While working with my apprentices in our intense 12-week bootcamp, I’ve found that sometimes, they get so wound up in code and the stress of it all that they either need to be pulled aside and told to step away or they’ll crash. Some take that call to step away very well. Others get frustrated at first when I tell them to step away, but then after stepping away for a bit and revisiting things with a fresh mind, things start making sense or the apprentices get quicker to asking for help. And yes, I understand that frustration – “She wants us to step away from this. But we’re just 5 minutes away from a fix. *exasperated sigh*” Famous last words… that very rarely mean it. Eventually, they understand – I’ve been there, and I get it. But when you get too wound up from something, you end up losing sight of the big picture or even the problem that’s being solved. Sometimes, you need to just step away and wind down in order to get a clear view of a solution.
These are some of the ways I wind down from my crazy days – coding marathons, conference overload, or otherwise.
Turning to Music
I have a very musical core – playing instruments (clarinet, double bass, piano, timpani, and other miscellaneous percussion), writing pieces (yay for music theory class), and singing along with the radio. Whether I’m happy or sad, wanting to encourage a mood or steer away from it, music has been an integral part of my being. Channeling old memories, making new memories, my mind is constantly churning when there’s music around. Whether I’m looking to fight through issues by listening to Rob Dougan’s “Furious Angels” album for the billionth time, deal with anger with Green Day’s “Dookie” album, find inner happiness with Owl City
, or work on a tight deadline while listening to Queen & David Bowie’s “Under Pressure (Rah mix)” … these are just some of the many ways I use music to help wind down or at least distract from what’s on my mind.
Lately, I’m winding down with Owl City’s “Hello Seattle”, as I am super excited about an upcoming trip to Seattle to see my MVP family. On my very first trip to Seattle, as the plane was landing, this song kept playing – on my Zune and in my head. I love Owl City’s happy sounding beats, and “Hello Seattle” holds lots of memories for me.
Christopher Tin‘s “Baba Yetu” from Civilization IV also is on my list of songs to wind down. I’ve been a huge fan of Sid Meier’s Civilization games, and this song was a great hit from the game’s soundtrack.
Gaming with Friends
Back in the day, I used to play a lot of online games – Asheron’s Call, Horizons, Fallen Age, EVE Online (fondly remembered as Spreadsheets in Space), and World of Warcraft to name a few of them. These were great outlets for me to wind down, distracted from my day-to-day life and running around in a virtual world with friends. As I’ve gotten busier, I haven’t had time for raiding or other long time commitments in online games. However, when it comes to conferences and winding down after a day of entertaining others and learning things on my own, I find that gaming in person with friends helps me wind down.
One of my favorite games to wind down with is Apples to Apples. I love this game – word association gives me a glimpse at people and how they think. It also taught me that I have some friends who are literalists and others who are more along the lines of sarcastic or ironic. When it comes to my turn on judging combinations, it depends on the cards – there are some “automatic win” cards that some of my friends have figured out, and it gets tough when those get played. I also can go with sarcastic or ironic, depending on my comfort level with those I’m playing with. The more comfortable I am with a group, the more my sarcasm will come out.
For me, gaming is a distraction from whatever wound me up more often than not. This is why I can consider this for winding down.
Throughout my career, I have been in positions where I may not be near windows to the outside. When I’m stressed in those positions, I’ve found that getting outside or at least to a place where I can gaze outside helps. Being in the Cleveland area, I am spoiled by our parks system – the Cleveland Metroparks and its Emerald Necklace offer a lot to discover. Whether I’m walking a trail or exploring a nature center, getting outdoors has been instrumental in resetting me. Working in the Akron area, I’m learning from others that the Summit Metro Parks has a lot to offer as well. Sometimes, a dose of fresh air and a moment away from the digital world is all it takes for me to clear my mind and attack a problem with a new perspective.
Get Out of Your Head
This is something I say a lot to my apprentices. When they are trying to solve problems, I encourage them to tell me their solution in plain English first. If they can’t convey their message in an understandable manner, then I have them do flowcharts and draw out their ideas. Sometimes, we talk through situations to make sure our understandings are on the same page.
For me, blogging is one of my many ways to get out of my head. Writing presentations to eventually submit to conferences is another way for me to get out of my head. Writing reviews – be it of places on Yelp or teas on Steepster – is yet another way of me getting my thoughts out.
If I have a thought pattern that is churning in my head to the point of distraction, I have to write about it to get it out.
When I’m writing, I usually have music to help coax the words out, depending on the topic. Natasha Bedingfield’s “Unwritten” has been a common writing song for me:
Reaching out to “Family”
If I’m on the road and getting wound up, I find that talking with family sometimes helps me wind down. Whether it’s talking over the phone, seeing family over Skype, or just making a video to send to family, these have also helped me to get my nervous energy out and relax again. I use the term family loosely – whether it’s my family by birth, by marriage, or just those of my friends who feel like family members to me, all of those help me to refocus my positive energy and get back into whatever it is I need to do. Sometimes, just taking 5-10 minutes to step away and talk with them is all I need to get moving and back on track.
These are some of the things I turn to when I need to wind down and step away from code.
What do you do? How do you relax?