We are creatures of habit

We are creatures of habit. By repetition, may it be willingly or unintentionally, we add new actions, reactions, ways of thinking... habits come in so varied ways.

Some habits take time to acquire; Some people say you need 60 days of repeating something for it to become a habit... or was it 61 times? I love those off-by-one errors even outside of software development 😂 Anyway, you get the point: they don't simply suddenly appear and "now you have it".

Habits can be good and healthy: For example, thanks to the COVID-19 house confinement (which lasted 2.5 months in Spain) I've introduced myself into meditation, and now have the habit of doing it first time in the morning almost every day. Regarding development, as an example I've been an avid fan of practising the pomodoro technique as a way to maintain focus while working.

But we sadly can also merge bad habits to our lives.

I've always disliked open offices, mostly because of the noise they help spread and the education in silence that employees need when working in such a wide space. Yes, I do have noise cancelling headphones since 2010 or 2011, and many times listening to electronic music gets me into the zone and boosts my coding speed, but I also like sometimes to enjoy the sound of silence. And that is almost impossible in any office nowadays.

And is not just a matter of some noise, is more of an issue of constant interruptions: "Did you read the Slack I just sent you?", "Hey, just in case you didn't saw the email invite and Google Calendar reminder, I come to your place to remind you about that incredibly [irrelevant] meeting everyone including you should attend!", phone calls, mobile phone notifications, a colleage speaking on the phone right next to you, somebody screaming somewhere loud enough you can hear it even without pinpointing the source...

To provide specific metrics, I am still not able to do more than 5 or 6 50-minute pomodoros in a single 8h work shift (not cheating, any distraction means you reset the timer). And I'm usually regarded as a very focused person by my colleagues. I don't think so many people suddenly have ADD (Attention Deficit Disorder) magically. I think is just that, with so many distractions, we've created the habit of doing single-core multitasking (quickly doing context switching, and thus partially losing focus). "Just answering that email and going back to the task", "just replying xxxxx's chat", etcetera. Not counting if you check your phone with each notification, then I simply wonder how anybody can even reach a state of concentration at all.

The good news is that almost, if not all, bad habits, can be also nullified. Sometimes it is hard, because for example a toxic environment is harder to fight than a self-created "fake need". But sometimes it is easy, as eating healthier (you just start removing crappy food and slowly adding better substitutes, and doesn't feels hard to progress). But I believe that it is always in our hands, somehow, a way out of any bad habit. Even if it means a drastic change.

It took me some vacations and one month to be again almost in total control of my attention when coding. Now, most of the time I am the one choosing to check the phone only either then the pomodoro is over, or while the code is compiling, the server starting or some other task that I can't avoid waiting for. And many times, it is actually more interesting to keep reading article X or one page of book Y.

Posted by Kartones on 2020-07-09

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