningful.
6. Be selective
Programmers are in demand, so take advantage of that. Don’t just settle for the first job you’re offered, but make sure you work for a company you have no reservations about. As importantly, ensure you are under good management. You will usually be interviewed by your future boss, but if you don’t, ask questions about him/her/them.
You should always value yourself more than your work. So work for people who value you as much as you value yourself. As the owner of those hugely valuable skills coding skills, but more importantly as first a person and then a programmer, you are precious. Don’t sell yourself cheap.