Tag Archives: learning

4 Workplace Strategies to Increase Your Mental Wellness

Hey all, Will here. I’m going to try something new and host a couple of guest posts on a topic that is often overlooked on software development teams: workplace health and wellness. The amazing Cayleigh Stickler graciously wrote these last Fall, and I’ll be sharing them with you here during the deep winter of February.

I cheated and have been following some of this advice since I got the articles. Now you can too. Enjoy!

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Stress and work may feel like they go hand-in-hand. After all, there are project deadlines, pressures to come up with creative ideas, and collaborating with coworkers—not to mention handling customer service issues and complaints. It can feel overwhelming, but before you rethink your career choice, consider how improving your mental health will also improve your work life.

Strategy 1: Recognize the Risk Factors of Workplace Stress

It’s easy to confuse workplace pressure with workplace stress. Pressure is normal in any job. It’s what drives us to meet deadlines and perform well.

Workplace stress, on the other hand, can be debilitating and affect our physical health if left unchecked for too long.

workplace stress.jpeg

The World Health Organization (WHO) outlined several risks factors for occupational stress, such as:

  • Low levels of reward for jobs
  • Unclear direction/instructions for projects
  • Little support from managers and colleagues
  • Lack of control in projects
  • Performing tasks that aren’t matched with skills

The key in this is communication with your superiors and colleagues. It can take practice asking for what you need, so start small. Take one thing that’s stressing you out and start there. Once you become comfortable stating your needs, you can speak up more often before it becomes a problem.

Strategy 2: Go the Distance

Remember when the mantra was to get at least thirty minutes of exercise a day to stay healthy? That’s now being shown it isn’t the whole story. Those of us who have sedentary jobs are still at an increased risk of premature death and other health complications like heart disease—even if we exercise regularly.

Instead of throwing in the towel and skipping the gym altogether, find ways throughout the work day to stand up and move around. Setting small breaks throughout the day, in combination with regular physical exercise, can be enough to counteract the fact we need to sit down for long periods of time.

Every hour, you should get up at least once for five minutes. This will not only help your physical health, but it’ll help you refocus and give your brain a break for a few minutes so you can come back to your task with a fresh mind.

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Here are some ways you can get up to move around:

  • Send your print jobs to a printer further from your desk
  • Take a water or coffee break—and stand while you’re drinking
  • Talk to a colleague face-to-face instead of sending an email
  • Take a lap around the office

Some of these techniques work in multiple ways. If you walk to talk to a colleague in person, you’re not only forced to get up, but you’re strengthening an interpersonal connection.

Strategy 3: Start Small and Build Up

Wellness is a choice, but it also comes from the types of habits we choose. Habits are ingrained in us, so you might not know what types of work habits you have until you sit down and take an inventory.

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For the next week, keep a notepad and pen next to you and jot down what you do throughout the day and when you do it. After the week is finished, evaluate and find any common patterns. Find the stuff you want to change (like checking your email a hundred times in an eight-hour work day), but also find the stuff you want to keep doing.

Here are more ways starting small habits to make large changes can work for you:

  • Create a routine and choose which habits would be best for the morning, afternoon, and before you leave for the day
  • Choose tiny habits that challenge you and make you happy
  • Be intentional about your new habits by habit stacking—linking your new habit to an existing habit, such as drinking your morning coffee

When you feel more in control of your day and the flow of your work zone, you’ll feel more empowered and confident.

Strategy 4: Take an Inventory of Your Sensory Input

Sometimes there really is just too much on our plates, and we have to power through. If you can’t manage a five-minute break to release some stress, here’s a thirty-second technique that helps bring you back to the present and out of your spinning mind.

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It’s called grounding. Simply take a deep breath and inventory of all the sensory input you’re currently receiving, then work on decreasing the stress in your body. The stress in your mind will follow, and you’ll have a clearer focus on your task.

  • Touch: How does your back feel against your chair? Your fingers on the keys? Your feet on the floor?

  • Sound: What noises do you hear? Click-clacking of keys? Laughter from the break room? Whispers in a neighboring cubicle? Your racing heartbeat?

  • Sight: What do you see? Your computer? Cluttered notes on your desk? Motivational Post-It note or poster on your wall?

  • Smell: What do you smell? Burning popcorn? Coffee? Someone’s tuna sandwich from lunch?

  • Taste: What do you taste? Mint from a stick of gum? Lingering aftertaste of coffee? Do you have dry mouth and need a drink of water?

The goal is to jump off the hamster wheel in our mind and come to the present moment. Mindfulness practices like this one are good anytime, but they’re especially effective when you’re stressed. If you make mindfulness one of your new habits, you’ll be able to reach for this tool when you need it the most.

Working on mental health shouldn’t be something you do when you’re already at the edge. It’s something that can and should be worked on every day. At work, we might not have time to do an hour-long yoga routine, but there are strategies we can take advantage of to help keep us clear-headed, motivated, and confident in ourselves and our work.

What are some strategies you use to increase your mental wellness throughout the day?

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Cayleigh Stickler is a single mom of two toddlers who wears many hats as a content marketer, fiction editor, and mountain adventurer. She loves using her psychology degree and passion for holistic wellness to inspire and help people define what healthy means to them. When she isn’t wrangling her two toddlers, she is available for writing services.

Why Should You Prepare Lightning Talks and Wildfire Talks?

I can hear you now: “Isn’t it sufficient to have talks? Why define special types?”

“Why prepare ANY talk?”

“Ugh!”

Well, I’ll tell you, but first a touch of background.

It was probably five years ago when I discovered the concept of a Lightning Talk during a Utah Software Craftsmanship meetup. Some research tells me the idea has been around in some form or another since 1997 (Wikipedia).  I think Lightning Talks are great for a variety of reasons, but they don’t fit every situation.

During a retrospective of a couple of different Lightning Talk sessions we held at HealthEquity, feedback came up that some of the topics could have used expanded time and attention. We came up with a concept that, while also not new, we dubbed Wildfire Talks. Wildfire Talks are equivalent to a TED Talk in many ways. They deliver a short, poignant message and should meet the same criteria of a TED Talk, but aren’t branded and are usually only given in person.

You may have guessed, one of our goals in technology at HealthEquity is to develop leaders. We consider our senior individual contributors to be leaders in their own right. Public speaking and the art of persuasion is part of the gig in leadership, so we use these types of talks as an easy entry point to help folks learn.

Lightning Talks

If you aren’t familiar with Lightning Talks, they normally aren’t planned and scheduled. They are five-minute talks, and they are sometimes added to an existing meeting or meetup. I’ve also facilitated sessions composed entirely of Lightning Talks.

In both cases, every presenter for the session is already a member of the audience/meeting.

How does the audience benefit? I’m glad you asked! The format lends itself nicely to helping folks get exposure to a wide variety of interesting information in a quick format themed around a shared interest.

What I love most about Lightning Talks is the no-pressure approach to introducing people to public speaking. For someone who is nervous, five minutes is often long enough for the jitters to subside. They are also informal, so presenters can experiment with presentation techniques and find the methods they prefer.

The facilitator can smooth the way for Lightning Talks during your gathering.

To begin, set expectations for the audience by announcing you will open the floor up in increments of 5 minutes.

Audience Requirements for Lightning Talks

  1. Volunteer to speak.
  2. Applaud after every talk.

Folks volunteer (an important distinction for Lightning Talks) to talk about something within the bounds of a guiding statement the facilitator provides. An example guiding statement could be: “All talks should be related to new developments in technology released in the past ten years”. With the above guiding statement, talks could be about 3D Printing, Internet of Things, your favorite development tool, a cool new piece of hardware, how Bitcoin works, a new programming language, etc.

Presenter Requirements for Lightning Talks

  1. Introduce yourself.
  2. Stay on topic within the guiding statement.
  3. Slides/screen sharing is optional (and should only be used as punctuation).
  4. Gracefully end after 5 minutes including Q&A (signaled by the facilitator).

Optional

You can ask for audience ratings/comments (stickie notes work well for this) for presenters who would like them. It’s an excellent opportunity to get some feedback for those who want it, but don’t collect the data if the presenter isn’t interested.

 

TRANSITION

Wildfire Talks (or TED Talks)

Wildfire Talks are the evolutionary step from Lightning Talks toward a full 45-55 minute talk. In contrast to what we sometimes see from longer form talks, the intent is really to make one point and make it well.

A good rule of thumb is to follow the advice of Talk Like TED by Carmine Gallo: focus on delivering something emotional, novel, and memorable wrapped in a clear beginning and end.

Unlike with Lightning Talks, Wildfire Talk presenters are asked to speak in advance. Each talk is approximately fifteen minutes, and although some people can get up and wing it for that amount of time, they would often be even better with a little preparation. When a facilitator selects Wildfire Talk presenters, they will want to choose people who’ve already mastered the Lightning Talk format.

Wildfire Talks can add detail and are often a more useful tool to convince people to consider something they might have been on the fence about before. Slides and screen sharing remain optional, but if you do use them, make sure their purpose is to give the presentation pop and drama, not as a checklist of things to present.

As a facilitator, if you are organizing a series of Wildfire Talks, consider narrowing the focus more than you would for a session of Lightning Talks. In four fifteen-minute sessions, you could have talks about:

  1. .NET is the Premier Open Source Framework
  2. Why are Some Development Shops Switching to F#
  3. Best New Features of C#
  4. Strategies for Writing Threadsafe Modern OOP Code in .NET.

Presenter Requirements for Wildfire Talks

  1. Introduce yourself including your qualifications to speak on the topic you’ve chosen.
  2. Stick to the single topic, don’t stray off course.
  3. Keep slides minimal and relevant.
  4. Stick to the 15-minute timeframe. The facilitator will keep time and give notice.
  5. Say what you’re going to say, say it, and say what you said (summarize, explain, summarize).

The audience must clap (they’ll want to).

I hope this is helpful. Five years ago, I wouldn’t have been able to guess what a Lightning Talk was if you’d asked me. After giving a few of them, I had more experience in front of technical crowds and was able to see some patterns in my presentation style that worked well (and some that didn’t).

The Wildfire Talk concept was born of retrospective feedback after I facilitated an hour-long session of Lightning Talks at HealthEquity. I believe the benefit here, is focused learning for both the audience and the presenter. It still isn’t a huge time commitment, but the presenter can focus on getting better at delivery of content, and the audience gets the additional info they craved after a lightning talk on the same topic.

I hope you’ll take the opportunity to practice presenting.  Public speaking has been called one of the biggest fears of humankind. Take the small steps of learning to present Lightning Talks and Wildfire Talks, and you’ll gain competence much faster than you think.

Now. Keep your best talks on standby so you can trot them out the next time someone asks for speaking volunteers. You’ll be glad you did. You’ll spread learning about a topic you believe in. You leader, you.


Kata Cups: Solving Kata Problems Since 2014

First: credit for this concept goes 100% to Llewellyn Falco. I was running one of my favorite Javascript coding exercises in 2014ish at a Utah Software Craftsmanship meetup, and Llewellyn not only showed up, but he also solved the problem I was having with my presentation style.

The Problem

Who’s run a guided code kata for more than three people?

Need a definition for a guided code kata? Start here, then add the idea of one person either displaying steps to follow and/or performing the steps on a large screen in front of several people. Guided katas are commonly performed at user groups, lunch learnings, or at a local coding dojo meetup.

Back to my original question: who’s run a guided kata for more than three people?

Still reading? Then you probably relate to the problem. The problem is:  how can you tell when a reasonable percentage (or 100%) of the room is ready for the next step?

In my case, I was leading a guided kata for a room of around thirty people. Even with about half the room doing the exercise in pairs, I was spending a lot of time asking, “Who needs more time?”.

The Solution (hint: it’s kata cups)

Cut a notch in two sides of some paper cups, and ask people to put them on their laptop screens when they finish the current step of the kata. When a significant agreed upon group of folks are ready, call out “Cups down!” and move on to the next step.

Simple.

When you don’t have any cups handy, try having everyone fix a sticky note to the top of their laptop. Post-its work in a pinch, but the cups are more reliable– and fun.

The use of kata cups has spread throughout the office at work. It’s fun to see something so simple aid in the success of a lean-agile culture. So many things we do are about visibility and collaboration and finding the right solution just-in-time. Kata cups are no exception.

Legacy Code Kata v3.0

You’ve been patient. Some of you have been patient. Last week on Thursday night, I presented Legacy Dependency Kata v2.2 at the SLC .NET User Group Meetup. You’ll notice the name change since then.

But wait– don’t know what a code kata is? Start here.

I’d like to give a quick thank you to the crowd that night and the one the day before at HealthEquity during one of our Lunch Learning sessions. You all are fantastic. Thanks for the great feedback!

What’s different? Not much, to be honest. Also, in some ways, a lot. But what I realized as I was going through the slides one final time, was this: this IS a major revision. I just didn’t realize it while going through all the multiple iterative changes.

What hasn’t changed? Legacy Code Kata 3.0 is still a code kata about dealing with dependencies in legacy code and getting it ready for unit testing. It still uses the same seed code as previous versions, and you can find that here on GitHub.

Changelog

So, what makes this version so great? Let me lay it out for you:

  1. Lost the lame presentation theme. I thought I accomplished this with v2.0. NOPE. You’re welcome.
  2. The intro slides have been honed down to only those 100% essential, and they were also prettied up, and some new notes added.
  3. Added the Kata Barometer (patent pending (not actually (maybe))). At any time you always know what state your tests and build should be in.
  4. Broke up quite a few slides that were too complicated and/or the font was too small to read effectively. Much more Kata Cup friendly now. What’s a Kata Cup? Maybe in a future post. Stop changing the subject!

If you want to see for yourself why this version is so much better, check out the old versions: Version 1.0 or Version 2.0.

Here it is.

Learn Like A Viking

My friend Ron Coulson (who I’ve known practically forever) has challenged himself to write a poem a day this year. He is well underway. This is #63 of 366, because, you know, leap year.

I’ll be the first to admit I’m no poet, but the subject matter here is near and dear to me — learning! I also enjoy a good metaphor and the Viking theme here is vivid and wonderful. Overall, it struck me as fantastic and I thought I’d like to share it with you all. Ron generously agreed. I hope you enjoy it as much as I did!

drinking-horn

Untitled

Let us devour knowledge in a way
That would make vikings cringe
Let’s gorge ourselves until we
Vomit certainties no one can dispute
Let truths drip from our chins
As the spittle of enlightenment
Lands in our opponents eyes
Raise your mugs, my friends
Then chug down life’s lessons
Until we are drunken sages
Then sleep
Then do it all again

-Ron Coulson (2016)

If these words have inspired you to learn, check out the new page I’ve added to the blog where I’m attempting to keep track of some of the best coding katas. Try one out. Let me know if you have favorite katas you’d like to see there.