As developers, we are perpetually tasked with providing solutions to complex problems. Whether it’s fixing a bug, coming up with a method for some new functionality, or designing architecture for the next big build, our role is to create solutions to problems.
While it’s often more customary to rely solely on our conscious mind when solving these problems, we tend to overlook the power of our subconscious in helping with this.
You’ve probably heard of the phrase ‘sleep on it’. Whether you give it value or not, it’s scientifically proven that if you sleep on a problem, your brain spends the night working through all the problems you had during the day.
If you get an average amount of sleep, this is a good eight hours your brain spends thinking about whatever problems you had the previous day.
This is a long time for your brain to be considering something, and as developers it’s in our nature to be as efficient as possible; so why not take advantage of this?
A common mindset I encourage in myself is that, when I have a particularly difficult issue to solve, I read it through, do a little research around the subject, then reschedule it to the next day and get on with something else.
More often than not, a solution comes to me during the night, in the shower, or over breakfast, and I get into work and hit the ground running.
I often employ this method to bugs and tasks that are taking too long to consider. It saves time and, more importantly, reduces stress caused from taking too long to come up with, or refactor towards, an ‘ideal’ solution. It has become an integral way of doing things in my working week.
However, what if you haven’t got time to sleep on things, and your issue is a little more urgent? If you’re struggling with solving something and want to tap into the power of your subconscious, simply work on something more mundane for a couple of hours. This should be enough time to distract your conscious mind from the problem and let your subconscious think it over.
By doing this, you may provide yourself with the ‘epiphany’ that you require during your distraction time, or you may sit down to think it through again to find that your understanding of what is involved has shifted, providing you with the right path to find your solution.
Contrary to this last point, consider the case that you’re in no rush. You have a big project coming up, for example, that requires some unusual or complex architecture.
Read the brief/specification thoroughly, do any relevant research, and then work on something completely different for a while (not too long, or you’ll never end up building it!).
Your subconscious will spend days and nights letting your ideas and thoughts percolate, and when you eventually get to drawing up the architecture, it will be solid and well considered.
With these methods in mind (pun intended), with a defined understanding of the capabilities of your subconscious, your productivity will improve, your stress levels to decrease and you can feel slightly smug in the knowledge that you’re using your brain that bit more efficiently!
Utilise your subconscious; less stress, higher quality output!
To end, here’s a clip from Season 3 Episode 14 of The Big Bang Theory where Sheldon tries to get a ‘mundane’ job to allow his subconscious to think through a problem he can’t solve. — https://youtu.be/O1WpE5ntqbQ