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Why do developers care so much about forming habits? I have asked myself and fellow developers and got quite a handful of insights. It seems like developers are looking for a way to automate their life as much as they can.

Cow moos. Dog barks. Horse neighs. And developer codes. According to a survey conducted by our team, more than a third of Habitify members are developers. That says something, doesn’t it?

The goal of this article is to provide some ideas of what habits developers should be following in order to have a better work-life balance. Of course, I’m writing from the viewpoint of a marketer whose domain is completely divergent from developers, so I happily welcome your perspectives. But for me, regardless of who you are, personal health is always more important than deadlines.

1. Exercise often

Of course, people don’t have to be developers to exercise often. By exercise, I mean, take care of your back! More often than not I have seen developers, after a long day of type-binging on the chair, stand up and smack their back like a pillow.

Relaxing as it may seem, sitting causes much higher pressure on our lower back than standing (Claus A. et al, 2008). That is why after sitting all day long, we will often feel our spine sore, stiff and hurt while we walk. For developers, this can be worse. Since a developer’s job requires a lot of sitting, there’s a higher probability of them letting their posture slide, the most noticeable of which is slouching. Such poor postures can lead to not only spinal stress but also long-term posture problems like hunched back.

In order to protect the spine, developers should vary their posture often to keep the spine flexing and mitigate prolonged stress imposed upon it. The easiest method, of course, is to stand up and exercise.

Before/after work:

  • It is highly recommended to ride your bike/walk/climb stairs to work. All of these movements involve high coordination of the spine and muscles in the body.
  • Work out! It’s such a pity that most people will either procrastinate on going to the gym or will just train the “beach muscles” such as biceps, chests, and abs, forgetting about their back. For developers, specifically, back-related exercises are of utter importance. Here are some recommended exercises from bodybuilding.com — my all-time favorite gymming website.

Personal thoughts: I strongly suggest using the Swiss Ball for starters for it provides the most flexibility in stretching your back. Also, if you are heading in a muscle-building direction, start with small weights for your back or the training is going to backfire very soon — been there!

During work:

  • Take frequent breaks to move around and stretch. If you don’t have much space, you can resort to 5–10 mins of a jumping jack or mountain climber.
  • Opt for an ergonomic chair with which you can sit back straight. A standing desk is on a rising trend these years if you don’t mind the cost. I personally switch my seats quite often to prevent my spine from being glued to one place only.
  • Use smartwatches like Apple Watch or Fitbit or Miband. They have this special feature that detects your inaction state and nudge you to move around for a few mins.

2. Drink often

The reason I say this is because, from my observation, developers are the prone to getting into “flow” — the state of d̶e̶h̶y̶d̶r̶a̶t̶i̶o̶n̶ focusing on their tasks to the point they forget about everything else, including drinking water.

“I feel okay not drinking.” — Peter Vu (CEO @ Habitify)

Yes, you can say that, boss, but that’s how you feel. How about your work’s results? Bearing in mind that water accounts for more than 70% of our body, I didn’t believe in that blunt statement. So I did some research. Here’s what I found:

  • Being dehydrated by only 2% can impair the cognitive performance (especially one that requires attention) and the assessment of subjective states (Adan A., 2012)
  • Drinking water can improve focus and attention time by 14% (Natural Health News, 2013)
  • Drinking water can improve our performance by 10% during a stressful event like examinations (Sellgren K., 2012)

This is only for non-academic scientific research. When I looked at this from the perspective of an app maker, I found something else:

  • There must be a concrete reason for apps that remind people to drink water have hundreds of millions of downloads. Just search on the app “water reminder” and you’ll see.
  • “Drink water” is one of the top created habits in Habitify. Users usually require multiple check-ins feature so that they can set a habit like “drink water 8 times per day”.

I strongly believe in the profound impact of water on our life, so I can’t recommend enough drinking water even when you’re not thirsty, developers. Personally, I use Habitify as my go-to app to remind me of drinking every 1–2 hours. The great thing about Habitify is that I can be reminded right on my Mac like this:

If you use a Windows/Linux laptop, no worries, it’s also available on the Web.

3. Write clean code

“As a developer, you spend more time reading your code than writing it.” – Magee , Software Development Manager at Enigma Digital.

Our team made Habitify for iOS first, then Android. At the time the Android developer Kan Black joined the team, he could not make head or tail of the old code written by Peter. They had a really hard time discussing and figuring out what’s what.

And this tragedy continued to happen when another back-end dev joined the team. I may not fully understand the true essence of clean code as a developer would, but I do know one thing. Clean code unites. Clean code is the Lightbringer to doomsday of endless disputes between current developers, senior and junior developers. And this leads us to the next point.

4. Talk often

I believe developers need to talk just as much as any other people in the company, especially with fellow developers. Exchanging ideas often will keep developers in the know-how of the process, to see if they are following the designed procedure of the company, and yes, as mentioned above, to see if they are writing clean code.

Quite often, I’ve seen Android and iOS developers argue with each other over the name of some variables because they don’t have a consensus since the beginning.

In my company, we share the same account in Habitify called Habitify Team. Every day at 9 AM, our phones, laptops, tablets, and watches will fire off a “ding ding” sound to notify everyone that it’s meeting time. So no matter where we are, what we are doing, we’ll come back to the conference room for a quick meet-up.

You don’t necessarily need to have such recurrent meetings. A quick chat over a coffee break or in the restroom is enough to keep the wheel rolling.

5. Eat properly

No offence, but from my personal observations, developers are the most unhealthy people in the world when it comes to eating habits. It seems like there is this mystic religion that all developers follow: make their workspace their living space. What do I mean by that?

One of our developers, for example, eats, guitars, sleeps, watch animes, codes, reads, all at his desk, in his favorite corner of which the only friend is the bin where he dumps all the leftovers of his living into.

And since the developers I met have already eliminated the boundaries between a workspace and a living space, this negatively impacts their lifestyle. They eat while they work. They skip their lunches. They gobble snacks for hours in the afternoon. It seems that while coding, they are completely unaware of their calories intake, and whatever pleases their mouth, they automatically let it in.

I can’t stress enough the importance of eating on time and with adequate portions. For developers, it is often overlooked by deadlines and old habits. If you find yourself somehow similar, you may want to try a few eating habits below:

  • Eat on time. Don’t skip any meal or eat too late. Either can seriously affect your digestive system and is the imminent evil for becoming overweight, recurring stomach pain, low blood pressure, just to name a few.
  • Don’t eat at your desk. Besides hygienic issues, you will be distracted by all the screens in front of you.
  • Eat clean. Stay away from chips. Instead, pay some attention to your eyes which is the hardest worker of the day. Eat healthy food for eyes such as fruits, veggies, fish. If you can cook for yourself, that’s the best.
Image by Fashioneyecenter.com.

I sincerely hope this article can provide another perspective for developers when thinking about their personal development and their lifestyle. If you’re interested in adding more in-depth insight, I’d be happy to discuss in the comment and update this post accordingly.

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