How I Work in Tech and Stay Sane

Over the past year, I’ve gone from working with my hands building contemporary art shows to full-time screen-based work: coding and creating digital content and working fully-remote. (Here’s how I made that switch…)

It’s been a massive transition that was pretty overwhelming to my nervous system the first couple of months, to be honest. It’s like I’d totally changed my sensory input diet and my brain cells were having a hard time adjusting to the sugar-drenched brain candy of endless Slack notifications, video calls, and Twitter’s new addiction-algorithmed Home timeline.

So…how do I stay sane?

Over the past 6 months I’ve started to pay close attention to how the tech I use affects my mental health and experimenting with different kinds of digital habits. It’s become a little bit of an obsession, mostly because I’ve found that small tweaks to your day can actually have major impact.

Below is an outline of my current sanity-system. It’s always evolving. I may tweak it depending on my moods, some new deep insight I have into how my mind or body works, the weather (no kidding), you name it. But I’ve been practicing most of these habits steadily for at least 6 months now and can definitely confirm that it’s helping me get more done….in less time.

Here are the 9 golden rules I’ve crafted for myself:

  1. Use my phone in grayscale mode to limit notification triggers (instructions for Apple and Android here)
  2. Turn off all notifications on my phone except one messaging platform (for me that’s Signal)
  3. Only use that messaging platform to communicate with people who might need me in an emergency (family members, flatmate, etc.)
  4. Keep all other messaging and social media apps on a separate device (for me that’s an old iPhone)
  5. Leave that evil addiction-trigger device 👿 somewhere out of sight (or at home if you’re back to working at an office) and only check it in the mornings or evenings… It sounds extreme, but I’ve found I actually enjoy my social media time more when it’s a dedicated chunk of time and not a random series of hurried split-second responses scattered throughout my day.
  6. Start my day with zero-distraction Maker’s Hours; i.e. don’t check email or Slack until I’ve put in at least 3 hours of productive deep-work.
  7. Limit meetings to the end of my day. For me this works especially well as I work remotely and most of my colleagues start their workday around my 3pm.
  8. End my day by writing down the things I’ve accomplished and mentally sketching out my next work day (this is the one I probably let slide the most, if I’m honest)
  9. Do some strenuous physical activity (for me that’s strength yoga, running or kickboxing) at some point during my day. Ideal moments for me are either around lunchtime or before dinner.

But it’s not a perfect world. I still struggle with:

  • Taking enough regular breaks. I can really get sucked into a vortex of coding and endlessly opening up new tabs for smart-sounding tangential ideas I’m getting as I work…and totally lose track of time and my body signals like hunger or fatigue. I’ll feel great while I’m doing it but only realise how over-triggered I am once I step back from the screen by which time it’s often too late. I’ve tried using pomodoro timers to help with this but find the 25-minute time-slot too short for deep work. Suggestions?
  • Winding down after doing work in the evenings. I find that when I do work after dinner it almost always negatively affects my ability to tune out and my sleep that day. Which is frustrating because evenings can be great for creative projects, like this blog (it’s 3:17am… 🦉). Going for a run or doing some intensive yoga sometimes helps, but sometimes also just gets me more

I’m curious if this resonates with people and what other digital health hacks are out there that I could add to my repertoire.

What works for you?

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