Saturday, August 7, 2010

An Apple A Day Keeps the Bugs Away

I've been working from home for the last year or so, and it has tremendously increased my productivity as a developer. Besides the obvious reasons (lack of distractions, no meetings, etc) there is one other advantage that I haven't often heard people mention before.

I have been able to find solutions to some really hard technical problems much quicker, and I attribute it to the fact that I work from home instead of in a more office-like environment.

Most software engineers will tell you that some of their best ideas have come to them when doing the most mundane of things - taking a shower, strolling across lawns, eating a snack and so on. I don't know the psychology behind this, but I know it's true for me. Something about being alone and thinking about your problem subconsciously, and yet being physically distracted with an unrelated task seems to work wonders. I have solved more tough problems while in the shower, when sitting down to eat an apple, when watering the plants or simply doing the dishes than I have sitting at a desk and just thinking. So obviously, being at home makes it much easier for me to find one of these mundane tasks that let me 'detach' and yet perform an activity that is beneficial to me both personally and professionally.

It's become a pretty important weapon in my software development arsenal - if I'm stuck on something for more than 30 minutes, I get out of my workspace and go do something mundane around the house or eat a quick snack. More often than not a solution magically appears in my head.

Back when I worked in an office, if I was stuck trying to solve a hard problem my best option was to find someone familiar enough with the problem space and bounce ideas off of them. This worked pretty well initially but didn't scale too well with problems that became narrower and deeper in scope - I often found myself spending a lot of time trying to catch others up to where it would be valuable to bounce ideas off them. And heading off into the office kitchen to reorganize stuff or watering random plants around the office would just make me look weird.

So, the next time you're having a hard time finding a solution to a problem in the office think about taking the next day off and working from home. Oh, and make sure the dishes aren't done. ;)

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