Creative activities can sometimes run into a block where ideas don't materialize and the project's goal appear to be unattainable. An example of this is a well-known issue that affects writers called writer's block. Like writing, coding is a creative activity and coder's block affects coders equally as much. Coder's block is a period during which a developer encounters some difficulty writing good code or any code at all.
Every programmer or Software developer, at some point or another, have found themselves hopelessly stuck on a coding error that needed to be solved. This usually results in some sleepless nights and aggressively searching StackOverflow in hopes that someone else encountered the exact same issue and could offer a solution. Here are some strategies I've learned that have helped me to overcome this issue.
1. TURN YOUR DEVICES OFF.
One of the easiest ways to be stuck in coder's block is to keep distractions around. Before embarking on a coding project or any creative project, it is important to get rid of distractions such as our smartphones. The usual culprits are Instagram, Facebook, Youtube (especially YouTube on autoplay), or any other app on your device that sends you notifications of some exciting event. You can literally get sucked in and spend an entire day accomplishing absolutely nothing. As I am writing this, I just received a notification from Youtube that one of my favourite YouTubers, Adrienne Bailon, just released another episode of All Things Adrienne…..
All Things Adrienne, 6 Beyonce and Jay-Z - OTR tour performances and 1 hour later, I finally got a chance to get to number two.
2. TALK IT THROUGH WITH PETS OR INANIMATE OBJECTS
A number of times I’ve tried explaining a problem to a fellow developer and while doing so I realize the solution to the problem. While it is a great technique to overcome coder’s block or problem-solving in general, you won’t always have an available or knowledgeable ear when you experience coder’s block. Additionally, you wouldn’t want to waste other persons valuable time listening to you lament over your issues.
The solution is quite simple. Instead of speaking to an actual person, explain the problem to your pet or explain out loud to the closest inanimate object you can find. Yes, you read that right, AN INANIMATE OBJECT!!!!!! Sure you will look crazy but by doing that your brain is forced to rethink the problem in such a way that it can be explained. Explaining out loud will allow the brain to decompose the problem into different components and that is usually when you experience the ‘thunderbolt lightbulb’ moment. I know you don’t want to look silly especially when others are around but I am certain it is an effective way to tackle coder’s block.
3. PUT THE PROJECT ON TIMEOUT
Sometimes the project itself can be a distraction when you are trying to rectify an issue with it. Assuming there are no time constraints, it is ok to put the project on a little timeout and engage in some other unrelated activity. You could get some exercise in, read that book you’ve been wanting to read but is gathering dust on your bookshelf or answer nature’s call. I must say that some of my greatest ideas came to me while I sat on the latrine, skirt around my ankle.
4. ASK YOURSELF: DO I HAVE AN ABSOLUTE UNDERSTANDING OF WHAT THE PROJECT GOALS ARE?
It is absolutely imperative that you have a clear understanding of the goal or the problem that the project intends to solve. Without this understanding, it can be very difficult to even get started on a project. If your lack of understanding is causing your block then you need to think deeply about the problem that the project is supposed to solve. When we are burdened with time and budget constraints, it is easy to lose sight of the project goal and the goal then becomes a bit more personal. The goal may turn into your need to meet the deadline or to hold on to your job. If this is the issue, it is important that you remove yourself from the equation and focus on what the project intends to achieve and why.
5.LISTEN TO MUSIC (MAY I SUGGEST BEYONCE?)
Singer/Songwriter/Actress/Businesswoman/Mistress of the Universe now Coder’s Block Strategist, Beyonce Knowles-Carter is a great way to overcome coder’s block. Don’t argue with me, its Science! If you don’t agree then any other music you love to listen to or play is fine. Research shows that Listening to and playing music triggers every known part of the brain and enhances its function. It makes you more productive, happier and smarter (1). Research also shows that music can improve your mood and lower your stress levels (2)(3). Being smarter, more productive, having a great mood and a low-stress level are all important when trying to escape coder’s block.
Coder’s block can be difficult but it is not insurmountable. Firstly, you need to acknowledge that you are experiencing coder’s block. Secondly, you need to figure out why you are experiencing coders block and choose one of the above strategies to overcome it. Good luck!