A Programmer’s Guide to a Healthier, Stronger, Happier Life – Part I

January 9, 2011

My Project Control List 2011

This is the first post of a series of posts that will focus on improving our health, fitness, strength and happiness by applying what we already know to be successful when developing software! If you’re interested to read more, sign up for updates using RSS or email.

Iterations – The secret to achieving it all

There’s a well-known approach to software development called Iterative development. The idea behind it is this; break the development process down into a series of manageable cycles rather than trying to accomplish everything at once.

It’s a method of simplifying complicated projects. One of the reasons developers use this approach is because they know that shit happens. Requirements change and features creep. Developers recognise that what they’re creating won’t be completed within a single cycle.

This is a good thing.

Why try to predict potential problems and future requirements when it’s impossible to know what will happen next week or next year? Instead, why not move through each cycle one step at a time, gradually refining and improving the product so that it will blow everything else out of the water!

We know this approach is sound. We use it day in, day out.

So why when it comes to losing weight, gaining muscle or moving faster do we sulk if we don’t get huge results instantly?

We set ourselves unrealistic demands, unachievable deadlines and eventually return back to where we began angrier and more frustrated with ourselves than ever!

Applying it to Ourselves

So now we know about this trial and error approach, what benefits are there to applying it to our health & fitness aims?

  • Problems are highlighted early.
    An iterative approach to health and fitness allows you to find out what works and what doesn’t, meaning you can forget about frustrating things early and only concentrate on effective, efficient solutions as the cycles continue. Maybe you hate broccoli – however hard you try, it’s pointless including it in your plans for the next cycle!
  • You can learn along the way.
    Health and fitness should be a lifelong mission. There’s a lot to experience and taking an iterative approach to your life allows you to learn from mistakes and improve your skills from one cycle to another.
  • When we stumble, we can get back on track quickly.
    Just as requirements change and features creep, real-life has a nasty way of throwing spanners into even the best made plans. Cold nights, injuries and a lack of motivation are all regular opportunities for us to slip up. When this happens you have two choices – either get frustrated and give up or suck it up, move on and keep fighting!

Attempting to lose three stones or increase your strength is daunting. Help is at hand. Learn from programming greats and iterate yourself to a healthier, stronger, happier life. Here’s how:

1) Create a List of Requirements

This is your project control list, a record of all the things you’d like to achieve over the coming weeks, months and years. If you want something to happen, then add it to the list. We’ll be coming back to this list often, so put it somewhere accessible.

Here’s mine:

My project control list 2011

1) Write for The Fitness Hack on Wednesday and Sundays
2) Run faster (run sub 12 seconds in the 100 metres)
3) Complete the Manchester 10k in under 45 minutes
4) Lift heavy things!

Not very scientific is it?!

This is my list for 2011. It’s only short but it lists four things that are important to me this year. I look at it most mornings, just to remind myself what I’m aiming for. It’ll change as the year progresses but it keeps me moving in the right direction.

If any problems appear that could get in the way of me achieving these things, I want to know about them as soon as possible so that they can be fixed for the beginning of the next cycle.

2) Get Started

Now it’s time to get serious. Plans are great but to get anywhere, you have to start.

If it’s a good idea, do it today. Not tomorrow. A good idea rarely gets better over time.

- Larry Winget

Today is the first day of the rest of your life so lose the excuses, take control and get started. Believe in yourself and get it done. There’ll never be a perfect moment.

Once you have your list of requirements even the most basic plan of attack is worth starting immediately. If you want to lose weight, start making changes right now. Eat smarter, throw out the junk food, exercise and allow yourself plenty of rest.

Exercise is a great way to start. You’ll burn calories but you’ll also have an exerciser’s mindset and an exerciser’s mindset can do great things.

Remember this, make sure you learn from what has gone before. If you want to get fitter, then you’re going to have to exercise.

Note: Overuse injuries are incredibly common when you’re just starting out – so don’t take on too much, too soon.

3) Adapt, rinse and repeat

Just like there are roadblocks during every software development project there’ll be days when you fall off your horse, there’ll be days when you don’t feel like exercise and there’ll be days when you eat too much of the wrong things. S**t happens, deal with it!

Problems start when we allow these difficulties to rule us. They can knock us so far off course we give up and end up back where we started.

Think of your list of requirements as your personal project for 2011. You have 51 weekly cycles ahead of you. Here are some questions to think about as you review each one (think about them, talk them over with your partner, tell it to the dog!):

  • What did I learn this week?
  • What can I do right now to make next week better?
  • What stopped me making progress towards my list of requirements?
  • How can I avoid them happening again?
  • Are the thing I’m giving up worth the things I’m trying to achieve?

Think of this as your user feedback review session. Take what you learn during this time and adapt your approach. Hold-ups aren’t only possible, they’re expected. Few of us are professional athletes so it’s only natural that life gets in the way of even the best made plans. This is OK!

If you look at my list, you’ll see I’ve already made changes and it’s only nine days old. I’ll be running the Manchester 10k this year (run is in May, training will start in February) and I want to run a good time too, despite my hatred of running anything longer than 400m. I’d originally decided I wanted to finish the run in under 40 minutes but that would take lots of hard training and lots of sacrifices. I’d have to dedicate more time than I was comfortable dedicated and I’d be at risk of picking up nagging injuries that have effected me before. Was I happy to make these sacrifices to meet the original time? No. So I altered it.

“If it starts to become complicated, then stop, regroup, and start over. Success is always simple.”

- Larry Winget

It’s important to remember that not giving up is what separates successful folk from those who wish their lives away. I hope the above suggestions help you stick to your goals. I’ll be following every single one to make sure that I achieve mine. Let’s do it!

“Your time is limited. So don’t waste it living someone else’s life.”

- Steve Jobs

Every day is a fresh opportunity to do better than yesterday and to learn something new. What awesome achievements do you have planned for 2011? Let me know in the comments!

Thanks for reading!

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  • http://twitter.com/alexpreston Alex Preston

    Hi Adam, this is a fantastic line of posts.
    In terms of calorie for calorie optimising your diet I can’t recommend this book enough “The Paleo Solution” http://robbwolf.com/.

    It’s transformed me, I have gone from a fairly sedentary computer programmer to a part time semi-professional athlete training for the world wide professional squash tour, dropping about 25 lbs in about 8 weeks, even with Christmas and New Year in the middle!

    I wish you a joyful 2011, good luck!


    • Anonymous

      Hi Alex, thanks for reading!

      It’s great to hear you’re having so much success.

      I’ve haven’t got around to purchasing Robb Wolf’s book but I listen to the podcast whenever a new one appears. Paleo isn’t something I’ve tried (I cannot ween myself off cereal and pasta just yet!) but I have increased the amount of veggies and fish I eat. I’m a regular visitor to Mark’s Daily Apple, too!

      Thanks again,


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