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Jon Stødle
Jon Stødle

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The peace of not coding

This was first published on my blog jonstodle.com

For the last few years, I've had this notion that I need to work on some side project in my spare time. I need to be working on something. Write some code. Every spare minute I have.

For the most part, this has worked well. No problem.

However. The last few months have not been so good. I'm constantly thinking that I should be programming, but I'm not. I sit with my laptop and I'm not writing any code. I can do this for hours.

Instead of coding, I'm watching tv shows, interesting tech talks or reading interesting blog posts. But I'm not coding. And as it turns out, that stressed me. I didn't realize until I, one month ago, said to myself: “You know what? There's no point in me sitting with my laptop, trying to figure out a new side project for the single purpose of coding. I'm doing something else.”

All of a sudden I have a lot of spare time on my hands to do some of the stuff I haven't gotten around to earlier: I finally chopped that wood in the garage; I tidied up in the garage; I started tidying up in the second garage. (It kind of sounds like I'm living in a palace).

The best part is: it's really been a freeing experience. I didn't realize how much I was stressing and building up tension because of my perceived failure of not coding. Now that I've finally let that go, I notice how much lighter I feel. I'm surprised at how much better I'm feeling. It even helps on my bad conscience of not chopping that wood.

Of course, once I freed myself from the need to code, I've actually started picking it up again; but only when I feel like it…

Discussion (18)

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weswedding profile image
Weston Wedding

I really worry about how many people out there feel like they're obligated to be coding every single hour of the day. It's kind of crazy how, especially in the "dev twitter" or "dev social media" sphere there is this perception I get that everyone feels like they should be making a new codepen to post, make a new blog, make a new module....

It's okay. Don't code unless you wanna. Your career will be fine.

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jonstodle profile image
Jon Stødle Author

Especially when you see people posting "Weekend! I can finally get some coding done"

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anthdotlee profile image
Anthony Lee

There's kind of a panic that can set in too when you don't want to code on the weekends after you used to do it all the time.

"Wait i used to love this why don't i want to do it anymore oh god."

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josegonz321 profile image
Jose Gonzalez

Excellent article, Jon. My exact thoughts.

I've been down this path for several years. The more I pressure myself to code at my free time, the less I do it.

Why do we code after work hours?
To stay relevant. There's this fear of becoming obsolete...the dinosaur. So we code our eyes off.

Also, we do this to keep up (more like compete) with our virtual and real buddies. This is our developer version of "Keeping up with the Joneses".

"You are still using Angular 1.x? LOL, that's so old!"
translates to
"You are still driving a car from 5 years ago? LOL, that's so old!"

The saddest thing is that all is self-induced. We like to blame it on how fast tech is changes. But it's just our internal voice (call it self-hate/ego/pride) controlling us instead of just living life!

There is more to life than just code. Don't think your skills will go down. Nah, you'll be surprised to find out that all you need is a break from coding.

We are more than just our code :)

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aleron75 profile image
Alessandro Ronchi

Hi, the frustration you describe is likely related to procrastination.

One advice I got from a course on time management is that of time-boxing and focusing on the process rather than on the product.

In other words: if you like working on side project on your spare time, define how much time (someone would say "the number of pomodoros") you will spend weekly and go with it.

If you measure your success based on the result it will likely generate frustration.
If you measure based on the number of tasks you accomplished in planned time you will wipe away that bad feeling of not being able to finish doing things.

Hope it helps.

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jonstodle profile image
Jon Stødle Author

I've tried a bit of "lightweight pomodoro", but I'm better at procrastinating than I am bad time management 😛

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jacmoe profile image
Jacob Moen

A year ago, I got so fed up with constantly feeling the pressure to code all the time, that I simply shut down my computer, and left it untouched for a full six months.

That was liberating. :)

I tended to the garden, went for walks and even got bored.

After that break, when I got back into the saddle so to speak, it was with a much tighter focus.

Lighter and better.

Great piece of writing!

Yes, we all need to take better care of ourselves, and allow us to let go.

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nickwu007 profile image
Nick Wu

I can relate to this deeply, both for school projects now and side work over the weekend. One thought that helped me is thinking of myself as a rubber band. If you constantly make it stretch it loses potential in time.

What I learned from my mentors over the years is it is better to have a schedule in place. Say I want to make one new blog post, a few new commits into the side project, etc. This helps me visualize things so I am not too stressed about not doing things on weekday nights, but also make sure that I get the the work I set up done.

Hope this resonates with people.

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essanpupil profile image
Ikhsan Noor Rosyidin

Sometimes I code side project to get additional income.
Sometimes I code to increase my skill, which in the end I hope will increase my paygrade.

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elrashid profile image
Elrashid

Thank you for sharing your experience.
For me when I think of doing something, I trained myself, That if you don't start doing it in the next 5 seconds, I will not allow it to think about it again.
so next time it will remember something it will have a virtual dealine of 5 seconds.
5 seconds thinking + 5 Deciding = 10 seconds do it or frog it.
my method succeeds about 65% of the time.

if you have the time watch Tim Urban "Inside the mind of a master procrastinator"
youtube.com/watch?v=arj7oStGLkU

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andrewdtanner profile image
Andrew Tanner 🇪🇺

This is good to see. I haven't coded in months at home but I do have a few ideas I wanna play around with. Truth is I spend 8 hours a day coding or thinking about something related to coding. When I get home I wanna pick up my guitar, read a book, cook, relax with my better half and explore the great outdoors. I love coding, I really do, but I love lots of things.

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dplaton profile image
Daniel Platon

There's a nuance here - I feel the need to code (actually is more of a "want" than a "need"), but I feel the "want" to code something different than what I do every day.
I'm an enterprise software developer (content management systems, Java, that kind of thing) and I'm just... tired of it. It pays the bills alright (I'm doing this for about 12 years now) but as I grew older I failed to see the actual outcome of my work. I build a product to be used by some customers to provide services for their customers (this is the general pattern of enterprise software) and this started to feel... abstract to me.
That's why I started working on video games. I have some ideas and I'm now in the process of learning how to use the tools to implement it. To me, it's much more rewarding to be able to share the result of my work so other people could enjoy it than to just implement an API layer so my product can integrate with {insert your enterprise platform here}.

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oscar_oued profile image
Oscar Ouedraogo

I think the lesson here is to not force yourself to do something you do not feel at the moment. But look for something that might interest you and let the time bring you back to that first task with potentially some motivation.

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rodneyringler profile image
rodney ringler

Jon,

In general, I find doing any small cleanup or 5S kind of project around the house makes me feel better. It is kind of that feng shui thing. I will be working at home and walk by something that bugs me. Everyday I walk by and think about how much it bugs me. For weeks.Then I finally take an hour, fix it, and I feel so much better. Then every time I walk by it I marvel in my handiwork and it makes me feel better.

But this also, I find, puts me in a better frame of mind to program again. It kind of unclutters my brain and my creativity seems to flow better. It also seems to reduce stress and anxiety.

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jpalala profile image
jose palala

I find that I think more clearly when everything's neat and tidy

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ghost profile image
Ghost

I did the exactly same thing some time ago and I must say: it feels good. Now I have time to pursue other hobbies than programming.

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danieldk1 profile image
Daniel De Kock

It took a while for me to realize this was the source of my anxiety and then I took up oil painting while watching tech talks.

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jonstodle profile image
Jon Stødle Author

That sounds awesome. I might copy that at some point