Improve your desktop and your efficiency.
First, you have a body and the most used parts of it during code sessions are: your fingers, your hand and your arm. The rest is basically statical and that’s a good thing. The less you move, the less you pollute your brain.
What are movements ?
The biggest movement is switching from your keyboard to your mouse and vice-versa. Some developers (vim) argue they really don’t need a mouse/trackpad while coding. They are probably right. I completely agree with this argument. But most developers use a mouse. Respect them. We are different and your goal is to choose what fit for you. Then, the second movement is you hand moving around your keyboard while typing. And finally the fingers press the key. This seems a stupid and basic analysis but you can optimize it.
Returns and Refunds
Amazon offers this option for all orders. Use it. Buy a lot of mouses, mouse pads, and keyboards. If you don’t like most of them just return them because it’s free. Same thing for Apple products.
Don’t share your opinion with others about your material choice. “I choose this mouse” is ok. Don’t explain how it feels in your hand. Just tell them: “Try it one full working day”. Don’t argue about how a mouse/keyboard is better than other. Don’t blame a friend for not choosing your setup. We have to talk about a lot of things that matter like frameworks, languages etc, because they are choices for the team. When it is a choice for yourself, don’t argue, just make a choice. A choice is something that came from your experiences.
Laptop and OS
I work with developers running Windows (7 or 8), Ubuntu, and OSX. I use OSX because it is stable, simple, there are all the tools I need and I think I will keep using it for a while. But I don’t blame my friends for choosing another OS. Just ask them: “Do you achieve your work in a convenient way?” If the answer is not clear, let them the chance to try an other one (laptop/OS). Just one week. We can speak a lot about OS’s, a recent HN poll shows a preference for Unix systems. Know your job, and choose the right weapon. It’s your weapon.
10 developers can try 5 mouses in one week and you will probably boost the productivity of the office for just $30-60 per people. Always remember: This is not about price, it’s about you. My last mouse is a shitty Dell (link Amazon). It costs $4 but the feeling I have with it is nice. I hope I will try more but never focus on the price. Second, configure your OS for the faster tracking speed. Some people likes big 30” screens and moving from one corner to the opposite is a long arm movement. Having a fast tracking speed allows short movements and most precision. Just try different speeds.
With the mouse came the mouse pad. The feeling you have while moving your mouse is so important. I advice choosing a big one with a large surface because it allows you to think less about “where are the limit of the desk” while moving the mouse. The comfort of the arm is important too. Sometimes, I put a towel on the border of the desk for a better comfort.
Same thing as mouse, try a lot of them. I love the Apple Wireless Keyboard because it’s thin, light, stable, and small. Once again, I like itdoesn’t mean it’s the perfect keyboard. Our criteria are different. Someones like the right space between keys, others like the pressed effect, etc. Don’t use the first keyboard you tried. Try different ones, you can have big surprises.
Chair and desk
The rest of your body is static. Your body container has to be nice. Try different chairs and different inclination setup. I advice having space under the desk. This is just a question of desk organization but the space allow you to move your legs with ease. Wrap your screen cables to not hang above your legs.
Today, screens are very cheap. I use a 23” LG (IPS) (link Amazon) and it costs $170 at this time. It’s a good screen because the IPS is nice. The angle is very comfortable. If you want to buy more, it’s ok. There are very great screens for various sizes and I advice, again, to try them. I will probably buy the next Macbook Air 11” because I love simplicity and mobility. At the office, I can plug it on a larger screen. Having space while coding is important.
If you like having music at work, choose an appropriate headphones. I use the Bose OE2i (link Amazon). It’s thin for the transport, fit everywhere, and the sensation on my head is ok. You will probably prefer a bigger one at at the office. Choose one that you can use hours without troubles.
You have a plenty of docks available for all smart phones. Prefer one that is stable on the desk and don’t move when you put your phone on. It is simpler to just touch the screen in front of you instead of picking the phone while testing .
The oldest tool we know. Painting with your hand on a board. Simple and powerful. The white board is not only for designers and developers can use it extensively for scratching class structures or design patterns. Before starting a coding session, pick a pencil and write your goals on a white board. This can clear things out.
I live in Bordeaux and the temperature is not very cold during the year. I saw some developers coding at 18-20° Celcius in the office. For me, it’s too cold. I prefer +22° because I feel more relax. A cold environment can “stick” you in front of your screen and stop your productivity. Try a warmer temperature in the office. 2 degrees can change the atmosphere.
Your eyes are focused on the screen for hours, and the back light can help to reduce their efforts. A diffuse light behind your screen make an harmony in the room. “Hard code in black rooms” is a big “cliché”. You will kill your eyes quickly in dark spaces.
To be static all the day is an optimization for your brain for a short time. Yoga and meditation are based on that. Completely remove your body movement to explore your mind. This is what we do while coding: we explore possibilities and focus on solutions. Do some breaks in the day and do a little bit of exercise. When you get up in the morning you can do that and during the day (at the office), you can just do some none-big exercises and stretching. 5 minutes is ok, it’s not about time, it’s about regularity. Blood circulation is essential. The brain use energy and energy came from blood. Not moving during a long period of time will congest your brain and headache came quickly. Move your body and your brain will thank you.
The stretching pause is good for your body and your brain. There are different kind of break but here I mean, a real off-screen break. No phones, no laptop. I have the pleasure to coordinate a team of three developers in Agadir (Morocco) And I go there 10 days every 60 days (more or less). When I work with them, in Agadir, they made the pray 5 times a day. They adjust it, but they break three times every day at different hours. They stop coding, go to the Mosque, and get back in the office. You know what? They are awesome. This is the best team I ever met in terms of skills and productivity. Tip: I’m not a muslim myself so I don’t go with them at the Mosque, but I could have a meditation break instead.
For the exact same goal of moving your body: drink water. Water is 70% of your body and it facilitates blood circulation. I insist, water. You know the biggest “cliché” of programmers drinking Coke all day. It’s just a stupid unrealistic choice. You can drink some coke at diner or so. But drink 1L of water per day. Tip: After a big party, when you’re back home, drink 50 cl of water before sleeping. Alcohol dehydrates your body. The brain need a lot of water and your hangover is mostly due to dehydration. I do not encourage you to drink too much alcohol for obvious reason but a party once a month is not bad and I hope you will try drinking a lot of water before sleep.
Seems obvious too. But difficult to achieve every day. We don’t all have a super veggie or organic and cheap restaurant in front of our office. You can try to cook at home and take a lunch-box in the office because you can choose right ingredient and I recommend organic. Yes, it’s expensive, but your body has no price. Having a sane body is a long term investment. Try to reduce your meat consummation because meat is hard to digest for your stomach. Eating to much at lunch will kill you for the afternoon. Your body will be focus on your stomach instead of your brain. If it’s hard for you to cook great things, try some extra alimentary complement. Not chemic but natural and simple ones. For example, spirulina is the biggest concentration of protein, better than meat. I’m vegetarian and I take some extra to be sure I’m ok. I don’t argue that everybody has to be veggie, but I feel super nice. The myth that “vegetarian are vegetables” is wrong (Gladiators were fat vegetarians). I have a strong endurance for runnings, without training so much. I challenge you to run with me 30 min and see how you feel compared to me. I was playing basketball at a national level (not veggie at this time) but I can’t pull up 90 kg. We don’t care. The key is endurance. Good food can help a lot.
A lot of this tips here can apply to others activities than programming. Almost all work in an office with intense use of a computer. If you’re a manager, CEO, CTO or other people that have final words on choices for your employees, please try this method. Buy different material and let them try it. There is no right choice, there are choices made by them.