After three and half years of smoke free living, I cracked. It astounds me how deep that hook goes. Once a smoker, always a smoker. Whilst my physical life is undoubtedly deteriorating interestingly my work seems to be the up. I am making good decisions, am less reactive, and more relaxed in my approach. Is nicotine stimulating me to new levels of coding productivity? Nope. It’s the regular breaks I am now forced to take.Every few hours my body lets me know that it’s time for some more nicotine. As an addict I am a slave to the craving, so obediently leave my desk to go outside for my fix. Inconvenient? Far from it. I have started to relish the rthymn smoking adds to my day.
We all know regular breaks are essential, but how many of us actually take them? If my working method is anywhere near typical we tend to struggle to get going and then once moving struggle to tear ourselves away. The only break I take is for lunch (interestingly another mamaliam desire triggered by the reward circuit).
To consciously take a break, not a dopamine rewarded one, is surprisingly difficult. We always have a little more to do and don’t want to stop in the middle of a chunk of work. But the ‘plough on’ mindset isn’t the most productive. Everyone programmer will know the situation where they have been stuck in a task, taken a break, and come back to fix the problem straight away.
With global indoor smoking bans, ironically another plus for the cigerette is the way it get us out into the fresh air. There’s something rejuvenating about stepping out of your work environment onto a street, road, garden and taking 5 minutes to think. Although this is perfectly possible without smoking it somehow doesn’t feel quite right. You have no purpose; you are just loitering.
So am I proposing programmers take up smoking? Nope. I will be smoke free again in a couple of days when I make the transition back from Londoner to my alter ego, the rock climbing bum. But what I am proposing is to integrate these mini breaks into our working lives. Set a timer every time you start a chunk of work. For me my sweet spot is around 1.5 hours. When it rings, down tools and go outside for 5 minutes. Try this for a week. If you feel improvements make this a part of your working life. I am interested to hear people’s results.