While doing his undergraduate at Virginia Tech, my son Tyler worked at 100-Cents (or some such store of similar name). He went on to graduate with honors and become a CPA at one of the Big-5 accounting firms. Then, he got an MBA at Darden (one of the top MBA colleges in the country). And now, he is an investment banker that manages the sales and acquisition of companies valued over a billion dollars. So he’s doing OK. But, instead of telling him I’m proud of his accomplishments, I chide him saying: “I had hopes of you becoming a manager at 100-Cents.” Which is not necessarily a career that you spend $250,000 on education to achieve.
My son responds to my jesting with: “All you needed to get ahead at 100-Cents was to ‘show up for work and not steal.’” Apparently, many of the 100-Cents clerks that preceded Ty’s tenure would show up late or miss the day entirely. And several would allow friends to fill shopping carts and roll out of the store without paying. Ty, on the other hand, was diligent about being on time and he certainly never stole anything.
Show up for Work
But showing up for work and not stealing is a mantra for success at careers other than just 100-Cents store clerks. In fact, years before Tyler secured his position at 100-Cents, Woody Allen uttered this now famous saying: “80% of success is showing up.”
But what does showing up for work mean exactly? I ask myself that question on a daily basis and I recommend other developers regularly ask themselves the same question. It certainly means having a clear mind and being ready to be creative.
A clear mind
Mindfulness at work is easier said than done but, at its very basic, not showing up drunk or hungover, having slept enough, and eaten properly. And it also may sometimes require you to let go, temporarily, of external issues that may cloud the mind (such as personal matters, politics, etc.).
One of our Code Whisperers, Wendy, tells us in the InfoQ Podcast “A lot of businesses are adopting ‘mindful work,’ but even a few minutes of meditation a day can help you be less reactive.” Studies have shown that Wendy’s claim is, in fact, true as covered in this Forbes magazine article. Another Forbes magazine article tells us there are seven ways meditation improves brain function.
Meditation can be a simple act of sitting in a quiet place with focused breathing. But you might consider ramping that up a notch and practice yoga. Corgibytes actually has company-sponsored daily yoga classes. Those classes started out once a week. But it was so popular, it was expanded to five days a week. How does a company of remote employees offer yoga, you ask? Remotely, of course. Via our yoganista Gabi Day. Our CEO, Andrea, and Chief Code Whisperer, Scott, have also been known to attend classroom-style yoga classes at the offices of some of our clients.
I do not often partake in the company-sponsored yoga. I prefer to clear my mind with daily exercise. My preference is cycling (because it gets me outside). I believe lunch time is best for exercise as it clears your mind midday and you come back to work with an oxygenated brain. But the benefits of early-morning and after-work exercise are still very high. One point about exercise that I have to make is to not underrate the benefits of walking. You’ll get as much benefit, in terms of mental clarity, from a brisk walk over lunch as our Kamil does in one of his Olympic lifting workouts.
Getting myself in a creative frame of mind is, sometimes, very easy. Usually, though, it is not. So I end up using one the following techniques to inspire myself:
- Read a few tweets
- Read an inspiring article or blog post
- Listen to a podcast
- Watch a conference session on YouTube
- Pair with a colleague
Doing the best you can
We, at Corgibytes, have adopted Brené Brown’s philosophy of considering that other folks are “Doing the best they can.” In her book, Rising Strong, Brené includes the following:
“All I know is that my life is better when I assume that people are doing their best. It keeps me out of judgment and lets me focus on what is, and not what should or could be.”
I use that perspective when considering others, but when evaluating myself, I ask myself: “Am I really doing the best I can?” My answer is often: “No.” Let me give you an example: every Thanksgiving my wife puts out a 1,000 piece puzzle on the kitchen table. The family joins in, and it keeps us in the kitchen while my wife finishes dinner preparations. Anyway, in the early stages of this past year’s puzzle process, I would put pieces in and think: “Man, I’m brilliant!” After all, finding an obscure spot for a tiny puzzle piece with but a moment’s glance suggests superior mental abilities. Not only was I “doing the best I could,” I was exceeding expectations.
Days later, as the unplaced puzzle pieces came down to a very manageable number, I began to get irritated with my inability to quickly finish the puzzle. I actually was cursing and telling the puzzle it was “stupid.” Well, it wasn’t the puzzle that was stupid. I was no longer “Doing my best.” My brain was telling me “this is easy,” and I was not putting enough mental effort into it. My point is: I often fall into this mental lethargy when programming. When working on a daunting task, my brain considers myriad possibilities and solutions. And, yeah, at times I come up with (at least in my own mind) brilliant solutions. But, when given a seemingly simple task, my brain goes into dormancy as it thinks it doesn’t have to work. And I write bad and untested code. I’m not showing up for work.
As developers, we may not walk out of work carrying a basket full of stolen provisions, but what we can do, all too easily, is steal time. You know when you are stealing time: such as when you spend half an hour on Facebook, you update your resume, or perhaps you are writing the next great American novel (or application) on company time.
The thing is: you can’t bang away for hours on end and continue to be productive. Your brain needs a break. To maintain concentration and productivity, I’m a fan of the Pomodoro Technique. Its basic strategy is to work for 25 minutes then take a five-minute break to clear your mind. Yeah, sure, go ahead and do Facebook, if you like, for those five minutes. Me? I often take a quick walk. Whatever. The point is to give your brain a five-minute break. Do another 25 minutes of work. And repeat the process.
I began using the Pomodoro technique after reading the free (and very concise) book The 3 Pillars of Personal Effectiveness. You will find that you get more done in the 50 minutes each hour with the two five-minute breaks than continuous banging away hour after hour. And you’ll enjoy your work more.
If you still feel overly tired and find yourself staring blankly at the computer screen, you’re not showing up for work. Take a nap. At Corgibytes, we are encouraged to take naps when we need them. In fact, I searched the Corgibytes Slack for the word “nap” and found 262 occurrences. It’s amazing what a ten- to twenty-minute nap will do for you. We still have to get billable time in but we work when we are most effective.
Understand that the other side of Showing up for Work is Going Home. For those of you who may be workaholics, in the long-term, those hours (which you are stealing from yourself and your family) will be detrimental to the company. Those hours may also be surreptitiously sacrificed by you in the form of ghosting hours. Sure, there are times when you need to burn the midnight oil, but it should balance out.
I’ve seen the negative impact of over-worked developers for decades. One story that stands out was when I was on a C++ team as a full-time employee at Circuit City. As a 30-something, I was the old guy. The other team members were in their 20s and were ready to make a splash in the tech world. The project was lead by several consultants that had financial incentives to get work done. We were pushed to work every Saturday and to put in extra hours during the week. Some of those kids were doing well over 60 hours a week. Me? I said: “I’ll work 10-hour days during the week and 4 on Saturday. But that’s it.” Long story short, a few months later, when I left Circuit City, I warned my manager that several of the 20-somethings on the team would quit. The manager asked: “Why do you say that?” I responded: “Because they’ve been working 60 hours a week non-stop for months and can now move on to a 40-hours-a-week job with a better salary.” In the next two months, three other team members moved on. The consultants later left the project with full pockets leaving Circuit City without any employees that knew the application.
Show up for Work and Go Home
Showing up for work is more than making it to your desk by a specific time and being physically present. It is being conscientious about your effectiveness and being realistic about your strengths and limitations. And don’t forget to enjoy work. If you don’t enjoy your job, something is wrong. As to the Don’t Steal schtick… If you’re reading posts from this site, I’ll bet you’re more apt to do the opposite and putting in too much time. Go home, enjoy life, and come back to work fresh.
Oh, and, Ty, it’s not too late. That 100-Cents manager polo shirt is still waiting for you.