I’ve been away from work for the last five weeks, and since most of that time has been abroad I’ve been completely out of the loop. This is probably the longest time in my career that I’ve gone without giving more than a cursory thought to the world of development.
Getting back into the swing of programming has been hard over the last few days, forcing my brain back into useful patterns of thinking and feeling ‘switched on’ or ‘in the zone’ are never things I’ve really struggled with, so this has been something of an education!
Catching up on more than a month’s worth of releases/updates/news has been less overwhelming than I had thought it would be though, I just can’t decide if there’s not been a great deal happening recently, or whether I’m used to keeping myself more up-to-date than is strictly necessary…
I’ve recently started mindfulness meditation; it seems to be mentioned everywhere you turn at the moment, so I though I’d give it a try. One of the key ideas is to be a passive observer to your thoughts: not trying to stop them, not chasing after them, but simply watching them pass by. By practising impassive observation, we are supposed to be able to more easily step away from problems / situations / stresses in day-to-day life.
We’ve all had the realisation at some point, that for our current situation the best – and possibly only – thing to do is simply to take a step back, take a deep breath, and (in the words of Frozen) let it go.
I’m led to believe that mindfulness meditation has various well supported benefits from reduced stress to increased happiness – and I can certainly believe that to be the case – but I’ve found that it has really helped me to notice when I need to stop coding and go for a break. It sounds like a minor thing, but it can be all too easy to ‘fall down the rabbit hole’ and keeping mashing the keyboard while not actually being productive when writing code. Knowing when to step back, take stock, and look at the bigger picture is an incredibly important skill for a developer looking to produce any kind of complex system.
I know developers that spend a lot of time and effort looking after their physical health, and we are all very much aware of the problems that such a sedentary job can cause; but I don’t think we spend enough time considering our lifestyles’ impacts on our mental health. Particularly with our industry’s problems with startup culture, burnout, et cetera (I read a blog post talking about how to effectively work 16+ hours per day as a developer. I thought it was a joke. It wasn’t.) I think that techniques like mindfulness are becoming ever more important in looking after ourselves.