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Treating Your Brain as More Than a Machine

Published 1/23/2019

We've talked about how treating yourself like a machine and others around you like a machine is a bad idea. Today, we're talking about our missed opportunities. More importantly those moments we chose not to take in order to take care of ourselves.

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Transcript (Generated by OpenAI Whisper)
We've talked about how treating yourself like a machine is probably a bad idea. Certainly treating others like machines typically yields poor results. This is true for management especially if you're in some kind of leadership position and you're trying to utilize your workers in the same way that you would utilize a factory machine then your workers are going to generally become burnt out. And it's not just because of the amount of work. In fact, sometimes you can see two teams spending the same amount of time and one team is becoming burnt out and the other one's not. And a lot of it comes from that approach. In today's episode I want to talk about our missed opportunities. These missed opportunities are moments to take care of ourselves that we typically end up skipping over. My name is Jonathan Cutrell you're listening to Developer Tea and my goal on this show is to help driven developers connect to their career purpose and do better work so they can have a positive influence on the people around them. So I want you to take a moment. Think about how your typical day begins. Do you roll over and silence on alarm clock two or three times? That's a pretty common habit. Then you pick up the same phone that acts as your alarm clock and you make sure that all of those notifications that are sitting on your phone are indeed not urgent. This takes a little bit of mental energy. You have to go through all of them. Read the text messages that came in from coworkers, maybe their Slack messages. Then you open your email and certainly you have some newsletters that have come in. Maybe you archive them or maybe you're like me and you let them sit for too long in your inbox unread. You start adding to your mental clutter from the moment you wake up. First of the time before you're even out of bed, your routine picks you up and carries you somehow sleepy because you stayed up too late the night before most likely to the closet where you pick out your clothes for the day and then you have to make a decision about your breakfast. What should you eat when you have time for? Should you just skip breakfast altogether? What will make you feel good? What will make you think well? What is the most convenient thing? You're weighing all of these decisions as you rush out the door to whatever your mode of transportation is to your work or maybe you rush towards your home office if you're working from home. You make it into work and this river that seems to be carrying you down through the time of the day, but keeps on flowing. You open your browser tab, you read some more emails. You read some more Slack messages. Maybe you reply to a few emails. You have some conversation with coworkers that are around. Maybe you have a meeting or two. Before you know it, you're halfway through your day. If you were to take stock of what you had done that day. And particularly what of consequence you had done that day. It might be difficult to write something down. This isn't an episode that's trying to bash you for this problem. It's not trying to tell you to get to work or to focus harder. Instead, I want to talk about ways that we can slow down, take a few moments, and instead of beating ourselves into submission to try to get more work done, we can take care of the one thing that is really crucial to our work in the first place, our brains. And it's not just taking care of our brains. It's preparing our brains. Treating them as a participant in this day that we're going to rely on our brains. So instead of throwing ourselves into the river of the day and washing downhill and before our mind really wakes up, it seems to be mid afternoon. Can we escape this never-ending river? We're going to talk about that in just a moment right after we talk about today's sponsor, Cintry. Speaking of never-ending rivers, you probably have problems in your code. Not only do you have problems in your code, but you probably have a seemingly-never-ending river of problems. And if you're like most people, you're finding out about these errors, but unfortunately, too late. You've already paid for them in some way. Maybe an angry customer has told you about it, and you've lost that customer, or maybe even worse. A bunch of customers didn't tell you about it, and they left without telling you anything at all. Cintry helps you identify these problems before those customers do. Because relying on customers to report errors is really kind of a bad idea, and it's bad for business. It's bad for the customer. Ideally this would be solved easily, but just having good tests, right? This is something that we as developers know we're supposed to have good tests, but even with good tests, you just can't cover every scenario. You're never going to be able to predict all of the different ways that a user is going to interact with your product. Like most things solving this problem is complex. And you should have more than one strategy for dealing with errors, for trying to reduce the errors in your code. Cintry tells you about errors in your code before those customers have a chance to encounter them, and before, therefore, they decide to leave. CUE Cintry at Clearbit, and this actually works as a great kind of always available backlog. In between the tasks that you have, or maybe you have finished something that you were intending to do, and you have a few hours left, but in order to move on to something else, you really need to collaborate with other team members. You can always go and look at Cintry and pick something that is a nagging error, something that has been around for a while, maybe, or maybe it's a brand new error, and go and investigate it. And the thing is, Cintry provides you all the tools that you need to be able to do just that. And in fact, not only do you get the tools to look at things like the stack trace, but you can also look at the commit where the developer who is responsible for whatever the broken code is, you can look at the commit where that code came from. So now you can go and ask them, hey, why did you make this particular decision and get more context around that problem? Go and check it out, Cintry.io. Thank you again to Cintry for sponsoring today's episode of Developer Tea. When we get sick, let's say we get the stomach bug, we take care of that stomach bug. We take time and we change our behaviors, we'll stop working. Part of the reason is because, well, it's seemingly impossible to work when you have a sickness like that. But there's something to be learned in this response, because we do indeed often get better. And our wellness is not a binary switch, and it's also not something that we can depend on to be consistent every day. And so when we treat our brains different from the rest of our body, then we forget something very fundamental about being human. That is, that we go through seasonal changes. We have experiences that change how our brains react to the world, even if they're short term. And it's important that we recognize this, because as developers, we have a tendency to kind of think of our brains, perhaps, like computers. At night, we shut them down for sleep. And in the morning, we assume that, booning that computer back up, there's the same process as the morning before. And our brains will work the same as the day before, and we can rely on them to perform to the same degree every single day. Now in large part, this is true. We don't typically change drastically overnight. We don't lose a lot of our brain power, generally speaking overnight. And so it makes sense, it makes sense that we would be able to solve similar problems to what we solved yesterday. But it's also important that we don't take this for granted, and instead of jumping into our day and expecting our brains to just kind of take care of things, perhaps it would make sense to support our brains by preparing them. By, for example, taking time to think about the day ahead. Now, there's a lot of different forms of this, taking time to visualize your day or even as simple as writing down a to-do list. But instead of jumping into that stream, you're taking a moment to zoom out, to observe, to predict. And it's kind of ironic that you're using your brain during all of this, but you're using it in different ways. Maybe you're forcing a moment of interruption. Instead of going with those simple responses to the stimulus that you have in the morning, for example, instead of looking at all of those emails, you stop for a moment. Perhaps you ask yourself better questions. Instead of defaulting to whatever your habitual behaviors are, you start to engage in intentional behaviors that are not necessarily encoded as habits yet. Instead of jumping into whatever coding problem you're trying to solve, maybe you take a moment to understand how whatever it is that you're building contributes to the bigger picture. And there's a lot of ways to do this, to interrupt this process. One example is the teabrag challenge. We ask you questions and provide a daily soft skills challenge that you're not going to predict. So having this information come to you every day, this is a way to kind of interrupt that thinking flow. Now, of course, this is given via email. So a kind of contradicts our previous idea of not reading your emails, but there are so many other ways that you can do this. And this kind of outlines another point here. That is that there's not really a specific rule. You have to decide what kind of behaviors that you want to engage in so that you trip yourself out of that autopilot mode. This isn't about trying to abstain from particular behaviors. It's not about trying to protect focus necessarily, although you can certainly do that through some of these concepts. But it's more about stepping up out of that river and taking a look at where that river's headed. Taking a moment to look at how those days typically go. And what are the triggers that cause you to end up down the river halfway through the day, not having done anything of consequence? Ultimately, how can you engage your brain in a different way? Instead of viewing it as a machine that you turn on when you wake up and you turn off when you go to bed, a machine that takes input and otherwise stays in standby mode. Perhaps there's a healthier way. Perhaps there's a more creative way or a more inspired way to view your contributions. Maybe there is a way that you can connect to that brain that is not just a computer that you switch on and off. Thank you so much for listening to today's episode of Developer Tea. I hope this was thought provoking and perhaps empowering for you to hear. Thank you again to today's sponsor, Century. You can catch errors before your users do. Head over to Century.io to get started today. Developer Tea is part of the spec network. Head over to spec.fm to find more podcasts and other great content to help you level up as a designer or a developer. Thank you so much for listening to today's episode. Thank you again to Sarah Jackson, the producer and editor of today's episode. Until next time, enjoy your tea.