The Modern Software Developer Newsletter

Wellbeing & Performance

Issue 2 – Hydration can really make a difference

How can dehydration hold you back as a developer?

In the first issue, we talked about reducing the amount you eat by bringing some awareness to proceedings and only eating until you are 80% full, as well as steps you can take to improve your self-awareness. You can catch that issue here.

In this issue, I want to carry on the theme of small and simple change by challenging you to improve your hydration, and given the heat wave I’m writing this in, your hydration is even more important. 

Severe dehydration is a serious problem and you’d probably become aware of it pretty quickly, but mild to moderate dehydration is far more subtle. 

Now granted, improving your hydration probably isn’t going to take your career to the next level, not in isolation anyway, but we can certainly see it as a performance optimisation and an easy-to-implement one at that.

Am I telling you that being sufficiently hydrated can make you write better code? YES and NO.

Am I telling you that being sufficiently hydrated can make you a better developer and leader? YES!

Why is hydration important?

Water is an essential nutrient; nothing else comes close. It’s, therefore, a truly vital resource for the human body. We know it is critical for life itself and provides fundamental functions for good health. In fact, it is the most widely used nutrient involved in the process and make-up of the body.

Daily water intake is essential in helping to replenish water lost through bodily processes including urination, sweating and breathing. Not replacing this water results in dehydration. Just a small amount of dehydration can hold us back from being our best.

How does dehydration impact the code I write?

Ok, so being hydrated isn’t technically going to make you smarter. You’re not suddenly going to be solving problems with solutions you’ve never even dreamed of before.

That said, being dehydrated by just 2% impairs performance in tasks that require attention, psychomotor, and immediate memory skills, as well as assessment of the subjective state.

What does that mean? Well, in a nutshell, your ability to focus on a task is impaired, your memory takes a hit, your hand-eye coordination may be diminished and your assessment of the current situation could be distorted. 

For example, you may feel under far more pressure or stress than the current situation warrants due to your reduced ability to assess the situation subjectively.

I think you’ll agree, that under such conditions, you’re probably not going to be writing the best code that you’re capable of.

How does dehydration impact me as a developer and leader?

Being mildly dehydrated can affect your mood, energy level and ability to think clearly, according to studies conducted at the University of Connecticut’s Human Performance Laboratory.

For your body to optimise the production of energy (ATP), your cells need to be suitably hydrated.

Dehydration causes your ability to produce energy from food to decrease, leaving you feeling fatigued and lethargic, in addition to experiencing headaches and dizziness. 

A large part of your role as a developer and leader is interacting and collaborating with your team, which will play a massive role in how well you’re perceived to be doing at your job.

We all know what it is like to work with someone who is not in a great mood and is lacking energy.

In a dehydrated state, you’re likely to:

  • Snap at people
  • Be impatient with yourself and others
  • Drag the energy down in the room
  • Be negative
  • Be less productive

Don’t be that person.

Take the challenge

Now, I know you probably love your tea or your coffee or maybe a cold fizzy drink, but for the next two weeks, I challenge you to drink more water.

Depending on your current intake level, you could just decide to have a glass of water before, during or after each meal.

If you want to perform at your best, it’s time to get hydrated!

How can I personalise this habit?

Choose how much water you’d like to start consuming at each meal. If you’re not used to drinking water regularly, then start with a small glass before each meal. If you’re used to drinking water regularly, then maybe have a small glass before and after each meal.

Alternatively, you could fill up a big bottle of water and keep it with you on your desk as a constant reminder.

How can I make this habit easy?

Finding ways to make a habit easy is the best way to make it stick. Make it easy enough so that you are 90-100% confident you can do it for six days of the week.

Have one day off per week from completing the habit.

Stack your habit?

It’s likely the existing trigger to eat something will be the cue for this habit. It could also be linked to meal preparation if you like to bulk cook for days ahead. You can also prep your water for each meal then too. Just pick a pre-existing habit to use as your reminder.

TODO: Create your personal version of the habit to commit to this challenge!

Here’s a template:

I’m 90-100% sure I will [insert habit] for six days a week after I [insert what you’re going to stack your habit on top of].

Here’s an example:

I’m 90-100% sure I will drink 250ml of water with every meal for six days a week after I start to eat.

P.S. Don’t worry about making this perfect, just work on improving your current hydration.


It’s not selfish to put yourself first; there’s nothing more important than your own wellbeing!

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Until next time…

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