Eric Murphy

5 non-developer habits that will make you a better developer

November 09, 2018

Habits

I always like reading articles about how to become a more effective developer. Yes, I’m the guy learning all the keyboard shortcuts and downloading all the VS Code extensions for that extra 1% in my productivity.

OK, nothing wrong with that. But there’s a lot of habits that don’t get talked about when you’re trying to level up your development skills. Habits that aren’t related to any technical skills.

These are habits to improve your focus and effectiveness. Sounds a little abstract, but it’s key to becoming a better developer.

🛌 Sleep more

Sleep has the shittiest PR these days. I don’t know why, but it’s cool to not get enough sleep if you’re sacrificing it to work more. I remember I felt like a badass when I pulled my first all-nighter finishing up an important project. (Which I procrastinated on until the last minute.)

Not getting enough sleep fucks everything up, though. Working harder at something only counts if the time you’re spending is effective. If you can’t focus because of chronic lack of sleep, you’re not being more productive, you’re being less.

Also, the amount of time you’re sleeping matters. It’s cool to not need as much sleep as the next person, and I remember back when I forced myself to get 6 hours of sleep a night. I felt really productive, because I could get up super early and crank out some work in the early morning. Plus, you always hear about some famous guy that gets by on a tiny amount of sleep every night and still manages to live an super-productive life.

That’s nice, but you’re probably not one of those people. I remember when I finally let myself sleep a good 9 hours consistently. I started to feel so much better, and everything else got easier. I had better focus, got more done, and watched a lot less YouTube when I was supposed to be coding. Even though I had three hours less in my day than before. It’s that important.

📱 Turn off push notifications

When you’re working on some code, pretty much the worst thing that can happen is getting distracted. When you need to get some work done, it’s super easy to see something flash up on your phone and waste 15 minutes checking Twitter. And once you get back to what you were working on before, it takes even more time to get back in the zone and focused like before you got distracted.

Push notifications are just the worst. Especially with fucking apps like Facebook or Instagram, who want you to have ads in your eyeballs at all times. It doesn’t even matter any more if you don’t have anyone like your posts or follow you. You still get sent a fucking notification about something meaningless, like how someone updated their story or a friend is going to an event near you.

Wait, who the fuck cares? It’s just a trick to get you to check in again and waste more of your time. You’re not stupid, so why do you let some Silicon Valley assholes treat you like you are? These fuckers really don’t have your best interests in mind, so you have to shut their shit off.

Starting today, you should really turn off all push notifications to everything that’s not a messaging app. If your girlfriend needs to ask you something important on WhatsApp, that’s OK. Everything else, especially social media, turn off all notifications for. You can check it at the end of the day or at predefined times. But no more getting sucked down a rabbit hole just because these apps want more advertising dollars.

Now you can actually get some serious work done without getting interrupted all the time. Great feeling, right?

💪🏼 Hit the gym

I’m still surprised fitness hasn’t caught on more in the developer space. These are engineers focused on optimizing everything—so why not optimize the most important thing you have, your body?

Getting to the gym three times a week has so many different health benefits. It will help you to think clearer when you’re coding and un-fuck-up all the damage you’re doing to your body from sitting all day.

Personally, I’m partial to strength training. Get in the gym and lift some heavy-ass weights. If you’re starting out, Google Starting Strength, and do some squats, deadlifts, bench, and press three times a week. But you can do lots more—go for a run, bike to work every day, do some pushups when you wake up, go down to the park and play some badminton. If you don’t like to exercise, start by doing something that you enjoy. Go for a walk and listen to a podcast. I don’t know, be creative.

I felt the worst in my life when I was doing nothing but staying home on the internet for 16 hours a day. Exercise regularly, and you’re going to feel better, have more energy, be more focused, and be less depressed and anxious. That was a big one for me. It releases chemicals in your brain to make you more effective with everything in life. Why would you not want to do it?

🌳 Take more breaks

Getting some more exercise is great for your thinking, but you need to be moving throughout the day as well.

Set a timer for an hour when you’re working, and get up and take a 5-minute break. It’s healthy for you, and it’ll give you a minute to relax from thinking about everything. You need a break from thinking about work all the time. If you can, go outside for a bit. Going for a short walk in nature is a good mood-booster.

Not only is it good for your health, it’s good for your productivity. You might have heard of it before, but I always like Pomodoros when I need to be particularly productive. It’s 25 minutes of work and a 5 minute break, repeated for as long as you need to work. I personally like to take around 50 minutes of work, and a 5-10 minute break. It’s good for your mental state, as I always get stressed out and agitated if I stare at a screen for too long.

🍰 No sugar

There’s a lot I could write about nutrition, but the most important thing you can probably do for your health is cut way the fuck down on how much sugar you eat.

Sugar’s in just about everything, and it totally drains your energy. There’s nothing worse than eating some sugary shit for breakfast (because I felt like donuts) and totally crashing at 10:30.

You don’t have to be a total health nut, and I’m not going to yell at you because you like eating dessert once in a while. But you already know what you should be doing, because you’ve probably heard it before—water and tea instead of sugary drinks, eggs for breakfast, ice cream only on special occasions. Now you just need to do it. Cut down on your sugar intake, and you’ll feel much better.

Yeah, they were actually right when they said you are what you eat. If you eat a bunch of junk, you’ll feel like junk. Go figure.

I’m not on some super sophisticated diet, but I’m more conscious than before of what I’m eating. If I’m falling into some old habits of buying a bunch of sugar for a snack, I’ll catch myself and try to find something healthier to eat. Just be conscious of when you’re doing it and that’s half the battle already.

Conclusion

Being a good developer isn’t just about knowing the code. You have to think, problem-solve and focus on what you’re working on. If you’re treating your body like shit and getting your brain zucked by Mark Zuckerberg, you’re not going to be as good as you could be.

Try a couple of these habits, and see how it goes! You’ll feel a lot better, and your code will follow.