A big reason that I work seven days a week is to keep momentum going. I know that any day I take off will set me back not only the productivity I would have gotten on that one day, but also the additional time it takes me to catch up mentally to where I left off.
This is also the true danger of undisciplined web browsing, and the reason I've completely eliminated it during work time over the past three months. Stopping at a difficult point to relieve mental pressure by wasting time means that when I get back to work I need to do the work of catching up before I can actually solve the problem.
However, there's also a major benefit to taking these pauses, and it's exactly the same as the problem. Sometimes forgetting where you are can be a good thing.
My past couple days of work have been frustrating. I'm in the early stages of building a live theme editor, and was having a tremendously difficult time making an editing box that automatically highlighted syntax to make it easy to read. It's frustrating any time something doesn't work, but my eagerness to move on to the next step as well as the feeling that this just shouldn't be that hard made it doubly frustrating.
Yesterday Downtown Project Las Vegas was kind enough to put me up in one of their VIP crash pads. I spent some time checking out the amazing things they were doing downtown, but I also spent a lot of time in the crash pad trying to get the editor to work. Despite spending hours on the problem, I made only almost no progress.
Now I'm sitting at an empty poker table in Bellagio, waiting for a seat in a game, so I whipped out my laptop to hack away at SETT again. In my first ten minutes of work I figured out the thing that I spent hours on yesterday. Because I got some distance from the problem and forgot about the approach I was taking yesterday, I was able to take a fresh look and logically work my way to a new solution.
If I had worked in the morning I may have just kept spinning my wheels trying my old approach, but it's a good 16 hours since I last worked, so my temporary unfamiliarity with the problem worked to my benefit.
Of course, taking sixteen hours off from work here and there isn't a very good strategy. I aim for about 10 hours, from midnight to ten am. However, my new strategy is going to be to recognize when I'm spinning my wheels, and if I can't snap out of it, to tackle a different problem for a few hours, even if it's a low priority.
Hopefully this strategy will allow me to maintain a high rate of productivity without spending inefficiently butting my head against the wall. It's a way to work smarter while still working hard.
Photo is me sitting on the edge of a building in New York.
Tynan: This is a great post. I find that I DO need those breaks. One time I was also spinning my wheels on a problem that I just could not figure out!I put it to rest, went to bed and woke up at 5am with the solution. It's as if once we get our "logic" out of the way, the brain takes over and figures out the problem. This has happened on many occasions for me, including when I have misplaced something.
I just say "Divine spirit of my higher self, instantly lead me now to that which I have misplaced. I ordain this under grace." By jove, I find the misplaced object! Maybe not instantly, but once I let go of it, my mind sorts it out!
That photo is amazing. I don't think I could do that though! I'm afraid of heights because I always have the urge to jump off! Pretty messed up huh?
You also have to let your mind rest. I dunno, I guess you've trained your brain to where it's used to working really hard all day, but a lot of people need periods of rest to be at 100%.
love the message,Breaks are essential to progress in every area of life.Slowing down seems to bring clarity. But the photo,not so much.Heights...even thinking about them make me very agitated!
Definitely true. Your subconscious is more powerful than your conscious mind so it's often beneficial to take a break when you're running in circles. It's a balancing act though because taking a break also can cause you to lose your work flow.
What if when you got stuck you meditated for a couple minutes or moved to a different part of SETT? I think that may be a good solution that'll allow you to stay in "work mode."
Yeah its as if your subconscious solves the problem only if you allow your conscious mind to stop thinking about it. Kind of reminds me of the main theme behind the book "Think and Grow Rich".
What really helps me in cases like this is working in Pomodoros, e.g. 25 min focused work bursts, 5 min pause. Just walking away from the desk every now and then helps me to avoid moving into the wrong direction for too long by taking a step back and questioning the overall approach.
I hadn't thought of this a benefit of using Pomodoros. I have used to get through work I was avoiding so I could focus on it without letting myself do other stuff for 25 mins and use the 5 min break to stretch and relax. Now thinking of trying on tasks I enjoy too!PS I read a free book on it last year http://www.pomodorotechnique.com/download/pdf/ThePomodoroTechnique_v1-3.pdf which is pretty good if you are new to it. I also got a free Pomodoros timer for my laptop called Pomodairo.
I do this with my writing. Sometimes I work on a piece and I just can't get it to work like I want it. I set it aside and start writing another. Sometimes I can back to it the next day or some cases a month later. The whole time your mind has been working on it subconciously.
I have sometimes got solutions to problems I was spinning my wheels on by going for a walk, taking a shower or talking it over with another programming friend. Anything that engages other parts of my brain seems to help.
If you haven't read "How to solve it" by Polya it has hundreds of ideas on how to solve hard problems. While it was written for solving math problems a lot of the ideas apply to programming problems too. Book Summary here http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/How_to_Solve_It
I now know better than to estimate the time moped projects will take. A quick half hour job turns into a frustrating afternoon after just one or two minor speedbumps. And that's what happened today.
One of my tires went flat last week, but instead of just replacing the tube, I ended up buying new wheels, tubes, and tires, because my old ones had spoked rims that weren't quite as straight as they once were, and didn't quite have as many spokes as they once had.
To ease into the work, I decided to do the front wheel first. Taking off the back wheel requires removing the belt, chain, brake cable, and then you have to take the transmission out of the hub. The front wheel should only require removing the brake cable.
My job at Bungie these days is about one core piece of technology we use to make our games. It's a system that all the artists, designers and sound designers use to get their work into the game. So, like any technology job where you're building a product other people use, there are two kinds of work: the work of building the technology and the work of supporting the people using it.
Things have been busy enough lately that I was trying to focus just on the coding and not do much support work. It wasn't really working out. All around me the artists, designers, and sound designers were struggling with issues while I was trying just to plow ahead on the coding work we need to get done. When the support work boiled over and I had to stop and attend to it, it took a ton of time and effort. Because I'd been burying my head in the sand trying to get code written, I didn't have any context for what was happening with the users. If I had to help someone, first it took me a good half-hour of asking random people questions just to have enough context to even understand what the problem was and what needed to happen.
I couldn't ignore the support work, though. Eventually I had to turn my attention towards it, and so I did, one week, and it consumed basically my entire week. I got just about nothing else done. It was frustrating seeing the coding work pile up, so my response was to keep trying to minimize my involvement in the support work. I'd do as little as I could get away with, try to hand off problems to someone else. Bu it didn't seem to actually help. It still took a ton of time just to figure out enough about a problem to know how to hand it off to someone else, and if anything that ramp-up time was getting longer.
* * *If you've ever watched the Tour de France, or the road biking events in the Olympics, or ever seen any group of people riding road bikes together, you've probably noticed they tend to cluster together in a compact formation. They're not just riding close together because they like the company (and the increased risk of crashes and injuries.) No, they're riding close together because of drafting.