Fit for Data Science

I’m afraid we need to wind that right in.

Our phones can be informative, interesting and fun, but we’re working against a deluge of distractions and our attention is all over the shop.

Most of it is unworthy of our time.

64% say personal smartphone usage at work distracts them (Deloitte’s Mobile Consumer Survey UK).

In our field success follows discipline and focus.

Lets say we’re debugging a complex coding routine, perhaps it involves a loop, creating lists and dictionaries and eventually a data frame.

This requires extended concentration.

We can’t afford interruptions every few minutes.

It’s important we understand the back story to mobile phone use too.

In the attention economy reward is given to apps, games and services that can capture our mental engagement.

This is monetised through advertising and/or sale of data.

Our evolutionary reward systems can be exploited by phone and app designers.

Company profit is likely to be a bigger driver than our best interests here and we need to take back some control.

In Skinner’s box the environment of rats was adjusted to manipulate their behaviour.

A lever was used to dispatch food.

The rat engages in a behavioural response with the expectation of a reward.

This reward reinforces the behaviour, and in turn increases the behaviour being observed.

The principals here are utilised in social media apps and computer games.

It’s worth a few minutes reading up on this.

A former Google design ethicist tells us what’s what with mobile phones.

Now before we get too down on phones, they do have benefits too.

We can call friends, read interesting and educational blogs, listen to podcasts or watch entertainment.

So what simple steps can we take to strike a balance:Turn off noisy notifications and dig through the settings to block low value notifications.

Right now I have a Facebook friend suggestion for someone unknown to me, and a news story about Pokemon.

These add little to my life.

There will also be a “Do Not Disturb” option worth using too.

Take time away from our phone.

Leave it in another room.

Go out for a walk without it.

Perhaps even schedule some time for catching up with messages and ignore it at other times.

Take back control.

Put the phone aside for the final half an hour before bed.

Getting a bit less phone specific, what else can we do to improve our concentration?.Perhaps we could try:Working in timed bursts of 25 minutes.

This is called the Pomodoro Technique.

I’ve not tried it myself yet but I heard some swear by it.

When working in a noisy environment or office we could try using headphones or finding a quiet space.

MindsetWhen you first wake in the morning, it’s a reasonable bet the thought of work won’t fill you with optimism and excitement.

Work, like life generally, will have highs and lows.

We aren’t designed to be blissfully happy all the time.

However, there are MANY reasons we should be extremely grateful for our situation.

We must embrace that.

We work on complex problems and hear wonderful ideas from amazing people.

The success of open source gives us access to fascinating tools and materials that enable us to rapidly upskill in areas we wouldn’t have dreamed of making headway in a few years ago.

If we can learn to appreciate our good fortune, and get motivated by it then time will fly by.

What step can we take for a better mindset?At the start of the working week be clear on our goals for the days ahead.

Focusing on these can be a great motivator and prevent drift.

At the very start of each day, think of a couple of things we are looking forward to getting stuck in to in order to wet our appetite.

FrustrationWe need to block out negative influences and manage irritation, because it’s bound to be a factor sooner or later.

It’s hard to cover all eventualities, so I’ll just throw out a couple of examples — perhaps a colleague has decided to allocate lots of time to low value activity, or maybe your great ideas on the application of machine learning are being stifled by process and traditionalist views.

How should we manage these feelings :Keep professional.

When in disagreement be firm and robust.

Keep to the facts, rather than being prickly, aggressive or passive aggressive.

Try to keep an open mind and understand the position of the other(s) involved.

Don’t let annoyances zap our time and energy.

If we give them permission to do that, we’re becoming a problem ourselves.

Be proactive in solving and working through issues.

Nobody likes complaining for it’s own sake.

We need to be productive with that energy and consider how we work towards solutions.

We shouldn’t copy poor behaviour.

Of course it can be very frustrating when our expectations aren’t met, but one of the worst things we can do is mirror this behaviour “My colleague is lazy.

I will be too”.

Use people we respect as our role models.

If we find ourselves particularly wound up, which may be possible occasionally, then consider briefly going to a different area to cool off.

ExerciseIt’s widely accepted exercise reduces risk of various major illnesses, while at the same time boosting self esteem, mood, sleep and energy.

This isn’t me saying this.

This is the NHS.

No doubt people will vary in their enthusiasm for exercise, the most important thing is to hit a baseline level.

66% and men and 58% of women meet the recommended aerobic guidelines (NHS Health Survey for England).

In addition to exercise, it’s worth being firmly aware that sitting at a desk all day is really not good for us.

Our muscles are tightening all day long and a certain amount of discomfort and injury risk may result.

In the data science arena there is a considerable variety of skills to master.

There may be aspects we wish to learn for fun, or to enhance our CVs.

Realistically this may mean additional working outside hours at times, making it even more important to take health seriously.

So what are our our actions here.

Ensure we get at least 150 minutes of moderate activity, or 75 minutes of vigorous activity each week.

Perhaps the commute can be modified to include a walk or bike ride.

Getting a well balanced (ish!) diet without too many treats or alcohol.

Get up from the desk every half an hour.

Do some stretching if possible.

Consider a walk/run in the lunch break.

Consider standing for some calls, and whether some meetings can be run as “stand ups” rather than lengthy sitting sessions.

Check your desk set up is correct and isn’t creating exposure to risks such as back trouble or RSI.

ConclusionWell done for reaching the end.

Hopefully with a few points to take away.

I’ll return to technical posts in future, but hopefully this detour was worth it.

If you found it useful then a few claps would be appreciated.

Let me know what you made of it, or if you have any of your own ideas.

If you have any success that would be great to hear too.

Perhaps you can teach me how to do it!Good luck!.

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