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An informal, stream-of-consciousness reflection on business ideas, events and issues in modern business, modern life and with some specifics to the web-software industry by Paul Tomori, Internet Entrepreneur

Programmers: Remember To Do Something Tangible In Your Intangible Universe
By Paul Tomori
Thursday, April 01, 2010 at 14:48:54 (EST)

You know that pasty skin tone that so many programmers have? And how about that skinny frame with the strange paunch that comes from hunching over a computer keyboard for hours on end day after day?

The allure of working hard to the point of overworking when you're in the internet business is very strong. There is a great amount of satisfaction in moving pixels around a computer screen to create an orderly business construct for your business or client. Computers work in such a black and white way because ultimately everything comes down to ones and zeros (the binary concept). This is very appealing in a world that can sometimes feel very unpredictable and chaotic. It is particularly appealing if one's social skills are lacking a bit. Afterall, you don't have to worry about nuances of expression or etiquette as much when the goal is to get a computer algorithm to function properly.

However, that is a very 2-dimensional world and in order to really stay in touch with the outer reality, I have found some valuable growth whenever I indulge myself in some project that takes me away from the computer. Getting one's hands dirty in the garden, refinishing a room in your house, building something out of wood, fixing an old car, cooking up a storm... these are all great diversions from the binary world. They re-awaken one's senses and force a broader view. They are also great for inspiring clear thinking. As I wrote previously, sometimes getting away from a computer problem and making tiny glances back at it is often far more effective, than burying yourself further in the muck of it.

At certain pivotal times in my life, I have over-indulged diversions to the computer business. When decided to leave my previous job and go into business, I had a 2 month period of downtime and I filled it with building an apartment in my business to let to students. It was extremely satisfying from a physical and achievement perspective and it yielded a great windfall of recurring rental fees for years... and it raised the value of the house I was in. When I decided to leave a previous business partnership to strike out on my own, it was July 1 an opportune time in southern Ontario for many projects OTHER than computer programming. For the 6 previous straight years I had pulled 15 hour work days 7 days a week with rarely a break. That summer, I re-discovered sleep and relaxation... and I built a 100 square foot shed in my backyard with my brother that peaked at 13 feet in height. It was totally custom-designed and custom-built for our purposes and it was a tremendous physical diversion to my previous life. The ideas that flowed through my head during that summer set the entire pace for what followed for me in business for the next 9 years. When a close family member passed away, I worked to completely restore a rental house I had owned with some others. It called for new floors throughout, big fixes everywhere, a re-faced kitchen and again, the building of an apartment in the basement. The project was extremely therapeutic for the grief I was experiencing and very satisfying as an accomplishment. It was also financially rewarding. Hard work often gives that result strangely!

You don't have to have a pivotal life event to compel you to step outside of your routine. In fact, I think it would be better and healthier to have tangible projects embedded as part of my routine. Wouldn't it be better to maintain balance than to let oneself go so far outside balance that the compensatory steps require months of therapeutic distraction?

I am reminded of this concept of late since I decided to make over our den. It had a big built-in Oak wall unit and wainscotting around the perimeter. A professional carpenter who I approached at first with the project said "I don't do retrofits". That was enough motivation for me! If I can't get a pro, I might as well bring my amateur skillset to bear on it. The wall unit didn't extend to the ceiling and the space allotted for a TV was dreadfully too small by today's standards (it was built circa 1980). So, with saw in hand and a guiding plan from my wife (whose eye for design far exceeds mine in judgement), the unit has been completely transformed and we are now in the painting stage. What a great bit of tangible progress for my otherwise mostly intangible activities! I will upload a before and after photo as soon as the painting is completed.

In the meantime, consider stepping out of your intangible shell once in a while if you don't already do so. It may give you great inspiration for a new direction or a refinement of direction in your main life's pursuits.

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