Developer Wellness

Wellness or well-being is the state of being comfortable, healthy, or happy. This state of well-being can exist in one's life as a whole, as well as in each arena of a person's life, eg. they have a state of well-being in their social life, their home life, their emotional life, and their work life as say, a software developer.

In many cases, there can be very strong correlations between a person's level of well-being and personal satisfaction of their tasks during their working hours and their productive output. Naturally, we want both personal satisfaction and output to be high, and so we would do well to find ways to improve both, and reap the benefits.

Matcha latte and laptop
Photo by Jason Leung on Unsplash

How Developer Wellness Differs From General Personal Wellness

As developer wellness is a subset of personal wellness, it centers especially around the health and robustness of your presence in your job and career. However, the two cannot be completely separated as each feeds the other.

They are essentially the same thing, perhaps with different scopes of interest. How you do one thing is most likely how you do everything else in your life. Although we can talk about the points of well-being in a developer capacity, they correlate strongly to very similar points in your life as a whole.

What A Healthy State of Developer Wellness Could Look Like

For each person who works as a software developer, the doings of a healthy state of well-being will appear to be different, but will most likely contain most of the same themes and even very similar practices.

The positive consequences of maintaining a healthy state of well-being as a developer are many, and include benefits at work as well as outside work.

At Work

  • healthier relationships with coworkers, managers, and clients.
  • more enjoyment of the mental challenges inherent in a developer role.
  • a healthy workspace setup, conducive to minimized distractions both on-desk and online.
  • an openness to learning and practicing effective techniques to engage more fully on the task at hand and combat mental fuzziness while problem solving.
  • a healthier relationship with writing code, and receiving criticism and feedback from others in a healthy and robust way.
  • an increased ability to positively influence others helping create an overall healthier and more resilient team of developers, and a firm and solid base for a company or development department to thrive.

Outside of Work

  • an increased enjoyment of non-code related activities.
  • an increased ability to "turn off" the work mind, and "tune in" to the moment.
  • an increased ability to bring the same level of mental engagement to personal pursuits and hobbies - for example practicing a martial art, or a foreign language, or a musical instrument.
  • an increased enjoyment of deliberate omission of screens from certain times and activities in your day to day life.
  • an increased ability to be fully engaged with social relationships outside of work and/or within a home, or other social environments.

The Benefits of a Pursuit of Personal Wellness, as a Developer

As developers, we often take pride in our strong powers of reason and logic, and rightfully so! It is the material of our craft! You can make some amazing improvements and significant changes in your life and career if you can approach the issues you see with a detached and experimental mindset, and come up with possible solutions to the pain points that you find, building on what works in small increments.

Habits and Practices That Foster Developer Wellness

There are three things that cross into all subsets of wellness and cannot be omitted in the pursuit of wellness within any scopes: DIET, EXERCISE, and SLEEP.

Diet

There are a myriad of considerations with diet, and for this reason I will leave you only with very general guidelines, if possible:

  • Stay well hydrated. Make sure to drink enough water for your body.
  • Try to eat more whole foods, and less heavily processed foods.
  • Snacks are fine, but be mindful of those times when you're filling a dull moment with excessive sugar/salt/coffee consumption.

Exercise

Exercise is often looked down upon, as a chore that should be done, but many times isn't. This is not a healthy attitude, and must be addressed.

  • If you feel that you are at level 0 in exercise in your life, all that that means is that you can only go up from here. Instead of a snack break, how about an mid-afternoon exercise break? Even a short brisk walk around a few city blocks counts. Afterwards, you will feel more alert and ready to tackle the rest of the afternoon!
  • If you stick to some kind of exercise program already and/or go the the gym or participate in some other physical activity, keep it up!
  • At the very least, get up from your desk and stretch in whatever ways feel best for your body. Long periods of physical inactivity do not feel great for the body, and are not especially good for you, either.

Sleep

Sleep is another big piece of the puzzle that many want to downplay. However, this is not a good idea. The effects of not getting enough sleep will creep up on you. Different people require different amounts of sleep, but some general guidelines can still be mentioned:

  • Less than 5 hours per day on average in a week is usually not enough sleep.
  • There are also upper limits on sleep as well, but some people claim to need up to 10 hours per night.
  • If after waking up, you feel generally good and ready to handle the day, that's probably a good number of hours for you.
  • Make sure to prepare for sleep before getting into bed: maybe stretch, or read, or whatever thing helps you to wind down and get into a good headspace to let go of the day's events so that you can sleep as easily as possible.

Questions to Ask Yourself About Wellness

Let's say that you have reached a point where you feel there are pain points that you want to address, or adjustments that you want to make in order to better your time spent at work in various ways mentioned above. Great! Now, where do you start? You can start by asking yourself a few questions as a jump off point:

  • What is your personal definition of developer wellness?
  • What would it feel like to enjoy a high level of wellness as a developer? Does it seem possible?

    • How can you bring the real and the imagined into closer alignment?
  • In what ways would this increase your enjoyment of your experiences, coding and otherwise?

    • If your enjoyment is less than desired, is your effectiveness an addressable issue?
    • What can you get better at (and how?) in order to be more effective, and gain more enjoyment from something that currently pains you?
  • What other things can you learn to enjoy and become more effective at?
  • How can you model what you've already done in this respect in other areas of your life?
  • In your opinion, which social aspects of your job contribute to your perceived wellness?

    • more time collaborating with others? High level collab or lower level collab?
    • more time alone?
  • What obstacles appear to be in the way of your new wellness goals?

    • What aspects of these obstacles are physical?
    • What aspects of these obstacles are mental/emotional?

      • How do you define "failure" personally?
      • How do you identify it in your experience as a developer?
      • How do you currently address this pain point?

Each of these answers can be a help in making slight improvements on what you regularly experience, or large sweeping and breaking changes. Both are great things, sometimes things are 95% good with only a 5% margin for improvement. If this is the case, awesome! Changing small things to better suit you is great practice for changing the larger things down the line as you see .

The Overall Functional Effects of Individual Developer Wellness on The Team at Large

The effects of having more developers than not who are invested in their own developer wellness will make the difference between the presence of a virtuous cycle or vicious cycle.

What Could Happen When You Do NOT Have Developers Invested in Their Own Well-Being

When your dev team is NOT invested in their own well-being, it can quickly become a glaring obstacle to getting work done in a productive and effective way. Doctor appointments, sick days, coming to work sick are all common occurences when a team is not invested in their wellness. A sick person in office, or one who is out sick often, may become more distant to the rest of the team, initially for reasons of contagions.

Eventually chronically sick people may become sequestered from the rest of the team due to having less context while at work due to being out sick often, or possibly having unhygienic practices that others don't want to be around.

Obviously, this can affect the team as a whole in a negative way. There may grow an unspoken understanding amongst co-workers that working together with a certain person is a less-than-desirable situation because of their constant coughing, or chronic crankiness. As a manager or team lead, it is definitely worth putting some time and money into addressing this potential schism amongst your team.

You may decide to incentivize better health practices and attitudes in order to deal most effectively with this issue. A "wellness" stipend may be a good place to start - allow your team to put company resources towards anything that they each deem a worthy resource towards their own wellness. It could be put towards a gym membership or movement-centric class (yoga, zumba, salsa dancing), or books on self-development in the workplace or even books on computer science principles if they feel that increased knowledge will boost their feelings of being more productive at work.

What Could Happen When You Do Have Developers Invested in Their Own Well-Being

When your dev team is invested in their own well-being, the air becomes lighter at work. There will be less hesitancy in communication between members about the code, about the technical design, about the last few pull requests. It's okay to move code and logic around as a team, and to talk about these changes from a detached, and pragmatic point of view because everyone understands that they are not the code that they write, and that changes made or proposed are not directed at them in negative, or even personal ways.

A team whose members are invested in their own developer well-being is an example where the sum is greater than the parts. Difficulties and other sticky points become less difficult as a cohesive team instead of merely disjointed members. It’s much easier to assume the best in coworkers with regards to communication, even if there are occasional misunderstandings.

These benefits will exist even on a team where most of the developers are fairly well invested in their own well-being. A virtuous cycle may begin to occur where the more well-balanced personalities begin to exert influence of wellness consciousness on others. As things become generally more pleasant and productive, the rising tide of wellness amongst the team members lifts all boats.

The team functions as a finely tuned, and well-oiled web development machine.

Conclusion

It's been said that if you enjoy your time at work, you live twice as long.

Happy kid
Photo by SB Vonlanthen

If you treat your own well-being as something to grow and maintain, you will enjoy these benefits: your work will be improved, you will like being at work, you will like the people that you spend time with while working. You will also take more personal satisfaction and pleasure from your time and life apart from work, and create more ways to enjoy it with even more gusto.

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