Benefits of Taking a Long Break from Programming

On March 13, 2014

You probably know the benefits of taking small breaks from work. But a long break also has its own advantage.

In this post, I'd like to share how a long break can actually help you in balancing your life as a programmer.

And though I've written this post with programmers in mind, this applies to anyone who works with a computer all day.

First, let's see why we need to take a long break.

Sometimes, we get so involved in our work that it starts affecting our personal life. The decisions and actions that we take in our professional life end up having a negative reaction on our day-to-day well being.

If you have been feeling low or unhappy with your work, the same work which you once enjoyed doing, then it might just be the right time to take a long break from it.

I haven't programmed a single line of code since the last several months. And that's why I know the benefits of taking a long break from programming, and how it actually helps you in living a better personal and professional life.

To be honest, my break was completely unintentional, as I had several things to figure out in my life. As you may not be facing those issues, you probably don't need to take such a long break.

I also understand that it's not possible for everyone of you to take months off from your work and stay away from programming. But I do know that if you manage your time well, you can at least take a week or two out of your schedule every year and stay away from programming during that time.

But how do you know whether you need to take a break or not. What if you're having a good time programming and living a well-balanced personal and professional life. In that case, this probably doesn't apply to you, and you might as well skip reading this post now.

For others who are wondering if this applies to you, you need to answer a few questions:

Do you feel unhappy at work?
Do you feel unhappy at home?
Do you wish you had more time to do other things in a day?
Do you feel stress regularly?
Do you think programming is no longer as fun as it once used to be?
Are you not able to spend as much time with your family as you want to?
Do you feel lack of energy, or completely drained out at end of the day?
Do you feel that you are shunning your other responsibilities to devote more time to programming?

If your answer is Yes to most of these questions then you probably need a long break from your work.

So let's see what exactly defines a long break. And how many days or weeks you need to take off to bounce back to your best self.

For that you have to figure out two things. First, for how many months or years you have been working without taking a break. And second, what exactly would you want to have if you take this break.

So the ideal break time for you can be anywhere from a week to a couple of months. That's something only you can find.

And if you want to know what you'll gain if you take such a long break, here are some of the benefits:

You won't think about problems only in terms of programming. If you have been programming long enough, say several months without a break, your mind gets so involved in programming, that you start to see every problem from a programming point of view. This narrows your thinking and you fail to see the bigger picture. A break clears your programming mind and brings you back to your normal mode of thinking.

You can see the same problem from different angles. When you stop seeing problems only from a programmer's point of view, you start to see the same problems from different angles - from a designer's point of view, a tester's point of view, or even a normal user's point of view. This not only helps in recognising new problems, problems that you didn't see earlier, but also helps in finding new opportunities and features that other users might want.

You feel more stress-free. If you've been programming for few years, you would've experienced stress many times, especially during deadlines. Sometimes, too much stress can also lead to depression, and you may totally lose interest in your work. Taking a break does just the opposite. It refreshes you once again to face new programming challenges, and start over with a relaxed mind.

You actually feel happy and calm throughout the day. When there are no pressures, no deadlines, and no one to watch over you, you can act freely and do whatever you want to do. And as you spend this time doing something you love, it gives you lot of joy and makes you happy and satisfied from inside.

You actually look forward to doing more programming. If you've been programming the same kind of stuff for long time, you get bored with it. And if that's the case, then it's the right time to take a break. When you stop doing that work, which you've been doing continuously for months or years, you actually start missing it after some time, and you gladly look forward towards returning back to doing it again.

You can concentrate on other important things in your life that are not related to programming. There are many things in our life - our family, friends, hobbies, and health - that take a back seat just because we are busy with our work all the time. When you take a break, you can use this time to pause and reflect upon other important things in your life, and come up with a solution that helps you live a well-balanced life - a life where in addition to work, you also spend some quality time improving yourself, and helping your family.

Your eyes feel relaxed. As programmers, we spend most of our time staring at the computer screen, concentrating upon our code. While this may make you a better programmer, but it won't improve your eyesight. It's essential that you take care of your eyes, just like you care about your body and mind, and give it some rest. And a good break does just that.

Your body becomes healthier. No matter what kind of chair you use or what kind of desk you have, sitting or standing in the same position for 8-10 hours a day isn't good for your body posture. When you maintain any posture for long time, your body tends to go in that posture even when you are doing some other activity. That's why it's a good idea to give your body some change and use this time to get back in good shape.

Your mind becomes clear. If you have been thinking about work for long enough, your mind gets burdened with your work, and it carries that burden even to your home when you are not working. Your mind also faces stress, anxiety, and fear. To clear your mind from all such negative energies you need to take a break to bring your mind back to its natural calm state.

These are just some of the benefits that you might feel when you take a long break. With time, I have realised that it's not enough to be a good programmer, you also need to be a healthy and happy one.

Programming, or any other work you do, is just a part of your life. And you have to make sure that you keep it just a part, and not let it become your whole life.

And if you do decide to take a break, try to stay away from a crowded city and go some place that's more nature-friendly. It won't be a break if you keep hustling all day and spending all your time using your cell phone or computer.

It would be even better if you keep yourself away from using any kind of technology gadget including your cell phones, tablets and laptops.

To get the maximum benefit from such breaks, try to get different experiences from it - travel a new place, learn meditation, read a real book (not on Kindle or iPad), go for long walks in quiet environment, spend some quality time with your family, play and have some fun time with kids (again, no console or tablets, just some real game).

If you do this, then this break time is sufficient to relax your body and mind from the daily hustles of programming.

A break, whether of two minutes or two months, is supposed to refresh you, relax you, and make you feel more energetic. If it fails to do this, then it isn't the right kind of break for you.

Now you may have a question : Does taking a long break affects your programming career?

The answer depends on your goals as a programmer. If you are only concerned about becoming a better programmer, who only wants to spend all of his time programming and doing nothing else, then taking a long break may actually slow your growth.

But if you are a programmer who wants to become something more than a programmer, who wants to make his own products, or start a startup some day, then you'll need plenty of experiences that are other than programming.

And a long break might just be that thing that gives you these variety of experiences that are not related to programming.

In short, it's a trade-off. If you take one month of break, that means you'll have to work for one more month to complete your programming goals. You'll be one more month away from publishing your app or finishing your website. But if you don't take a break, then you'll also not get the benefits mentioned earlier.

The choice is your's and only you can tell what's more important for you - your professional life, your career, your startup, your family, or your health.

Whatever your decision, do weigh the pros and cons with a clear mind and do what best suits you. This was just my experience taking a break away from programming. Your's might be different.

Thanks for reading this post. If you found it useful, please share it with others.

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