People don’t come with a manual, and since when do geeks read docs anyway? But, we like our howtos and tutorials… so let’s approach it this way! This page contains some tips that you may find useful.

Note that while this page is serious (with humour and style for readability), it is not medical advice. It’s simply tidbits of common sense. If you’ve seen an expert and they’ve recommended something for you that contradicts anything here, do take their advice on board as a priority.

With all that out of the way, read, enjoy, and feel free to drop in a comment! We’ll be extending and further organising this information over time.


Try and work out a sane regular pattern for your day, and stick to it most of the time. It will take you a while to settle on something that works for you and getting used to it, but it’s really important and relates to most of the other topics discussed on this page. Your brain will relax a bit if it knows “what comes next”.

Of course you’re still allowed to be spontaneous (specifically, Tuesday afternoon between 2.30pm and 3.05pm), too.


You need about to get some decent daylight (20-40 minutes daily) to reset your bodyclock. See it as your NTP synchronisation source, you bodyclock really does go out of whack if you ignore this, essentially causing a form of jetlag: messed up sleep pattern or full-on insomnia, lack of energy while up, and so on.

Of course it’s cool to hack or surf in the middle of the quiet night and that can be fine every once in a while, but please don’t turn it into a habit. Many of us have done this as teenagers, but when you’re older it doesn’t work so well.

Exposing your skin to a bit of daylight also takes care of your daily Vitamin D3 intake, and there’s no supplement to replace that. Cod liver oil contains D, but if your carers used to giveforce that stuff into you they were just misguided and/or torturous, as in that form it is not absorbed by the body!

There are some special lamps that provide the daylight equivalence, but no general artificial light has this capability.

Try and get your main dose of daylight early in the morning, and you’ll feel better the rest of the day. It doesn’t have to be full-on sun (we’re not aiming for a tan here), just diffuse light or overcast sky is fine already. You could walk to the bus, or from public transport to work, or if you work from home just do a walk around the block. Take your iPod and listen to a netcast (yes Leo LaPorte can be very annoying, but there is some good stuff in there – or find your own favourites!)… and for complete triple-dose smart concurrent tasking: while you’re walking and getting your daylight, eat an apple (not the brand, the fruit!)

Food & Drink

Plain Water and Juices

Throughout the day! As long as your pee (yes we can say the word, get over it)  is dark, you’re not drinking enough (do take into account that medication and supplements can affect the colouring, too). Some offices actually have pee charts these days, as dehydration == less productivity. Or let’s phrase this for you in terms you’ll appreciate: you drink well, you hack well.

Fizzy Drinks (that’s Sodas for you Americans)

Drinks such as Coke and Mountain Dew are ok occasionally, but no good as your main source of liquids. The quantities of [artificial, corn syrup (US) or sugarcane (AU)] based sugar are ridiculous and that really messes with your overall health. Simple rule: if it comes in a can, it’s the wrong stuff.

If you feel that water doesn’t have much (or any) taste, you’re right: it’s the lack of crap that you’re not tasting! But we hear what you’re saying, so feel free to grab some juice instead (plain or concentrate).


The stuff in coffee, coke or jolt, and most teas… let’s not fuzz the issue: caffeine is a drug and it messes with your head. You know this already, that’s why you drink it! The bad news is, you really don’t want to mess with your brain chemistry like this. You’ve surely heard about people who feel really crappy over the weekend when they don’t drink the dozen cups of coffee they would have during the week in the office? That’s what we’re talking about!

So just try cutting it out for a while, and then use in moderation. Some of you will find that having some doesn’t affect you much at the time, but brings a serious dip the next day (or perhaps you haven’t made that connection yet). In that case, just don’t have any for a long time (like months), before you try again.

Did you know that eating an apple is actually more effective at waking you up in the morning than a cup of coffee? (Reality check: if you’re a caffeine addict and you just try the apple for one day, your “test” is borked because you’ll be suffering from withdrawal.)


Joyous stuff, in moderation. If you’re boozing up, you’re heading for disaster. Seriously, and no you cannot handle it. Listen up: alcohol actually enhances the emotional state you’re in, so if you’re feeling down you’ll just be making things worse. Having a bit in a social setting can be ok, having a lot or drinking on your own is just plain dumb.


Sustenance, and Maccas really does not count. Nor does pizza if you are having it all the time, although we agree that good cold pizza can be an excellent breakfast. Aim for regular meals, as in proper breakfast, lunch and dinner, with minimal snacking inbetween. Breakfast is actually the most important meal of your day, if you get that right you will feel a whole lot better during the day!


This subclass of food is particularly good for you. Pick something you like, and have a few proper servings each day (yep you’re allowed to start with just one). Eating an apple for morning tea is an excellent idea.


Another important food group! Like alcohol, this stuff messes with your brain (that’s why we love it!) in the sense that it enhances the emotions you feel at the time. If you’re having a down day, eating chocolate is really a bad idea. Yes, sorry. So just don’t pig it, but having a bit occasionally is cool.

Work Environment

Having some indirect daylight at your desk is best, and do take regular breaks from staring at your screen by getting up and walking around. Having colleagues to chat with is excellent, and meetings at the coffee machine or water cooler can be very productive.

If your boss (or just your work) requires that you work irrelegular or long hours, or shifts, you need to find another job ASAP. That in itself can create some stress, but even if you have to take a paycut to find sane working hours, it’ll be worth it.

Working from home is tricky. Some of us do it successfully, but requires quite a bit of discipline: you need to maintain a proper schedule for work times, still get up for the breaks even if you don’t have others to talk with. You must have a proper split between home and office space and time, otherwise any stresses from the one will bleed through to the other. You should be able to literally close the door on one.

If you have a choice, aim for a job that requires you to get to work in the morning (e.g., an office) with colleagues, and regular hours. You can always try the home office thing again later. Get well first and have that established day-pattern (humans take up to 3 months to change/acquire behaviour).

Interrupt Driven Work

For many of us, work has become interrupt-driven: you do some work from your todo, but mainly you keep getting interrupted by new email, IRC and instant messages, and phonecalls. Ideally, turn off the immediate notification and just check your email once or twice a day (before lunch, and before finishing). If you start your day checking email, you won’t get anywhere, which just leads to… stress!!!


The most harmful stuff, and thus it’s really important you arrange everything to minimise exposure. Our coping mechanism works like a rubber band: a bit of stress is ok and helps you stretch, but a lot of stress of a prolonged period of time, and the band will snap. Indeed, it’s a pretty good analogy.

Don’t overcommit. It’s hard to say no, but learn to say it – no worries, people will still respect you, in fact they’ll respect you more because otherwise you take on commitments you can’t make good on.

Also remember: the word stressed backwards spellsdesserts! 🙂


Not optional, and you should get about 45 minutes of it per day. A morning walk is excellent, but if you prefer to run or go to a gym that’s perfectly fine too. Doing gym very early in the morning gives your metabolism a boost, and you’ll feel better all day. Then again gym is not the thing for all of us, so find something that works for you – but again, it’s not optional, you need to do some physical exercise! And take it easy please, if you haven’t done regular exercise, start slow and build up from there.


Essential, about 20 minutes each day. Vegging on the couch in front of the TV doesn’t quite do it, though. Here’s the deal: muscle relaxation is important because there’s a close connection between physical tension and mental tension. If you work on reducing physical tension, it’ll indirectly affect mental tension also, and it’s much easier to track.

So how do you do this? You actually take some time out, on your own without disturbances. Find a relaxation recording that you like. It’ll most likely be a mix of a relaxation exercise, and perhaps some music. Yep we know, many of those things are really really annoying, but they come in many different styles so  just find something that’s least offensive to you and try it for at least a few days.

We’ll probably start a separate page for this, with links and suggestions.


A really important topic! We all need it, and most of us are probably not getting enough. You’ll need about 6-8 hours of proper sleep each night. A daytime powernap (20 minutes tops) can be great, but prolonged sleeping during the day will mess with your bodyclock (aka create your own jetlag) so just don’t do that!


If you don’t fall (back) asleep within say 10-20 minutes, get up, get a drink of water, and sit on the couch or something. No TV or computer please, but grabbing a book or magazine is fine. Just lying there is not going to help you in any way. If you can avoid it space-wise, don’t have a computer in your bedroom.

Normally it can be ok to read in bed before going to sleep, but not if you’re going through a period of having trouble sleeping. A wise person explained: the bedroom is for just two things, and they both start with “S”. Yes, that’s right; and “Surfing” is not one of them.

Buzzing Brain?

So you wake up at 3am, and immediately your brain starts buzzing with thoughts and things you need to do! Sounds eerily familiar? Follow the hints for insomnia and general sleep. If you’ve slept hours during the day, your night time sleep will get messed up. Follow the hints for relaxation and exercise. Also see PaulWay’s post Getting to Sleep.

And finally, if you get an idea or think of something you need to do, write it down. Your brain is actually a bad early implementation of iCal reminders and as far as we know Steve Jobs was not even involved. Anyway, the point is that your brain will do the “hey you need to do this” alert thing until it is confident that it (whatever it is) has been done or definitely will be done. Brain reminders aren’t timed, so they will pop up at the most inconvenient moments (and 3am is probably the worst). By writing it down you literally tell your brain that it’s ok to let go of the thought. Of course you need to make sure that you scribbling will be handled in the morning, otherwise the method won’t work: this is your brain we’re talking about, it’s not stupid!


We made various references to iPod, iCal and so on. We’re not anti-Apple (many of us are happy Mac users). We merely use the terms in the generic context because they describe such ubiquitous concepts that lend themselves really well to humorous analogies. Also, we are aware that Apple stuff is not really Open Source, but that’s not the point here so please let’s not debate. There’s a time and a place for everything. Well, for most things anyway.

7 thoughts on “HowTo”

  1. Please beware; caffeine withdrawal can sometimes even can cause sickness. That’s what physical addiction is. Pull it through and use your coffee for exceptional situations where you need an extra boost. And remember: caffeine only makes you forget your brain needs rest.

  2. thanks for that – having suffered from both depression and coffeine addiction I will use this as a basis if I want to provide help in the future

  3. > If you’re boozing up, you’re heading for disaster. Seriously, and no you cannot handle it. Listen up: alcohol actually enhances the emotional state you’re in, so if you’re feeling down you’ll just be making things worse.

    The effects can be particularly intense if you take certain psycho-tropic medications.

    I take an anti-depressant (buproprion), and drinking alcohol (lightly, mind you!) while on this put me into a severe mood downswing days after.

    Some people experience no bad effects at all, but for me, this wasn’t the case. Since then I’ve decided to just give up alcohol altogether.

  4. > be spontaneous (specifically, Tuesday afternoon between 2.30pm and 3.05pm)

    Ah yes, the long dark tea-time of the soul 😉

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