Our secret is out. A recently published photo revealed it hanging lazily in the corner of our office: a hammock. Why would an office of software development professionals have a hammock in it?
Well the short answer is that it’s always been a dream of 8th Light co-founder Micah Martin to have a hammock in the office. For me, it's an indispensable part of my daily rhythm.
I remember when I started my first internship while in college just how hard it was to stay alert for an 8 hour day. I was reminded of this this summer when I watched the head of one of our interns start to bob and shake at around 2:00 every afternoon.
My solution early in my career was caffeine. That sweet green bubbly nectar of the awake dropped out of the vending machine into my hand each afternoon. I’ve since given up caffeine, and have learned to get adequate sleep.
But there are still some afternoons when everything catches up with me and I just stop making progress. Maybe a particular problem just won't budge, or I have to read some dry documentation.
Whatever it is, my brain just shuts down. I sometimes describe it as a fog. It’s like that feeling just before getting a headache.
Enter the hammock. Instead of just pushing through and making no progress for an hour or more, I go lie down in the hammock. I lie there and focus on my breathing until I just barely fall asleep.
When that first dream sequence starts to roll, I get up, shake out the weariness and start back to work more focused and more alert. I like to call it my personal reboot. Like a sluggish Windows box, I’ll I need is to shut all the way down and then turn back on again.
I’ve heard a story about how Thomas Edison would do a similar thing to refocus himself when he was working. He didn't have a hammock, but he would sit in a comfortable chair with a pile of ball bearings in his hand.
When he would reach that just barley asleep state, his hand would drop, the bearings would fall and wake him back up.
Step Back, Go Around
The hammock to me is also a reminder to slow down. As Bob Martin’s popular mantra goes “The only way to go fast is to go well.” It is also an aid in stepping back from a problem to find that area of minimum resistance. Richard Sennett talks about this idea in “The Craftsman.”
He says that one of the qualities of a craftsmen is finding the most forgiving approach to a problem. That skill requires stepping into and out of detail on a problem.
That is, focussing on the point of tension, but them zooming out to see if going around might be better than going through. A little bit of time in the hammock is great for that.
Many times, I’ve gone to the hammock frustrated with a problem, only to emerge with a completely tangential solution.
It’s a Team Thing
Here is what some of the other craftsmen at 8th Light have to say about the hammock.
“Short cat naps help reset my brain to keep me thinking clearer throughout a long day.” —Paul Pagel
“I often head there at around 3 (which is coffee time at the client office). In addition when I’m stuck on something I’ll try and clear my head in the hammock, when juggling doesn’t work.” —Eric Smith
“After a lunch that was a little too big. A 10 minute hammock-nap gets me back on my feet. In moments of coding frustration, a quick trip to the hammock helps me relax and clear my mind.” —Micah Martin
These guys echo my feelings about the hammock and affirm how giving ourselves the permission to lie down in the middle of the day is beneficial not only to our own health, but also the health or our projects.
It’s one of our practices that helps to keep us delivering great code day after day, week after week, month after month.