By October 13, 2017

9 Office Gadgets to Get Developers Through the Day

Being tied to the same team and the same desk day in, day out, presents a number of challenges for programmers and software developers.

The pressure of deadlines, the close proximity to other humans, the monotonous routine, and a chronic lack of exercise can add up to an environment that is less than ideal for maintaining a sound mind and healthy body.

If you're feeling under pressure, bored, physically unhealthy, or all three, consider splashing out on some novelty office gadgets, specifically chosen to help get programmers and developers improve their day-to-day routine.

Gadgets for Convenience

I'll start with some gadgets specifically designed to save time, both at work and outside of the office. Every minute saved means more time to focus on that complex piece of code that's been bugging you.

If there's one thing that impacts how much time we need to accomplish a task, it's the need to deliberate before taking any sort of action. Think about it. If only a fellow programmer could design an algorithm to save us all the pain of making decisions — how much quicker and easier would life be?

One of the reasons humans are so inefficient compared to computers is because we have a fundamental flaw in our decision-making processes: we get bogged down in the alternatives.

Even the seemingly trivial decision about what to have for lunch can test our processing power as programmers. You really want that burger and fries, but you had that yesterday, so a healthy salad would be more sensible. But then the salad bar is across the road, and there's a thunderstorm outside. The cafeteria is closer and the vending machine nearer still, but if you don't leave soon you know that everything but egg mayo will be sold out — arrgh!

The good news is that programmers and developers are spoilt for choice when it comes to decision-making gadgets. From medallions for those binary “yes-no” dilemmas, to spinners highlighting six, seven, eight, or more options, the chronically indecisive can now replace thinking with anything from spinning a wheel and rolling dice to swinging a pendulum or throwing darts.

And yes, there is even a decision-maker that will choose your lunch for you!

Of course, many decisions you make do require thought, but by delegating the banal, trivial ones to a gadget, you have more time to spend on the important things, like ensuring your code is as optimised as possible.

But at least decision-making usually has a point to it. When it comes to tasks that are both time-consuming and pointless, finding lost objects has to be at the top of the list. I know it's a techie stereotype, but if you are the type of absent-minded person who is constantly running out of the door late because you have misplaced your keys, cell phone, office pass, or children, then a wireless object tracker should be a priority.

Most versions use radio frequency technology with a central transmitting unit and several individual receivers that can be attached to practically anything you might need to track down.

Spending less time frantically looking for your car keys will allow you to arrive in the office early and with your thoughts organized, which will help you to become a more effective employee. It will also make you feel more relaxed and happy in yourself.

What about the inevitable distractions that crop up to pull even the most diligent programmer from their monitor? If the boss is constantly glaring at you for turning to converse with your garrulous colleague or you get home from work with repetitive strain injury from twisting your neck around a hundred times a day, then there's a gadget that can help.

Fitting a set of rear-view mirrors to your computer monitor is perfect for improving multi-tasking. It will mean you can talk to your teammates without turning around, ensuring you come across as supremely task-focused. That is bound to impress the boss! You will still be able to maintain social contact with your colleagues, of course, but you won't be wasting quite so much time, because you will be working and talking at the same time.

So, you are now the model programmer: first at your desk in the mornings, confident and decisive, and with your eyes always on the screen — what now? Having streamlined your day so effectively with convenience gadgets, you will probably find yourself with some extra time on your hands.

Gadgets for Stimulation

A programmer’s mind is always active. Whether choosing between coding languages, tussling with bugs, or coming up with innovative solutions to intractable problems, the wheels are constantly in motion. So when programmers do get downtime, the lack of stimulation can be a problem.

To avoid becoming bored, make sure you have a couple of stimulating gadgets within easy reach. There are plenty of desktop puzzles to choose from, each one stimulating a different set of mental skills. Try building an awesome sculpture from magnetic balls, freeing a spiky ball from its cage, or solving one of the many Rubiks cube-style puzzles.

In contrast, some developers prefer to give their gray matter some rest and recuperation time. A mini arcade machine can take a programmer's mind off an intractable algorithmic problem. From miniature “shoot and score” arcade ball machines and retro hand-held consoles, up to multi-game versions of classic arcade machines, your choices are limited only by your budget.

By the time you're back in work mode, your mind will be refreshed and ready to crunch those numbers again. You might even get a flash of insight due to the unconscious processing that goes on in the background while the conscious mind is occupied.

These gadgets are not just fun for fun's sake. They can help programmers to manage their mental resources, maximizing their effectiveness as coders and logical thinkers.

We've taken care of some of the mind side of things with the gadgets mentioned so far, but the body also needs some stimulation.

Gadgets for Health and Exercise

The next set of desktop gadgets tackle two of the developer's biggest challenges — keeping physically healthy, and dealing effectively with physical and mental stress.

Unlike some occupations, where the mind is allowed to wander while the body works, programming and software development requires an “always on” mindset, which can make it difficult for programmers to let go and wind down.

This situation is made worse if the physical body is under-exercised — which it often is in this profession — since physical movement is one of the best ways to burn off excess energy and act on stress hormones such as cortisone and epinephrine.

Whether your role is in software development, system design, or IT consulting, there is one thing that remains constant. No matter how patient and philosophical your nature, one day something is going to happen that is going to make you want to hit something — or somebody. This article on handling difficult clients gives some examples of the stress caused by demanding and downright nasty clients.

When that day comes, a desktop punch bag could literally be a career-saver. If you're not much of a puncher, perhaps spinning a fidget spinner or squeezing the life out of an emoji stress ball or a lump of memory foam might calm you down. These objects provide a means of instant energy release when it is impractical to run around the block.

A sedentary occupation such as programming raises the risk of obesity and other health conditions such as deep vein thrombosis. During your downtime, you can try and fit in some exercise. However, programmers are often bound to tight deadlines, and it can be simply impractical to get up and leave the building in the middle of a build.

Standing desks are an alternative to walking around the block for desk-bound developers. If you can sell that idea to your employers, then you might try stretching the boundaries and requesting a treadmill desk. Most retail around the $2,000 to $4,000 dollar mark, so you might need to propose some kind of hot desk arrangement if you don't want to be laughed out of the building!

If you can’t convince your company of the many health and productivity benefits of a standing or treadmill desk, then you might have to settle for a Sitting Walker. A Sitting Walker is a gadget which fits under your desk and features spring-loaded pedals. As you work you can also “walk” by pushing the pedals alternately. At less than 10 dollars, it won't put you out of pocket, and you can get your exercise hours in during the working day.

Finally, don't forget that one organ developers and programmers tend to put more stress on than others: the eye. Staring at a flat screen for hours on end is a recipe for eye strain, and it can take a lot of discipline to take the recommended breaks.

There's also evidence to suggest that excessive light from the blue end of the spectrum can keep screen-gazers up at night, which affects sleep and overall health. E Ink monitors are one way to solve that problem. The display mimics the appearance of ink on paper, much like the screen of an e-reader device, removing much of the strain caused by looking at a bright screen for prolonged periods.

Alternatively, there are apps such as SunsetScreen, Redshift, and G.Lux which can automatically start fading the blue hues out of your screen color temperature as nighttime approaches.

By being kinder to your eyes and respectful of your body's need for sleep and exercise, you will be a calmer, healthier, and more effective employee.

It All Comes Down to a Better Work Routine

Of course, most programmers would agree that there is no such thing as too many gadgets, but even incorporating just one example from each of the three categories above should save you time, while keeping you physically and mentally stimulated.

The mind and body are interrelated, and the healthier they are, the better you will feel and the less likely you will be to suffer from burnout. You will also become a much more productive employee. Being healthier and more productive will in turn enhance your career prospects, as employers recognise your physical resilience and mental strength.

About the author

Brent Whitfield

Brent Whitfield is the CEO of DCG Technical Solutions Inc. DCG provides specialist advice and IT Services Los Angeles area businesses need to remain competitive and productive, while being sensitive to limited IT budgets. Brent has been featured in Fast Company, CNBC, Network Computing, Reuters and Yahoo Business. DCG was recognized among the Top 10 Fastest Growing MSPs in North America by MSP mentor. You can follow him on Twitter at @DCGCloud.