My Very Own Life Hack
So there I was, sitting in the airport, and I realized I had created my very own life hack.
Once every two to three years, ArcherPoint hosts a companywide event called Fast Forward. During the three days we’re together, we unplug from databases and projects and reconnect with each other. We have sessions about company culture, company changes, and we break out for activities within our own departmental sessions. We spend a great deal of time getting to know each other, which is vital since so many of us work from home and don’t make face-to-face contact with the majority of the company otherwise.
But we actually do more than that. There’s something that happens without planning, and when you least expect it. Free from the monotony of the same-chair-same-desk-same-laptop view of the job, free from the stress of the hours we put in and the issues we solve, we go through a sort of—“detox”—for lack of a better word.
Sitting around the table on the last day, a few of us were talking about vacations, and one of my fellow developers, Michael Heydasch, said to me, “Don’t you find it takes a few days to just download a relax into a vacation?” I confessed that yes, it does, and it’s when I start having dreams again that I realize I’ve finally relaxed. I also told him that I don’t dream often, and really haven’t in a long time. His eyes perked, and he told me something I didn’t know: “Faithie, do you know that dreaming is necessary for your mind to relax?” The light bulb came on! That certainly fit what I’d been going through recently with foggy thoughts and bad memory. Little did I know it was a symptom of a greater problem regarding getting sleep and how much our brains need sleep for learning and creativity (If you’d like more information on dreaming and how sleep affects your brain power, check out the article, Brain Basics: Understanding Sleep).
Flash back to a discussion I had with another one of my fellow developers, Rita DeVrieze, at the conference over lunch. She mentioned that in her home office she has a desk behind her with an assortment of things like buttons, a hot glue gun, paint, and so forth, and she takes a creativity break when she reaches an obstacle. It’s a proven fact that our ability to think is related to having a creative outlet (to learn more, read about the neuroscience of creativity or about how you can find your own creativity in one of Rita’s favorite books on the subject). Considering that developing code is, in fact, a very creative process, I found that intriguing.
I personally keep a wooden basket of twisty toys, crayons, and blocks on my desk. I do this because I found out I was a kinesthetic learner, meaning I have to have motion and touch to allow myself to absorb what I’m hearing or what I’m reading sometimes. You’ll find people like me sitting in meetings clicking the top of an ink pen – unless they have these kinds of quiet things to fiddle with at their disposal. Since the sound of a clicking pen tends to annoy some people (you know who you are!), I just twist my little tangle toys, stack my twist and lock blocks, or color with my crayons during conference calls and meetings so I can keep my focus level up.
Creativity is such an important part of what a developer does, yet we often ignore the fact that our creativity can be diminished by simply doing too much thinking. I confess there are days when by 5 o’clock I have to put thought into it to simply give my full name! I often have dinner sitting in silence and staring out the window just to shut down the neurons that have been feeding processes and database triggers and codeunit calls all day long.
We need sleep with dreams to rejuvenate our minds, and we need creative outlets to use the parts of our brain that help us to think outside the box and take our software application designs to a higher level. For more information on how creativity affects out thinking, check out this TED talk by Elizabeth Gilbert, author of “Eat, Pray, Love.” She talks about the need to unleash your own creative genius, something we all have yet don’t exercise.
Flash forward to the airport. I checked in my bag for the trip home after our company wide meeting. I grabbed a soda, a cup of fries and a handful of ketchup from Boardwalk Burgers in the Atlanta International Airport knowing my next food opportunity wouldn’t be for five more hours. (I do not miss food opportunities!) Sitting at the gate, I was faced with the age old issue of how to eat fries with tiny pouches of ketchup.
If I had to squeeze the pouch onto each fry, that would take time and precision to ensure it didn’t drip on my shirt. If I drizzled it on them in the cup, I’d eventually have it all over my fingers. The napkin was far too thin for something runny like ketchup not to leak through. And, of course, going without ketchup (or salt) is NEVER an option! Suddenly, I felt the bottom of the cup, and I realized I had a very simple solution.
I took the cup of fries out of the bag and emptied the fries down into the bag. Using the lip at the bottom of the cup they were served in, I had the perfect spot to squeeze out the ketchup into something like a mini sauce cup, and dip my fries – without getting it all over my hands. I’d created my very own life hack! My brain was functioning… and functioning creatively!
That night, something else occurred! I DREAMED! For the first time in months, I had a dream. Now, I will not share the dream for fear of the men in white coats coming for a visit, but regardless, I knew my mind had gotten the rest it needed from the stress of the everyday life of a mother, wife, and software developer.
We are all so intrinsically different in how we look, walk, talk, and think. But we are all bound by the fact that we have our limits. The average human only uses 10% of their brain. Geez, I don’t know about you, but if I’m going to pack this mass around in my head like excess baggage and have it show up on the scales, I want to make the most of it! After all…it’s my money maker, baby! As a developer, I think for a living!
Flashback (again) to the first day of this year’s Fast Forward conference: I was honored to be awarded the company’s first “Delighting Clients” award, which represents one of ArcherPoint’s core values. I was humbled looking around the room at the faces of our company because it was awarded to me by my peers, a group of people I highly respect for their creativity, wonderful personalities, and unique abilities. When I accepted the award, our CEO, Greg Kaupp, asked me to say something to the group. GULP! I was not prepared! But what I did say remains true. I am a product of the team of great people I work with. The realization I had of why I had just created my little ketchup cup life hack was due to what Michael and Rita had told me just in a passing moment of conversation. Sometimes we grow from each other without even recognizing it.
Fellow developers, take some time to detox, unplug from the desktop, walk away from the glare of the monitors. You just might find that when you return, you are better equipped to do the job you are tasked to do. Dreams return, creativity returns, and you just might edge that 10% of brain mass in use to 11%.