Self-Care Tips for IT Pros: Invest in Sleep (And a Good Chair)

As an IT pro, you are your most valuable asset. Obviously, if you aren’t taking care of yourself, how can you be expected to perform with typical sustained, easy awesomeness? Are you able to extricate your IT self from the myriad reactive activities central to IT roles? It’s easy to proclaim taking care of yourself should always be your number one priority. But as with many things in IT, the uniqueness of our roles may mean, like certification, we’re more on our own to keep our whole selves healthy.

The self-care challenges IT pros face also differ from those of other professions. How can you take care of yourself and your organization’s infrastructure at the same time? It’s tricky to balance your own needs with the needs of your company, and too often we put our work first. That’s typical of essential workers. We tend to care for others first, then ourselves. In this post, you’ll learn a few self-care tips, adapted for the unique experiences of IT professionals. With a little creativity, technologists can find themselves as accomplished at self-care as they are at infrastructure-care.

Sleep Easy by Being Proactive

One of the first questions people ask when talking about self-care—especially physical self-care—is “Are you getting enough sleep?” It’s easy and tempting to wave this one off, but it’s especially important for IT pros. How can you make sure you’re getting enough sleep when systems are going down in the middle of the night or help desk tickets are getting escalated? “Monday after 9:00” is not on the job description. For anyone in IT, interruptions like this can be the single largest barrier to ongoing self-care.

One of the ways you can heal sleep issues is by wringing as many repetitive, reactive processes as possible out of daily routines. Late-night problem-solving sessions can be exciting and rewarding early in a career. Eventually though, sleep interruption and deprivation begin to take a toll on sharpness. Unlike the reactive firehose of alerts and emergency awareness of critical ops issues, the cognitive erosion from lack of sleep sneaks up us. Worse, the number one challenge to making sure we’re well rested, versatile, and ready for anything is… being sleep-deprived. Sleepy chickens and drowsy eggs aren’t a center for proactivity.

Self-care tip #1 is to invest in time to deep dive into the unexplored capabilities of your monitoring and management tools. At heart, they’re essentially an extension of your team’s expertise but hugely automated at scale. Keep an eye toward techniques focused on identifying issues before ticket storms blow in and options to make alerting specific and rare. Your ability to identify infrastructure issues that will wake you up in the middle of the night can do more to improve overall self-care than just about anything else.

Get Some Exercise (And a Good Chair)

Trainers are quick to point out the value of maintaining a regular exercise schedule. Cadence, cadence, cadence. It may be easy if you have control of your calendar but less so when a decent percentage of your day is driven by external requests of variable and unknown duration. For IT pros, “Hey, got a second?” isn’t usually an invitation to go for a walk or lift weights. It’s a new task to keep them in their chair, hands on keyboard, torso half-twisted in an extended conversation with someone at their shoulder.

Breaking yourself away from the desk, even just for a few minutes at a time, is crucial. It can also be challenging to do, and putting it off yet again is easy to rationalize. Remember, exercise isn’t a motivator for most to step away from the screen. So try to keep your movement mantra simple. Visualize a change of scenery and the actions to accomplish it. Don’t worry about an overall personal project plan.

When you think, “stand up,” “move around,” or “go outside,” do it, even for just a few minutes. It helps re-energize you, reduces cortisol levels and stress in your body, and gives you the creativity to solve technology problems you might have gotten stuck on otherwise. If you encounter something particularly difficult, stepping away from your screen often helps find creative solutions and clear jams. Physical movement of any kind is a great first step in caring for yourself.

This is especially true in the current work-from-home world. Taking a hike to the data center and the IT sauna ritual of alternating hot and cold aisle thermal baths can help put up numbers on an activity tracker. However, it may have been months since this was routine, especially if you’re a senior admin and more likely to be at home. Are you getting the same amount of exercise now that you’re no longer in the office? Take a stroll around the block, get up and do some laundry for a few minutes, or go outside and play with the dog. Your body—and your dog—will thank you. And your management will thank you because your work will be more effective, solution-focused, and timely.

Last, IT professionals obviously spend a lot of time in chairs. This includes at home, where we don’t typically have a supportive, quality office chair. If you haven’t already, it’s important to invest in seating. Common to our collective move to work from home was the discovery that the chairs in the office really weren’t bad—often significantly better than the one we thought we could endure at home. Ordering a good chair pays self-care dividends well beyond keeping your back and neck comfortable. It can be a foundation—literally—to increased movement, stretching, exercise, and more efficient work. And more efficient work means more time for self-care.

Invest in Your Social Network

Some IT pros may consider themselves introverts, and the emotional benefit of social self-care can be easy to overlook. Human beings benefit from social connections across the frequency spectrum, from once-in-a-blue-moon visits to being the life of any event. The challenge comes when everyone seems to know us from our roles supporting the business. Are you more popular when things break or when a random happy hour pops up? Many engineers don’t need to get their energy from being around other people. That’s one of the great qualities of computers: they log but don’t talk. Nonetheless, even if we prefer doing things on our own and at the most workable pace, we still need to invest in our social network outside of the office and tech.

This doesn’t mean adding a new KPI for walking around and saying hi to everyone at the office or on Teams or Zoom. Consider seeking opportunities with the people around you to help with non-technology-related projects. Look for volunteer opportunities or get involved with other interest groups in your workplace. Does a classic Jeep have a special place in your heart and driveway? Does your company offer a “Classic Jeep Enthusiasts” group? Check it out and join in if you sense shared passion and camaraderie.

Non-work common interests are a great way to bring new perspective and energy into your emotional self-care. Even working from home, we’re likely more connected to other humans than we imagine. Look to socially develop the non-IT “you” so the people around you don’t just see “the IT person.” Social connections help normalize self-care investments. They help us follow the lead of our hearts, not just our engineering minds and the whims of the help desk.

Stay tuned for part two of this series, where we’ll discuss some mental—and even spiritual—tips IT pros can practice to take better care of themselves.

Anonymous
  • Great post. Sure got very useful tips to help me sleep at the right time. Plan to start taking more time off the PC.

  • Wish I could. The mind keeps tossing over work.

  • I love it ... get exercise, a good chair, and .... then get a varidesk!   I have finally achieved a balance that I totally love.  I start each day at 5 - drive to work, hit the gym ... like really hard... then I work really hard and am totally exhausted by 8:30 PM.   I get my sleep, and I now have the endurance to pull an all nighter when called upon!   Anyone can pull an all nighter... but can you still feel fresh after the work has been completed?   I had no idea until the last couple of late nights and very early mornings .. my own system had changed for the better.  I felt great during and after the the long hours, and was amazed at my ability to still think clearly after 18 hours!

  • Great article @Patrick.Hubbard!  I've been using a Whoop device for a couple of years now and it's been great for tracking sleep, recovery, and workout performance.  It's been a HUGE help as sleep became a hard thing to find over the last year.