We consider ourselves tech savvy. If you are reading this blog, you probably do too. And like us, you probably expect that computers are just supposed to work for you. However, in my experience, this close relationship we share with our machines just expands the realm of possible annoyances we encounter. Here are some easy ways to help you improve your relationship with the most important piece of equipment in your working life.
Whether you're trying to debug a difficult defect or are reviewing a tangled pull request or are trying to figure out why your local development environment is mysteriously broken—there's plenty of opportunity to get frustrated. But, being frustrated doesn't help fix the problem, and it can lead you into a miserable downward spiral.
It makes it hard to remember that you're in control here—not the problem or your computer.
I've found a few simple pleasures that make working on my computer more enjoyable. They're little daily improvements that help make me a better friend to my laptop. Maybe something on my list below will help you create your own little oasis of calm on your computer.
And if harmonious bliss is unattainable for you - one or two of these items might keep you from turning on "Still" by Geto Boys and taking your laptop out to the field and demolishing it with a baseball bat.
Note: Some of these are Mac specific. If you have the Windows equivalent for any of these tasks, please share them on Twitter and I'll add them to the list
1. Start each day with a completely clean desktop
When I open my laptop in the morning there are no open programs or tasks left over from yesterday: no half written emails, partially outlined technical documents, or any open terminals awaiting me. It's a clean slate for me to begin working on. I get to decide what I want to be working on—it isn't dictated by what my previous tasks were. It's an immensely refreshing way to start the day.
Tip: Use Alfred 3 to automate this task. I have a simple command built for closing all open apps with a single command. It appears that the Windows alternative to this is a project called Wox but I can't vouch for its quality having never used it.
2. Minimize and remove all applications from your dock
I use roughly a billion applications in any week, but I don't need them to always be in front of me. Keeping the dock minimized and empty helps me focus on the task at hand and helps to keep me from thinking about the next one.
3. Remove unnecessary notifications
Technology, in general, has become really, really good at getting your attention. Notifications, badges, alerts, pings, pokes, etc.—all are designed to distract and hold your attention. I read this wonderful post recently about how to make your phone more of a tool than an entertainment device (see here). Implementing its suggestions were incredibly freeing. I took similar principles and applied them to my computer. There are now very few applications that have the ability to send me an unwanted notification, alert me via a badge, or otherwise distract me from my tasks at hand.
4. Noise-canceling bliss
Many places I work have lots of background noise. To combat that, I take a huge amount of pleasure in using my noise canceling headphones. There are a few great options out there but the consensus seems to be that the Sony and Bose options are the best for their price point. I bought the Bose and they're magic - easiy the best purchase I've made in the past year. Worth the money as they bring daily joy to my life.
I regularly pair my noise-canceling headphones with light music and ambient background noise from a tool like Noizio. No matter what environment I am in, I have an acoustic atmosphere in my head. That's huge for me - it helps me stay on course and get more done. It doesn't matter how loudly my neighbor is talking - I'm not there to listen.
5. Work with a Pomodoro timer
Twenty-five minutes of work, 5 minute break, 25 minutes of work, 5 minute break, 25 minutes work, longer than 5 minute break. That's the Pomodoro technique. It helps me focus on specific tasks and avoid burning out on hard tasks. Do I always stick to it. No! Damn that would be hard with all the things that pop up in the day and me being a human and all—but it does help as a structure for moving quickly and efficiently through work. Adding in breaks—even ones I don't feel I need—helps to keep me fresh and less likely to get frustrated with my computer when something ends up being annoying. It’s the computer implementation of the famous Navy SEAL saying "Slow is smooth, and smooth is fast".
6. Consume high quality content druing breaks
Typical locations for breaks on the web —Reddit, YouTube, Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, New York Times or equivalents—are built to pull you away continually from your task at hand. There's always something new that threatens to suck you in deeper and derail your productivity. If it’s a particularly compelling or frustrating news event, it can really affect the way you're feeling going back to the job at hand. Instead, I read articles from some of my favorite non-news blogs, take a quick walk, do some air-squats, or grab a coffee.
7. Movement during the day
I've found a direct correlation between how long I've been in my computer chair and how likely I am to get frustrated with something happening on the computer. Get up and move. Take a walk. Do some air-squats or jumping-jacks. Invest in a standing desk. (They're not as expensive as you think.)
8. Drink really, really good coffee
Good coffee makes the rest of the day easier and you more sanguine about the BS that will pop up on your computer. Support a local coffee shop, create the perfect coffee drawer at your office, or upgrade your home coffee setup to pump out thoroughly enjoyable joe.