Stress and fatigue are things we developers struggle with most of our careers in varying levels. There is the focus on keeping up-to-date on technologies, delivering at work, maintaining proper work / life balance – whatever that means, and countless factors that contribute to creating noise. How can we deal with the noise? Well, I’d like to explore the approach of being a mindful developer. What it means to me, and why it’s something you might want to consider looking in to.
Dealing with the stress
Software development can be rewarding but stressful. On top of that, you need to keep up with new, emerging technology to avoid becoming a dinosaur. Your mind, body and soul can only be pushed up to a certain limit.
– Jose Gonzalez (Beginners Guide: Simple Meditation for Developers)
I love that last sentence: “Your mind, body and soul can only be pushed to a certain limit”. We never know where that limit is until we’ve crossed it, and when we do so bad things happen, but more on that later.
Meditation has been recognized as a practice that stills the noise and stress that we find in life. I think many of us recognize meditation as a remedy for stress, but just don’t have time.
If you don’t have time to meditate for 15 minutes …
Then you need to meditate for an hour!
– Old Zen Proverb (via Edward Vila)
This is a powerful notion. If you really don’t have time then that’s when you should really make time. But I get it. Meditation is hard when you don’t know where to start. There are countless resources out there that will help you find your way in the jungle that is meditation, but having to navigate that jungle is another stress-factor on it own.
Being present in the moment
Mindfulness is a form of meditation that embraces the practice of being completely present in the moment. With the result of quieting the noise and distractions from our lives. It’s a lot more straight-forward than getting started with full-fledged meditation.
Bringing mindfulness to software development
Now nothing of what I’ve spoken about has to do with software development as a profession. But as with most personal self-care paradigms mindfulness will affect your entire life, including your software development career.
Achieving flow state
Any software developer that has been “in the zone” or achieved “flow state” can tell you that it’s extremely hard to get into and extremely easy to break out of. But in this state is where we do our best, focused work.
By being present in the moment, we more easily open ourselves to achieving this state, thus allowing us to produce more in a shorter amount of time. This enforces the notion of working smarter, not harder.
Being less reactive
When we are naturally more present, we are by default less reactive. It’s easier to assess a situation and come up with a suitable response instead of having knee-jerk reactions that spawn more tension.
Being less distracted at work
When we are focused on a task then distractions can be a killer even if we haven’t achieved any form of flow-state. We often refer to external distractions at work as killers for our productivity, but we do tend to have a fair amount of distractions from ourselves. “What are we going to have for dinner”, “Oh I have to remember to…”, “I should really take better care of myself”, “Hey, Misty Grey would be an awesome color for the living room”… you get my point.
Being present pushes these distractions away.
Being less distracted when not at work
How often have you had to leave work with a really challenging problem that you just can’t wait to get your fingers back in to. You pleasantly get through dinner, after-school activities with the kids, a little time with your spouse and once the kids are in bed, you jump on your laptop to do more work from home.
Consider everything you’ve missed because you haven’t been present. A different tone in your child’s voice trying to tell you that things aren’t going well at school. The achievement your child had at their activities you didn’t see. The excitement your spouse had when explaining something they discovered that day.
Now, I know we can’t catch everything, but having a mindset that promotes being present in the activity you are actually doing will allow you to be a better you in all parts of life. You can still get back to that challenging problem and probably solve it better since your subconscious had been chewing away at it.
Getting started with mindfulness
All it takes is 10 minutes
Now if you followed the link to Jose’s blog you might have already seen what I’m getting at. Headspace is an app for iOS / Android / web that guides you through mindfulness in an amazingly simple way. The mind behind the app and you personal coach is Andy Puddicombe, who I stumbled upon during a rough patch (more on that later).
The app gives you 10-20 minute sessions structured in convenient packs that focus on things like initial foundation, relationships, health, performance and even a pro section that takes you deeper into quiet meditation.
The app is free for the first 10 sessions, which build up the first pack of the foundation-series. It’s a great way to get started and you can listen to these sessions as long as you want. To gain access to the other packs you need a subscription though.
So far I’ve been through 71 sessions, averaging at 12 minutes per session for a total of 14 hours of mindful meditation.
I’ve experimented quite a bit in regards to at what time in the day to have my sessions, and have settled on mornings as the time that makes the most sense. This has led me to wake up earlier though, which has also lead me to go to bed earlier, which in turn has remedied another bad habit I’ve had of staying up too late instead of getting valuable sleep.
Sticking with the habit
Days I don't start with 10 minutes meditation feel "off-balanced". My morning routine is key for a good day. https://t.co/GinjkmCQz3
— Pavneet Singh Saund (@pavsaund) March 23, 2016
I’ve seen huge benefits in my personal and professional life by spending 10 minutes every day to practice being present. I am a more present in all my roles, personal and professional.
I do struggle when I miss my morning routine for whatever reason. I don’t have a routine to take 10 minutes later in the day. I also struggle to meditate in the weekends since I deliberately sleep longer than on the weekdays, which means getting up with the kids and not having the private time in the morning to get some headspace. I think working in 10 minutes in the evening can be a good solution for these days. I’ll try that out.
Headspace has been a life-save for me. It’s brought me a sense of balance that I don’t think I could have achieved without it. Will I stick with it forever? I don’t think so, but I’ll continue as long as the app gives me value. In the long run though I’ll probably replace it with my own personal routine without the app.
I want to thank you for reading so far in this post. I’ve been debating with myself if I wanted to include this information here, but I think it may bring some value and perspective into why I think meditation is an important tool to have.
I want to give a little personal background for touching on this topic. Some time ago I went through what I experienced to be the most stressful period in my life, which led to my personal burnout. It was a tough experience that I don’t wish others to experience, but I have learned a great deal (about myself). Taking a step back(it feels like a lot more than just one step…) and gaining perspective is one of the most valuable things I’ve done.
One thing that struck me was my level of happiness. It was at all time low. I’ve been blessed with good health, a caring family, great friends, a good job with great colleagues. Yet I wasn’t happy. In my search to remedy this I stumbled over some TED talks that were a great inspiration. There are 2 playlists I’d like to bring forth:
It’s in the first playlist that I found Andy. My wife has been exploring mindfulness herself and I was naturally drawn to his message and his approach :).
I realized it wasn’t happiness I was after, but a state of equanimity. Contentment with where I am, and a presence to experience life to its fullest. It’s also through being present I have found a sense of calm and focus that hasn’t been there before.
I hope this post had helped bring forth the value of being a mindful developer and bring balance to your career and life as a whole.
Please don’t hesitate to friend me on headspace at pav.saund[at]gmail.com.
TLDR; I have no affiliation with Headspace, nor are any links here a referral of any kind.
I would love to hear your thoughts on this matter – how do you achieve balance? Feel free to drop off a comment or reach out to me