How to increase productivity and health in daily coding life.
TLDR; If you are daily on your desk for hours, you should consider the following tips for your health and productivity. I am giving you advice on how you should build up an ergonomic setup, implement daily activity breaks, and what kind of physical activities you should consider in what volume.
Disclaimer: This article includes affiliate links and links to Etsy. Marked with a star*.
Health issues like neck pain, back pain, or any sort of pain in your musculoskeletal system is a common phenomenon nowadays. Even more, with the increasing numbers of jobs in the tech industry, because of the rising demand for programmers, analysts, data scientists, and developers. Before the pandemic, this was a problem and now it is even worse. Because home office reduced significantly the amount of movement in our day-to-day work (1), which relates also to significantly more pain in the musculoskeletal system.
“Compared to previous work at the office, 90 (39.1 %) participants reported stronger pain in the lower back, 105 (45.7 %) in the upper back/neck, and 63 (27.2 %) in their hands. Only one third did not report any musculoskeletal problems related to work from home.” (2)
It is also proven that the home office can increase the volume of stress (3).
You think, why should I care?
For your health of course! Below are some important benefits here from betterhealth.vic.gov.au (4). In my experience, you will feel better, stronger, be more motivated and self-confident. Also, if you think it does not matter if I work hard 5 years to be financially free, then I can think about my health. No! The cells in your body do not get younger and if you sleep less and eat badly, it will affect all your life afterward. Chronic diseases do not disappear. Also, back injuries, tinnitus, or other burnout syndromes do not disappear overnight, you will deal with them all your life.
reduce your risk of a heart attack
manage your weight better
have a lower blood cholesterol level
But what do I know about health?
Let me tell you about my background. Before my data analytics/science career, I studied Sport Sciences, Health, and Biomechanics. I already programmed a lot with MATLAB, so shifting to my career path now was easier. But due to my background, I have always tried to stay healthy and fit. I started to implement theoretical concepts for a healthy life in my daily work from 8 to 10 hours working at the desk. So, it was difficult to implement those concepts, because they are theoretical but learned a lot in adapting them to my use case. Maybe, you know some theoretical concepts like, standing up every 10 min, moving your shoulders, and stretching. In reality, this is bullsh*t advice. Sorry my harsh words. Every programmer knows you cannot code properly if you have to interrupt every 10 minutes. But what helps?
I am glad you asked.
What really helps to reduce stress and related musculoskeletal pain!
Please be aware I am not a doctor. In any sort of unknown pain or chronice diseases you should talk about this with a doctor.
1. First step: Your working environment.
Home office or not. Buy yourself or get electrically adjustable desks. If you had in your past a disc prolapse or similar injuries you can ask your health insurance or employer for purchasing one. You might get one. But in my case, I bought mine myself. And it is really helpful and an investment in your health. Ask yourself, do want to be in hospital due to chronic back pain or injuries for months or invest 300 to 500 US $ for this kind of desk? If you think you are doing sports activities 3 to 5 times a week and this is enough, you are wrong. You have to see the volume of sitting concerning your physical activities. Even if you work out 10 hours a week, it is just 25% of your volume of sitting 40 hours a week. I would also recommend two big monitors 27" for a good setup (Link*).
Set it up correctly.
The standing position: You should stand relaxed, in my experience set it to a height, where the monitors are not higher than you are. The elbows should be placed also relaxed on the desk while standing. Below the picture gives you some advice, but do not stand still in this position. Vary with your feet and standing legs. Your body is not a machine.
The sitting position: When sitting, the height should be similar to the standing position. So, the monitors are not higher than you, just below your eyes and the elbows also relaxed on the desk. Also, change your sitting position once in a while, do not sit straight like a machine.
Use it correctly.
Some of them have a timer, you should maybe buy a desk with one. I built up mine with just the electrical adjustable feet which I purchased from Amazon and put a wooden board on the top. Everything is under 250 $ USD.
Link to electrically adjustable feet: https://amzn.to/3vNXFy9*
Set it to 1 or 2 hours, then you will be remembered to change your position from sitting to standing and vice versa. You do not have to stand for 1 or 2 hours straight, if it is too exhausting sit down again. Naturally, after 20 to 30 minutes it is going to be too exhausting and you can sit down and rest. The timer will then remind you to stand up again in the next interval. When you are really in a programming tunnel, may set it to 3 or 4 hours. But more time sitting is unhealthy!
2. Implement short activity breaks for more productivity
When your timer is reminding you to change your position, you can also implement a short activity of a couple of minutes. There are plenty of available exercises you can do, there is not this or these “magic” exercise(s), it matters that you just do one or more regularly. Here are some examples:
- Mobility Exercises: Rotating shoulders and arms, moving head from right to left and left to right, hip rotating, etc… (some more exercises, click here the link)
- Yoga/ Stretching: Hands to Feet, Hip stretching, etc… (For some more exercises, click here the link)
- Walks: just make a short walk around the house or your workplace
- etc …
After a short break with a physical activity, it is proven that your focus and concentration will increase, so it will your performance (5).
3. Workout or do physical activities regulary!
I know it is already a lot of advice. But this is also really important. Physical acitivity is overall important for your health, wellbeing, cardiovascular system, nervous system and immune system. You will be less sick and more productive. Following it is recommended by WHO for adults aged 18–64 years every week (6):
should do at least 150–300 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic physical activity;
or at least 75–150 minutes of vigorous-intensity aerobic physical activity; or an equivalent combination of moderate- and vigorous-intensity activity throughout the week
should also do muscle-strengthening activities at moderate or greater intensity that involve all major muscle groups on 2 or more days a week, as these provide additional health benefits.
I do Crossfit and calisthenics four times a week every 2 hours. But I think a good start would be in my experience:
- 2–3 times a week a physical activity at least 30 minutes long at a moderate intensity like running, cycling, skating, or swimming. Moderate means you should sweat a little and be a little bit exhausted.
- Additionally, you should do a workout with your body weight or weights at least one time a week.
This topic is complex and depends really where you start and how you plan it. Therefore, I created a training plan for beginners in calisthenics: Link to Etsy
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But I can elaborate more in the next article if it is requested. Overall the message is, just better do something than nothing. If you have questions, please get in touch with me via linkedin or my email firstname.lastname@example.org.
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