The Work Environment
Frequently overlooked, the physical work environment can make or break one’s efforts, and is just as important as hardware, software, training, and skills. What most people nowadays call “being busy” is actually nothing but days crammed with endless distractions. Programming requires an environment conducive to long sessions of intense concentration. It’s a lot like writing a book. Every interruption and distraction causes a “brain reboot,” so it’s important to optimize and control the work environment.
- Select the proper room. It should be quiet and secluded. No one can consistently do good work in a noisy, distracting environment. Forget the TV and the music. If the phone rings a lot, turn it off! If you can’t hear yourself breathing, the environment is too loud for effective thinking. If you share the workspace, let be it known that your work requires intense concentration, and that others do not have the right to interrupt unless something is on fire.
- Get a full-sized office desk, a quality office chair, a file cabinet, and proper lighting. You’ll sometimes spend 12 to 18 hours a day there, and any ergonomic problems will strain shoulders and/or eyes and cause a big chronic headache.
- Learn to take frequent, short breaks. Go outside for a few minutes, get some sun, look at distant objects, stretch, then go in and get right back into the same rhythm. Remember the “20-20-20” rule: every 20 minutes, look at something beyond 20 feet for 20 seconds.
- Identify ergonomic problems and correct them. A fully adjustable task chair with arm rests at the right height is very important. Good chairs start at about $300. Most of all, if it doesn’t have about six inches of padding in the seat, keep on looking! Typical 20-inch-wide keyboards cause one to reach too far for the mouse (more on this problem below). Get a compact keyboard, about 12 inches wide. Support the wrists. Mount a padded shelf under the desk as a foot-rest, at the same height as the chair. But beware of so-called “ergonomic” office furniture: like organic veggies, they carry a premium price with little or no demonstrable benefits. Be sure to keep good records and receipts: tax deductions!
- Avoid stimulants and junk food. Eat good food at regular meal times, and not in the office. Don’t snack at the keyboard. Keep water at the desk only in a sealed drinking bottle. The image of the geek clicking away in the dark, rocking out, buried in pizza boxes and cola cans, is a stupid TV myth. Any work done in such an environment will be garbage.
- If you use optical correction, make sure to get exactly the right diopter to focus the monitor at 18-20 inches. Block any windows that cause glare on the monitor. Indirect, full-spectrum lighting seems to work best when placed directly over and well above the monitor.
- Keep the desk clean and the office well organized. A cluttered desk makes a cluttered mind, which makes cluttered work. Shelves and other office organizers are relatively cheap.
Following the above guidelines will allow one to create better work, with less errors, in less time, and in greater comfort. A nice office also makes a favorable impression on clients.