In advance of our November 16 online lecture with Poornima Vijayashanker of Femgineer, we are reposting this fascinating article that originally appeared on her blog. Enjoy, and please join us on November 16 at 4pm EST for “A Techie’s Guide to Public Speaking, Interviewing, & Making Moves to Level Up Your Career” – RSVP right here. Take it away, Poornima!
I often have bouts where I feel like I’m doing the same thing over and over again—giving the same talk, revising a landing page, debugging an issue, or just performing a necessary routine of daily tasks.
When the results are the same, the breakthroughs seem unlikely, and after I’ve used up my reserves of patience, boredom kicks in and it just feels like the work I do is drudgery.
I know I’m not the only one. Jason Cohen recently wrote on his A Smart Bear blog that “invention is drudgery.” It might feel like we’re the only ones who go through it, and, as a result, we’re tempted to quit. The truth is everyone goes through drudgery. The reason we don’t realize that everyone goes through it is because, as Cohen says, we “skipped to the last page of other peoples’ book.”
Ultimately, what separates those who experience the breakthrough moments from those who give up early is the ability to learn how to embrace the drudgery and manage it. Here are four ways I’ve learned to do just that:
1. Recruit help
It’s easy to give up when you’re alone because, after all, who is going to know?! But that’s when it’s time to enlist help from others. Even just the act of talking through a tricky coding problem with someone else can often trigger a solution.
I can’t tell you the countless number of times I’ve figured out a solution to a tough programming bug the moment after I explained the problem to someone else.
Help comes in many forms: it can come from teammates, mentors, and—my personal favorite—beginners who haven’t been bogged down by the problem and can offer a unique perspective.
2. Look at it through a fresh pair of eyes
This is often hard to do when you’ve been staring down your computer terminal for hours, weeks, or months. So the key is to step away and take a real break, even if it’s a short one. My personal favorites are going for a run or hitting the yoga mat.
If it’s a longer-term problem, taking a couple days away or a real vacation always helps revive my brain so I can better debug a program or tackle that seemingly impossible bit of code when I return.
3. Engage in another activity outside of the field your problem is in
This is known as combinatory play, and Einstein was a keen practitioner of it.
If you have the urge to be productive, have an active mind, and can’t get yourself to take a break, try pursuing an activity that is going to engage your brain.
My personal favorite way to do this is to study a foreign language—it stimulates a completely different part of my brain than what I use for my technical or business work.
4. Gamify the boring tasks
Sometimes you just have to get through the drudgery, but that doesn’t mean you can’t make it fun!
For rote tasks, I gamify them by imposing a speed test on myself to see how quickly I can get them done. This also prevents me from wasting time and becoming even more bored.
I know some people like to give themselves rewards after performing tasks, but only once they’ve hit a streak. For example, coders who can maintain putting in 5 or 6 hours a day to their project might treat themselves to a massage or other present after hitting that week or month milestone.
I’ve seen other programmers enlist friends in a similar states of drudgery and wager friendly competitions to see who can finish their project first.
The key to gamifying your work is to figure out what you’re motivated by: is it rewards, entertainment, or competition?
We all want to achieve coding breakthroughs, but it’s impossible to predict when those will happen. Without fail, our brains tire out and tempt us to quit. But to reach those breakthrough moments, we have to learn how to motivate ourselves and continue pushing forward through boredom and fatigue. So embrace the drudgery—your next programming breakthrough may be just around the corner.
Be sure to RSVP for our upcoming webinar with Poornima of Femgineer: A Techie’s Guide to Public Speaking, Interviewing, & Making Moves to Level Up Your Career. It’s November 16 at 4pm EST.
Make yourself useful.