Learning Hack: Use Your Down Time

As it turns out, human beings cannot concentrate constantly on writing code. Sometimes we need a break. In this week’s post, I’m going to suggest a few ways that you can use your down time somewhat productively.

Suggestion 1: Podcasts

Stuck on a train? Have a long commute? Going for a long walk? I really suggest listening to podcasts about computer programming. Now, podcasts are not a great way to learn specific syntax or algorithms or anything. If someone started reading code out loud on the radio, they probably wouldn’t have a very big following, and their listeners would have car wrecks trying to remember how deep the curly braces were nested. But, podcasts are awesome for a few things.

First, you will hear about problems other people are having. Troy Hunt will get on the air and tell everyone to make sure they don’t have a SQL injection vulnerability. So now you know SQL injection is a thing. Someone will talk about cool programming languages like Typescript and Go. Now you know about them! It is great fuel for your ideas and your general knowledge to hear about other people’s programming problems and products. It is also much easier to begin sounding knowledgeable in a field if you constantly listen to experts talk about that field.

Suggestion 2: Exercise

Last week, I literally fixed a bug by riding my bike. It was the middle of the afternoon, I was all out of concentration power for the moment, and I had been staring at the screen for a while. So I signed out one of the company’s bikes for a quick ride. By the time I got back to my desk, I knew the answer.

Suggestion 3: Clear out other tasks

I have a theory: there are many times during the week when you are too tired to write code well, but you are not too tired to unload the dishwasher. Or maybe you are not too tired to weed the garden, or whatever. Do these things! If you spend all your down time watching Star Trek, then when you have super awake, I-can-solve-anything energy, you’re going to have to waste it folding laundry, and you’re going to learn more slowly because of the missed opportunity. So use time when you’re too tired to code to clear out your agenda. That way, you’ll always be ready to learn.

Suggestion 4: Write

There is probably an upcoming blog post about how writing is the best way to learn, but here’s a sneak preview: If you write down explanations of stuff you’re trying to learn, you will learn faster and remember more. Also, I find that writing code and writing English seem to have different fuel sources. I can write code till I’m sick of it, take a five minute break, and turn around and write these blog posts. I suspect you’ll have a similar experience.

Writing has a lot of advantages. First, you get better at writing. Ever notice how every programming job listing says “excellent written and verbal communication skills” at the bottom. Yeah. Practice writing. Second, you get things written, as in now you own documents that you made yourself. Maybe they’ll turn out to be right for a blog, or even a book. Third, you consolidate what you learned. I guarantee that if you write a short article about something you’re studying, your understanding will increase rapidly.

 

Suggestion 5: Read this blog! Or all the other not-too-technical-for-tired-people, still-very-helpful blogs out there.

 

Till next week, happy learning!

 

-Will

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