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Category Archives: Personal Wellness

Taking care of yourself is an important part of developing professionally. Here are some tips for personal wellness that will improve your IT contracting career as a result.

20 Simple (and mostly free) Ways to Brighten Someone’s Day

20 Simple (and mostly free) Ways to Brighten Someone's DayWe’ve all had terrible days. We’ve also experienced the slightest gesture from somebody else that turned everything around. How many people do you interact with during your workday? Clients, their employees, other IT contractors, recruiters, the list goes on. Wouldn’t it be great if you were that person who turned around somebody else’s terrible day?

Many IT contractors are fortunate to interact with a variety of people, giving you more opportunities to brighten a day, and it doesn’t have to be grand like buying them lunch or delivering a speech filled with compliments. Many quick actions may seem small but, to the person on the receiving end, they are exactly what they needed to push them back to the bright side.

Consider trying any of these, at least once per day:

  1. Smile
  2. Help a busy colleague
  3. Compliment a teammate on their work
  4. Hold the door for somebody
  5. Bake (or bring donuts) for your client’s office
  6. Wish a nice day to a stranger in the elevator
  7. Lend your umbrella (or keep a spare one on-hand for people who forget)
  8. Ask someone about their children/pet/family
  9. Follow-up on a story they told a few days ago
  10. Fill the kettle in the office kitchen
  11. Introduce yourself to the contractor who’s new to the office
  12. Talk to the staffing agency’s receptionist when you arrive for an interview
  13. Send a hand-written thank you note
  14. Reach out to an old colleague just because
  15. Address someone by their name (studies have proven that a person’s own name is the sweetest sound they’ll here)
  16. Show your appreciation for the little things people do
  17. Invite someone you don’t know well to join you for lunch or drinks
  18. Actually listen when others speak
  19. Let someone get in line ahead of you
  20. Be nice and use your manners (it’s amazing how much these are missed in a busy world)

Doing little things to brighten somebody’s day will not only make them happier, but you’ll feel better about yourself as well. And the added bonus, they will remember you in a positive light, and that could come in very handy during your next job search.

“Having a Great Week Does Not Start on Monday… It Starts Sunday Night!”

Sunday night. A night full of great weekend memories (or regret) and next week blues. Everyone’s heart drops at the reminder that in 12 hours they will be in their car, on the bus or on the train commuting to their office. Even if you are going to your dream job, it’s human nature to feel a bit reluctant to be a slave to the office hours.

Things might be stacked against you but if you are able to channel your productivity, there are 5 simple things you can — and should do — every Sunday night to make sure that you start your week on the right foot. Just watch this video from The Art of Improvement.

How Can Technology Help Us Sleep Better

It’s 2 AM and you’re awake although it’s way past your planned bedtime and you need to be up for work in less than six hours. So, why aren’t you sleeping? The reason is probably that you’re on your smartphone or laptop scrolling down on your social media pages or binge-watching a TV show and you can’t stop. If that, in fact, is the case, you shouldn’t worry. It’s happening to a lot of us really. Just in the last several years, around 60% of young people have admitted to having inadequate sleep.

The first notion that you can get from this is that technology is bad for your sleep, but this is not entirely true. Not all technology affects our sleeping patterns in a negative way. Some studies have actually shown that you can use technology to your own advantage, and that tech can be effectively used to help you sleep better. Here’s how.

Snoring

Around 30% of people in the world frequently experience snoring. While this doesn’t affect them much, it does affect other folks in the household, especially spouses whom they are sharing the bed with.

Since snoring usually occurs when we sleep on our backs, gadgets like Philips SmartSleep Snoring device detect this and encourage the user to change position. Other devices of this kind include the Hüpnos Snoring Mask and the Urgonight EEG Headband.

Sleep Apnea

Sleep apnea is also quite common and can be caused by weight, enlarged tonsils, smoking, drinking, and some other factors. Around 20% of people worldwide suffer from obstructive sleep apnea.

Programs like SlumberBUMP try to accustom people to sleep on their sides, which solves this problem to a degree. BiPAP machine is very effective at treating patients with sleep apnea, and you also might want to try Theravent EPAP technology.

Insomnia

Insomnia, which is a medical term for having trouble falling asleep, can have many causes, the most common being physical or emotional discomfort, stress, extreme temperatures, light, and depression. Almost every third person complains about having insomnia.

Some medication can help you fall asleep faster, but there is also all kinds of technology that can work to your advantage. Sleepio is a system that detects your sleeping issues and optimizes your sleep routines. If the source of your insomnia is light, try the biological Good Night LED Bulbs that were originally developed for NASA astronauts.

Narcolepsy

While some people can’t get enough sleep, others get too much of it. Narcolepsy is a disorder of excessive sleep, and while it’s not common, it still affects one in every 2,000 Americans. There are different light gadgets that you can use to alleviate the symptoms of narcolepsy, like LED Skylights, Verilux HappyLight Deluxe, and Day-Light Sky.

Nightmares

We all have bad dreams from time to time, and occasionally we get those awful nightmares that scare us so much that we are afraid to fall back to sleep again. Nightmares can be caused by stress, anxiety, trauma, or other factors. While we cannot really control what we dream about, we can still use tech to avoid nightmares from happening.

One thing called the ReScript Treatment seems to be the most effective. It helps patients have greater control over their visual imagery by implementing the creative use of virtual reality. It’s sort of a training program that teaches you how to change what you see in your sleep to a more pleasing image.

Check out a visual of some solutions below and visit the original page for the complete infographic.

Solve Your Sleep Problems with Technology

Create Your Own Happiness as an Independent Contractor

Create Your Own Happiness as an Independent ContractorGoing into business for yourself and becoming an IT contractor is a no-brainer for many technology professionals. While some take the leap and quickly realize they were happier as an employee, many others love the flexibility, benefits and challenges that come with the independent contracting lifestyle. Regardless of how you’re employed, happiness is in your control and it goes beyond finding the right job with the right company.

Chris Christoff, co-founder of MonsterInsights, recently wrote an article for Inc. where he highlighted the importance of a positive attitude at work. He references a Harvard Medical School study explaining how the right attitude will keep a steady heart rate, reduce stress, and improve your happiness. And most importantly, he notes it is only you who can change your mindset. Christoff provides 4 tips: Practice Gratitude, Help Your Colleagues, Stop Complaining, and Smile Often.

Of course, a positive attitude will be difficult to keep if you dislike your job. As we’ve noted, independent contracting presents an opportunity for IT pros to build work-life balance and that should lead to more happiness. According to this article on FastCompany and written by John Rampton, though, there are 10 myths to Work-Life Balance that set false expectations, stress out entrepreneurs and set you up for failure, inevitably making you resent your career path:

  1. Myth: It’s actually about achieving balance.
    Truth: There’s no such thing as “balance” but instead, it’s integration or Be fulfilled everywhere.
  2. Myth: Life needs to be compartmentalized.
    Truth: It’s not possible to divide everything evenly. Some days have more work, others have more leisure.
  3. Myth: You can have it all.
    Truth: There are always trade-offs and sometimes you have to give something up to have it better somewhere else.
  4. Myth: Time management is the answer.
    Truth: Don’t trust outdated time management tips that say you can go completely off-grid every night.
  5. Myth: Technology will give you more free time.
    Truth: Technology is an assistant, but you still need to put in effort.
  6. Myth: It’s what employees care about most.
    Truth: Those you work with or manage often prioritize meaningful work over the flexibility of their location and hours.
  7. Myth: The early bird catches the worm.
    Truth: Waking up early doesn’t necessarily lead to productivity. And working late isn’t bad either.
  8. Myth: You never have to work during off-hours.
    Truth: IT contractors especially do not have this luxury. If you need to (or want to) be working, then you work.
  9. Myth: The less you work, the happier you’ll be.
    Truth: “It’s not about how many hours you work or do something you love. It’s about the quality of how you’re spending your time.”
  10. Myth: Everything has to be scheduled.
    Truth: Schedule important tasks but leaving gaps in your schedule opens up for flexibility and spontaneity.

Whatever your role, how do you maintain happiness in your work life? Do you agree with the advice provided in the referenced FastCompany and Inc. articles? As usual, we love your feedback, so please share your comments in the section below.

Stop Being So Critical of Others!

Stop Being So Critical of Others!Back in March, self-proclaimed “gameplay engineer & software sorceress” Jessica Baker Tweeted out a comment that went viral: “I wish engineers hyped each other up like artists do, the other day I commented “nice” on someone’s code review and they thought i was sarcastically pointing out a bug.

The UK-based IT professional’s comment resonated with developers around the world, earning hundreds of retweets and thousands of likes. Stack Overflow’s 2018 Developer Survey found that at the beginning of their career, around 40% of developers strongly agree that they think of themselves as competing with peers and that they’re not as good as most peers. While the number drops based on experience, it only goes down to about 20%. It’s safe to say, then, that a good chunk of developers and engineers are in a similar situation to Jessica — working in environments with competition, a need to get ahead, and prone to criticism.

Critical co-workers are not limited to just those who write code, but its prevalent across all roles in all industries, as well as throughout our personal lives. Certainly, feedback is the only way we can improve in our careers and as painful as it can be to accept, criticism is a necessary evil in our development. However, the colleague who is constantly complaining, pointing out errors, and telling you how you can be better gets downright annoying and creates a negative atmosphere for everyone.

Are You a Critical Person?

The first step in the battle against negative, critical people is to double-check you’re not a culprit yourself. Consider your interactions throughout the day and ask yourself some challenging questions about how you communicate. Do you have trouble praising people? Are you regularly irritated and complaining or focusing too much on people’s faults? Do you always want to fix other people’s work? If not out loud, are these conversations happening in your head?

The way others describe you may also be a sign that you’re too critical. For example, although referred to as a “perfectionist” sounds positive at first, it might have a passive connotation.

How to Stop Being So Critical

If after careful self-evaluation, you come to realize that your team tiptoes around you and resist sharing their work with you due to fear of more unreasonable criticism, it’s time to start down the path to improvement.

The first step is to understand why the urge to criticize keeps arising. Often, overly critical people arrive at that state because of their own insecurities. They are overly critical on themselves and project their feelings and behaviours onto others. You may also be a genuinely caring person to wants to help others succeed and experience the same successes you have in your career. Regardless, too much criticism is harming your relationships and it needs to be minimized. Here are some steps you can take:

  1. Focus on people’s good behaviour and help others improve by reinforcing positive accomplishments;
  2. Remember that because somebody does something differently it is not inferior. We all have different backgrounds and experiences;
  3. Double check if you really are right, or if that person you’re about to criticize is possibly on a better track; and, most importantly,
  4. Verify that you have all of the information and understand the full context as to why work was completed a certain way or a person reacted in a specific manner.

Working with an Overly Critical Person

As nice as it would be to just avoid the people in our lives who make a habit of tearing apart everything we do, sometimes that’s impossible. You can’t ghost your client or their employees forever when you’re on contract, so you’re going to have to come up with a solution to manage them before you go crazy.

  • Don’t take it personally. As noted earlier, critical people are often projecting their own issues onto you, so have empathy in noticing that they’re working through their own struggles.
  • Take their feedback for what it is. Their communication and delivery strategy may be brutal, but if there is some genuine feedback buried in that insulting comment, use it to improve on yourself.
  • Consider that you may be the problem. Are you struggling on the project and being resistant to feedback from a person who is acting appropriately?
  • Objectively and assertively tell them how it is. With the proper tone and carefully thinking through your words, explain the perception they give you, how it makes you feel and ask them to adjust their approach.

Nobody wants to spend all day listening to everything they’ve done wrong or how it could have been completed better. It’s an ingredient to a toxic work environment and you can fight back by both ensuring you’re not guilty yourself and stopping others before they rip a team to pieces.

What tips do you have to deal with super critical people?

Impostor Syndrome is Common among IT Professionals. Here’s How You Can Overcome It.

Impostor Syndrome is Common among IT Professionals. Here's How You Can Overcome It.

Impostor Syndrome has been studied by workplace psychologists for over 40 years, dating back to 1978. It is a feeling of phoniness held by professionals in higher positions who believe they are not intelligent, capable or creative enough, despite the fact they earned their title based on merit. In a 2011 study published by the International Journal of Behavioural Science, it was estimated that 70% of people experience imposture syndrome at some point of their life. And, although originally thought to be something unique to women, more studies prove that it is common for everyone (although still more prevalent among females).

IT professionals are not immune to Impostor Syndrome. In an informal study by Blind last year, it was discovered that 58% of people with a technology-focused career suffer from it. Furthermore, in the 2018 Stack Overflow Developer Survey, nearly 40% of new IT professionals said they felt as though they were not as good at programming as most of their peers. As developers earned years of experience, these rates did drop; however, even 10% of developers with 20 years of experience — 20 years coding! — still felt as though they had inferior skills.

How Can IT Contractors Overcome Impostor Syndrome?

There are various reasons you may experience Impostor Syndrome at some point in your career. There are external factors, including high competition for jobs or overly competitive work environments, but it is mostly internal matters that can be solved with some self-awareness. Once you understand and overcome your own shortcomings contributing to your Impostor Syndrome, the rest gets easier with time. Consider some of these steps:

  • Acknowledge It. Like anything, you can’t improve until you acknowledge that you’re suffering from Impostor Syndrome and have taken the time to understand why. We often experience it due to perfectionism, relying on external validation, expecting to learn too quickly, or refusing to ask for help.
  • Accept That You’re Not Perfect at Everything. Especially in the technology industry, there are so many areas to specialize and there is no chance you can be perfect at all of it. If you consider yourself a generalist with a big picture, then you will lack specific knowledge about technologies. Vice-versa, if you have a niche skill, then you will not be proficient in other areas.
  • Know What You Don’t Know. Further to the previous point, knowing what you do not know is the first step to being more comfortable with your situation and improving yourself. Some items you do not need to know… it’s not your job. For the other skills, invest in learning and ask questions to improve.
  • Ask for Help. Find a mentor who has been in your shoes before. You will quickly learn that most people felt they did not belong in their position originally and you will learn how they overcame it. One word of caution, although vulnerability is often praised, opening too much to subordinates about this could be harmful to your position.
  • Remember Why You Are Where You Are. Assuming you did not completely lie on your resume, your client selected you for the gig because of your past experiences and accomplishments. Be proud of those, brag about them a bit, and use what you learned in the past to grow.
  • Stop Comparing Yourself to Others. Regardless of how much Arrogant Annie or Pretentious Pete think they know… they do not know everything either. Even if Suck-Up Sally is more accomplished and smarter than you, please refer to the previous point. You are not in your position by mistake.

If you’re not satisfied or inspired by the information in this post, have a read through this Huffington Post article written by Lily Chen, a female software engineer who overcame Impostor Syndrome. Whatever you do, embrace the challenges and don’t let this common demon stop you from excelling in your technology career.

The Dangers of Sitting Disease

Paper pushing, desk jockey office workers who sit all day are in danger! That’s according to this infographic by Alere Wellbeing (now Optum).

As the infographic states, “Sitting disease is a concept created by the scientific community to address the problems associated with sitting all day and living a sedentary lifestyle.” Although not recognized by all medical organizations, it explains how workers who sit for most of their job have higher risks of certain diseases and shorter lifespans. Fortunately, the infographic also offers ideas for employers and IT contractors to beat Sitting Disease and live a better life, all while continuing to do a supreme job at work.

The Dangers of Sitting Disease #infographic

Valuable Lessons from Children’s Authors and Illustrators

There are life lessons all around us and from all sorts of people. That was evident during the MASC Young Authors & Illustrators Festival that Eagle sponsored in Ottawa this past April. The event brings in hundreds of students from grades 4 to 7 who get to attend workshops with Canadian authors and illustrators.

Before the learning begins, the authors and illustrators take some time to address the attendees. Each professional had a unique message that, and although crafted for kids, they can easily apply to anyone, including an IT contractor.

Britt Wilson, Cartoonist and Graphic Novelist

Britt Wilson is from Toronto and her graphic novels include Ghost Queen, Cat Dad King of the Goblins, and Britt Wilson’s Greatest Book on Earth. In this short clip, she explains how although it’s great to have a life plan (she knew what she wanted to be since she was a young kid), it’s important to be open to change and follow new opportunities. Wilson comments that she keeps her eye on her main goals and is “still not done yet” as she may still accomplish her original dream. As a bonus, this speech also reveals how valuable social media and networking can be, as well as how simple skills matter in a job search, given her quote “Good handwriting can get you jobs.”

Cary Fagan, Author of Novels and Picture Books for Children

Cary Fagan is also from Toronto and wrote books including Mr. Zinger’s Hat, Danny, Who Fell into a Hole, the Wolfie and Fly series, plus his latest book for middle-grade readers, Mort Ziff is not Dead. Cory explains to the students that there is no such thing as 1st place, 4th place or any real “best” position when it comes to being an author. No, he’s not supporting the controversial “everybody gets a trophy” trend, but he is explaining that people have so many different tastes and preferences and each author has their own style. As a result, authors don’t bother competing but instead build a community, share stories, embrace differences and learn from each other. This is no different for IT contractors. Top technology professionals flourish depending on many variables including the industry, the project, and the people they work with. Rather than considering other contractors as your competition, take Fagan’s advice and work together to bring each other up.

Catherine Austen, Author for All Ages

Catherine Austen comes from Gatineau. Her teen thriller, All Good Children and her middle-grade novel, 26 Tips for Surviving Grade 6, each received industry awards. In this final video, Austen reads a chapter from the latter book’s sequel, 28 Tricks for a Fearless Grade 6. The title of the chapter “If you want to keep a secret, don’t post it on social media” speaks for itself and contains a valuable lesson about lies. Whether it’s through social media or any other route, you’re bound to get busted eventually. That is not limited to school because unfortunately, it is not uncommon for Eagle recruiters to catch skilled IT contractors fibbing about their experience, and when the lie is inevitably discovered, it has serious consequences to their reputation and career.

Tips for Beating Stress and Burnout

Tips for Beating Stress and BurnoutIt’s not unusual for IT contractors to burn the candle at both ends while juggling multiple clients and balancing their personal life. Everybody is human, though, and living such a lifestyle will only last so long. Eventually, stress catches up and burnout is inevitable, leading to a crash and all productivity being lost. While there is nothing wrong with taking on a lot to get the most out of your day, it’s important for your personal health to both recognize the signs that stress is building up, and then act on those symptoms before burnout sets in.

Fast Company recently published a series of articles on the topic of stress and burnout. In this post, the author researched medical professionals’ tips on recognizing four physical signs of stress:

  1. You’re tired in the morning but unable to fall asleep at night – chronic stress causes cortisol levels to become imbalanced so they’re low in the morning and then rise at night.
  2. You have a nervous stomach – stress makes it easier for bad bacteria to fester than good bacteria, plus it threatens your gut’s permeability. Those who are more stressed end up getting digestion difficulties, inflamed pores and acne breakouts, IBS symptoms and more.
  3. Your heart is in panic mode – Also known as “fight or flight mode” this increases blood pressure, heart rate, muscle tension and respiration which are supposed to be for short-term emergencies.
  4. Your mind is scattered – Stress causes people to have trouble accessing memories or information and minds have difficulty focusing.

Another Fast Company article continues to highlight the importance of recognizing these signs. In fact, its top tip for avoiding burnout is just that. It states that if you’re feeling like you’re coming down with a cold, it’s a challenge to get out of bed, you’re less interested in hanging out with friends, it’s hard to pay attention and/or if you’re grumpy and irritable, you may be on the verge of burn-out. Acting on these signs early is crucial to avoid it from getting out of control. In addition, the article suggests you can prevent burnout from taking over your life by:

  • Regularly assessing your vitals such as heart rate and cortisol levels
  • Getting out of the house and connecting with friends to build social support
  • Volunteering for an organization that you connect with
  • Adjusting your outlook on life, focusing on projects and items you can control, rather than factors beyond your control
  • Getting quality sleep by cutting out TV and other screens before bed and setting the room temperature to be a bit cooler

Finally, one other Fast Company article referenced a University of Michigan study to beat stress. It says that just 20-30 minutes in nature can cause cortisol levels to drop and will continue to drop for up to 60 minutes. The good news is that “nature” does not have to be the middle of the woods, but simply in your own mind. For example, relaxing by a tree on the street can have those effects.

Of course, many other websites and blogs discuss stress and burnout reduction techniques on a regular basis. Inc recently dug up a video of 28-year-old Bill Gates, claiming the secret to avoiding burnout is to add variety into your day and keep doing different things. And Glassdoor has this list of 9 tips to beat anxiety and stress in the workplace:

  1. Be Prepared – know what you get anxious for and prepare yourself before those situations
  2. Exercise – you feel less stress and anxious when you’re healthy, plus it helps clear your head
  3. Be with Friends – have a support network of people you can call to calm you down or tell you jokes
  4. Eat healthy – It keeps you healthy (see #2) plus junk food makes you feel tired and weak
  5. Relax – take a few minutes for yourself to listen to music or play a quick game and re-focus
  6. Hydrate – Drink plenty of water, not coffee as it will make you jittery
  7. Pace yourself – Set reasonable deadlines for projects and leave wiggle room so there is time to relax
  8. Meditate – Guided meditation, sitting in meditative poses and yoga help all ease anxiety and stress
  9. Professional support – Therapists and councillors will help guide you through tough times

Failure to manage your stress, anxiety and burnout symptoms means you are a train wreck waiting to happen. In addition to the tips above, it is recommended to plan for vacation and/or time between contracts where you can re-energize. Otherwise, it will not be long before your productivity and service begins to drop and you put your reputations as a quality IT contractor into jeopardy.

Fighting the Ongoing Battle Between Instant Gratification and Productivity

Every day we’re faced with a regular battle inside our head, as our primal urges for instant gratification compete for a spot against the drill sergeant that only wants us to focus on our goals and move forward on productivity. Both should have a spot, but the challenge is finding the balance and ensuring the proper one wins the battle each time. Sure, you could spend every waking hour working on client projects, updating resumes, completing grids, exercising and working around the house, but why bother if you’re not having fun? Vice-versa, constantly hitting the snooze button, binge watching Netflix and eating bad food isn’t going to get you to where you want to be too quickly.

So how can you come to a truce in this ongoing battle and get a high return on investment of your time, all while getting the joy you want out of life? This video by The Art of Improvement just might have your answer.