Back in May I shared some thoughts on cognitive endurance basics for software developers. This subject is of vital importance, as software engineers, UX designers, product managers, QA engineers, just anyone in software development needs to take good care of their primary tool: their brain (along with the rest of their body, of course 🙂 This is the foundation for doing a good work. If you've got smart brains — you need to cherish and nurture them.
The cognitive endurance post was mostly about the bummers at work. Today I'll list the top 5 brain-killing non-office activities . Obviously, a good life-work balance is the general umbrella term for anything that gets people well-rested after their work, and has them fresh the next day.
What is it that software folks are doing wrong? Which activities are the most harmful?
Here's my top 5 "bad things" list. Disclaimer: this is my personal opinion based on the years of observation.
#1. Video Games
I risk being thrown stones at, but this is really a self-killing practice. All right, someone can tell that it's game, and it's fun. But it's a deceptive fun, as you're in nothing else than in a potato couch mode, no exercise to your body, and your brain keeps being involved in the non-existent battles. The finite resource of freshness will never get replenished this way. Spend a night or two gaming per week, one can say, what's wrong with that? But after years and years, the clock is ticking, the brain powers are wearing out — do you think it's wise to have them wasted that way? Well, video games are the comfortable illusion of fun. Not to mention the negative consequences to your sleeping patterns, but this is a whole other story. This time, I'm using the word "comfortable" in the negative sense. When I'm talking about the comfort that someone has working with a project management tool, that's a very different thing. It's a positive comfort.
#2. Watching TV
This is the classics. Well, sometimes after a hard day of focused mental work, all you need to do is come home, turn on TV and switch yourself off. Beware the trap. The more you're switched off in this passive watching mode, the more tired you get. It's especially disruptive to spend week-ends like that.
#3. Commuting in Bad Traffic Jams
You're lucky if your office is somewhere in serene suburbia, and you don't have to spend time commuting in traffic jams. No one says that but the harm from driving in the aggressive conditions, where you just can't get where you need to get as fast as you want, is slowly eating your adrenals from within. We only have so much of the adrenaline stress hormone available. It leaks and leaks and leaks, if the distance that is supposed to be covered in 0.5. hr takes 2 hrs (an extreme case). The adrenal fatigue is no joke. It happens when the everyday stresses are wearing you out slowly, and there comes a time when your adrenals are just so overused that your health crashes, and you can't figure out why. Adrenals are connected with brain (it would take too long to describe the details here), and this hidden stress is killing your productivity at work.
#4. Gym Workouts
Don't get me wrong. For this one, I risk being crucified. But how would working out in a gym break the monotony? I've seen this: a bunch of fat guys and gals dragging their lower limbs slowly on the treadmills, and staring at TV screens above their heads. It's just horrible. The guys who are doing workouts and have perfect sculpted bodies, they will object severely. But well, working out in a gym IS a monotonous activity. How different is that from the monotony of some routine tasks that you have to do at work? Yes, software folks have their times of finding creative solutions, and their times of monotonous work. I see gyms as an anti-practice, especially if it involves commuting in bad traffic jams to get to the gym, which can also be the case. I used to spend 3 nights per week in the gym, so I know what I'm talking about. There're other great ways to exercise and to have fun, more creative, and refreshing to your brains. I'll tell about them in one of my future posts.
#5. Substance Abuse
This is conventional. I won't be criticized for listing that one. Substance abuse is the obvious anti-pattern for anyone's brains. What might seem to appear as a good relaxation, and a quick-fix high, can eat the brain powers like cancer.
Let me wrap up this first post in our Friday read series like that: we're often told that we should do this or should do that. Media are bombarding us with the "shoulds". But not all is gold that glitters, and if we're smart we need to think twice, how do we take care of ourselves in a good way. Our own special way.