Run Away From Your Problems: The Power of Taking Breaks in Programming

As a senior architect at Botisimo, I can attest to the mental challenges that come with programming. The hours of concentration, problem-solving, and attention to detail can be draining, and it's not uncommon to hit roadblocks or become stuck on a problem. Taking breaks played a significant role in our success. It's worth considering that stepping away from a problem might be the key to overcoming it.

Daniel Kahneman, the Nobel Prize-winning psychologist, explains in his book "Thinking Fast and Slow" that the brain needs to put problems on the back burner in order to solve them. When we step away from a problem, our brains can continue to work on it subconsciously, allowing us to come up with fresh solutions when we return.

But what does taking a break look like for a programmer? It doesn't necessarily mean stopping work altogether. Instead, it can mean switching to a different task, taking a short walk, or even engaging in conversation with colleagues.

For example, many creative offices in Dallas, TX have ping-pong tables. While it may seem like a distraction, it can actually be a great way for the brain to distract itself long enough to solve problems. The same goes for taking a walk around the block or going to a nearby store. Giving your brain a chance to take in non-work stimuli can be just what it needs to solve a programming problem.

If you're always throwing old fixes at new problems, you're going to end up with duct-tape chaos. Instead, engaging in conversation with other people – even if it's not related to the task at hand – can help you find new solutions and enjoy your work more. When we interact with others, we expose ourselves to different perspectives and ways of thinking. This can be especially helpful when we're feeling stuck on a problem.

Here are some ways I take breaks in order to have what it takes to land the winning punch:

Take a walk

Instead of getting a coffee from the break room, walk to the coffee shop down the street. Or just walk around the building while some task is working. Work from home? That doesn’t keep you from taking a walk.

Work on another project

If the deadline is far enough out, working on a different task for a day can be the break your mind needs to come back and approach things from a different angle. If your problem is short-lived, helping out a co-worker could be the break you need.

Meditate

Whether you meditate on the problem, or on something else, the task of focusing your thoughts along with circular breathing can help you gain the boost you need. The cool thing is if you practice it enough, it’s something you can do at your own desk.

Nap

If your work environment allows naps, take advantage of them. Folklore says that Einstein would take a short nap (5 minutes) to overcome blocks when he was inventing. It switches your brain’s mode just long enough to help you overcome the issue.

It's important to note that not all breaks are created equal. Mindlessly scrolling through social media or watching TV may feel like a break, but they're not giving your brain the chance to truly decompress. Instead, opt for activities that allow your brain to wander and process information in a more free-flowing way.

In conclusion, taking breaks is an essential part of being a productive and effective programmer. By stepping away from a problem, we allow our brains to decompress and recharge, leading to better problem-solving and more creative solutions.

So the next time you find yourself stuck on a programming problem, remember: you should run away from your problems!

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