Top Ten Tips to Prevent Insanity (Software Psychosis)

Yoyo you wonderful bear followers, I hope today finds you well and for those of you in the UK I hope your snow-related torment hasn’t been too painful to endure and you’ve all stayed safe 🙂

In the shower today (apologies for the mental imagery!) I started to mull over what I would tell someone, off the cuff of course, if they asked me ‘give me your top ten tips for surviving the day to day stuff. Y’know, as quickfire as possible!’. Don’t ask me why this was relevant to my shower; but it’s fairly commonplace for me to get highly introspective standing under a stream of water, it’s one of my things if you will.

So, in no particular order of importance, here we go. Some are geared towards software development and some are straight up general comments on how I try to hop, skip and jump from day to day.

  1. Take a deep breath and time-box your day, as best as you can at least. Here I would recommend, outside of any other work management software you have to bump heads with, a simple Trello board to get yourself organised. Create cards and put a ‘due date’ on them. Two columns can suffice, an unembellished setup of two columns called ‘TODO’ and ‘DONE’ to drop cards between will serve you just fine; give it a go (I’ve been using it pretty much daily for years now).
  2. Adopt the rule of three. Three things to accomplish for the day, week and year; although I have to admit I struggle with the year one, I’m still a lowly padawan most likely! Scott Hanselman discusses this concept in this excellent video.
  3. Since coming into contact with Git I have learned two things that are having a profound effect on a) my sanity and b) the way I work. Commit often, push often and, as far as possible, keep change sets small! I like Unit Tests to so, without getting into the politics of whether you should or shouldn’t adopt them, I will settle with a simple ‘try them and see how you get on with them’ at the very least. It’s a good place to leave it for now 😉
  4. Get comfortable with having patchy knowledge! It’s going to happen, no question. Sometimes just knowing that a ‘thing’ exists is enough to get yourself going in the right direction or nudge a colleague so they can find the right solution. You can always follow-up and learn the ins and outs of something later. Don’t stress yourself out with the crazy notion of knowing the nitty-gritty on everything you come into contact with. That’s the problem with knowledge…..the more you have the more you realise there are massive expanses of information out there (at the end of one horizon is another, don’t sweat it)!
  5. Walk away, take a break, have a shower…do something else when you’re stuck. I’m a hardcore breaker of this rule and suffer for it!
  6. Listen to others when they tell you to stop, from time to time at least (outside observers often know best and will see the crazy-loon face you have adopted in a time of stress; my wife often braves this and politely says I need to stop)!
  7. Pomodoros are good!!! The basic setup is a) pick a task and b) work at it for 25 minutes in a focused manner and finally c) take a 5-minute break. Wash, rinse and repeat (with a larger break after several ‘pomodoros’). For complex tasks where I need to perform focused bursts to produce ‘mini-sprints’ of work, this is an excellent way of working to adopt.
  8. I like to talk…try it more often! Instants chats are all good and well but if a message begins to span into the scope of ‘non-trivial’, for example, several paragraphs of information that could be misinterpreted (or just takes too long to actually key in!) just opt for walking around the office or picking up the phone. I like nattering and connecting, it’s a liberating feeling that will break down walls; especially if you’ve been cooped up for an extended period of time crunching a problem.
  9. Be careful on that lunch break skipping behaviour! It’s an easy habit to get into and almost everyone I know does it – I’ve recently been attempting to, at a minimum, always get in thirty minutes unless an apocalyptic development event is in progress. Drink water, eat food and read an article on something unrelated (and mix up your work environment from time to time)!
  10. One from my wife and an excellent piece of advice – do a ‘power dance’ (five or ten minutes is the recommended time I’m told). Harder if you work in an office, but see what you can get away with I guess (I take no responsibility for dance-related disciplinary events)!

If any of these are helpful to you then I’ll walk away from writing this a happy man (I mean, bear, ahem). If this is completely useless, perhaps I’ll steer you in a direction where you find something that works for you; in which case bravo.

I hope you’ve enjoyed this little stream of consciousness and, until the next time, happy coding and honey scoffing!

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