Stumped by a Problem? Try Coding Less
Running into challenging situations or problems is a fact of life in software development. From complex coding constructs to tricky phantom bugs, programmers spend many hours traversing their own minds in search of the right answer. Unfortunately, this brain spelunking doesn't always yield consistent results. At times the problem seems obvious, while on other occasions, it seems to hide behind a subtle impenetrable veil. This shroud can be very aggravating to developers. In these moments a stubborn few push on, but most give up and set the problem aside. Then, at some point in the near future, without provocation, the solution arrives like a rushing tidal wave. Sometimes it happens during a seemingly unrelated conversation or while driving home from work. For some, the solution wakes them up from a sound sleep or is the first thought after waking. Why is this?
The answer is simple and often overlooked. Software development is not natural. Although some can excel at it, no one is born with the knowledge of programming. It must be learned. Developers are responsible for converting concepts into reality using a vast array of flexible, yet rigid constructs. For most developers, programming is the most mentally taxing activity of the day. At times this thought is lost or forgotten. Similar to the religious concept of the Sabbath, a day (or time) of rest is important for developers. This programming break does not require absconding from all technology. It's an opportunity for the brain to slow down from the high cognitive load brought on by activities such as programming and problem solving.
In software development the temptation to stay late, work through lunch, or indulge in marathon sessions is far too easy. Developers rationalize these actions with thoughts such as "I need to stay heads down," "I just want to finish this," or "I can figure this out." Although these actions are honorable, it's important to recognize there is a point of diminishing returns. One area of concern is developer burnout. Taking time after work and on the weekends to break away from development is vital. Watch a movie, play a game, attend a concert, go shopping, enjoy a sporting event, spend time with family/friends, volunteer, etc. These activities can be wide ranging but all have one thing in common. They are low effort tasks. They provide the time necessary for the brain to relax and refocus. This is a hidden key to programming success.