Published: 24.07.2020 | Edited: 22.12.2020 | Tags: personal

Three reasons why you should spend time in nature as a programmer

Do you spend considerable time staring to the screen? You probably do. You are doing so right now reading this. If you do some (or mostly) programming during the time behind a monitor, you might be missing out on some great sights out there. And not only that.

Realxing in a nature as a programmer can indirectly increase your productivity. Here is the list of three reasons I have identified are beneficial for spending time in the nature to boost your programming.

1. Relaxing requires effort

In today's productivity obsessed era, you might easily get caught in a cycle of putting in as much hours as possible to get the job done. But this approach usually leads to diminishing returns. When you are sleep deprived, you do more mistakes. I even tend to choose sub-optimal solutions in this state. There have been countless nights that I went to bed really late, unable to fall asleep, with my brain still in high revs, because I have been clobbing up the first solution that was apparently viable when I started. It is not fun to realize the next day, when I finally manage to wake up, that it could be done in a faster, yet still efficient manner. Sometimes experimenting with diferent solutions is essential, and you should not hesitate to throw away un-needed code, especially when it is in VCS, but realizing that you already knew the right solution and did not choose it simply because your brain was tired is painful.

Relaxing is a form of art - art of not working. Relaxing can overlap with procrastination, and this might be the reason many people neglect it. But for me, there is a difference. When I catch myself procrastinating, it is usually something connected with low efort, high reward activity. Watching a YouTube video with a Warcraft 3 match. Eating a youghurt with added sugars, even though I am not hungry. Reading endless comments below Hackaday's posts. You name it. Relaxing, on the other hand requires some effort from me. Apart from a few unindetified plants that could be present in the space I usually work in, I need to make effort to get into the nature. I currently live in the city. If the time is short, I can choose a bench in a park to sit for a while. The effort required is usually walking there. To get deeper into the nature, I am required to ride a bike or drive and hike to the place, all of which are considerably harder to pull off than just opening a web page. Thus, for me, relax requires effort, procrastination not. Identifying when you relax is the first step to actually relaxing. Relaxation helps you rest. Procrastination usually not.

2. 50 shades of Green for your eyes

Nature, especially when blooming during vegetation, provides a pletheora of colors to look at. Yes, your newest screen might advertise a support for zillion and one colors, and it might even be true, depending on how you measure it. But there is a difference in looking at all the colors on your monitor and outside there. First, as a programmer you usually choose colors that helps differentiate text from the background, and also to give the words you read in the code some context, for instance reserved words in a programming language of your choice are different color than variables are. You might even have your favorite theme already, for instance Solarized, GruvBox or even a less known, beautiful Nord color palette, that you can readily use in your next project. No matter which palette you use, most of the time there is a discrete number of colors used. This coloring patterns are helpfull for work, but this is however not what the eye evolved for.

In fact, the human eye, as everything alive, evolved to being the best fit for sustainability in a given environment. The environment for the eye is shaped by the sunlight. Specifically the portion of it, that we call visible light. This specific portion of the electromagnetic spectrum is the band of the wavelengths, that can pass through water. Yes, even though we do not longer need to see underwater to survive, the trait remains in our genome. Now most of the plants appear green to our eyes. This is because chlorophyll requires wavelengths around red and blue to break bonds in molecules to do its thing (creating energy for the plant). Chlorophyll thus does not absorb green wavelengths, so it reflects them to our eyes. Now the wavelenths in the sunlight peak around the green color, which is near the middle of the spectrum. Since it is in the middle, also the sensitivity of the three types of receptors in our eyes overlaps mostly in the middle. This gives us the ability to distingush more shades of green color than any other color. Combining the fact that the nature reflects a lot of shades of green color with the fact that our eyes can distinguish this shades the best, this provides some nice scenery that you can experience right ahead. Yeah, I am advising you to go outside and stare at leaves. Look at the individual plants and trees in the distance and relax. I find this to be the best relief for the eyes, and it is free. Remeber this next time you seek some interruption from work.

3. Keeping your veins healthy

As I have mentioned earlier, getting out, off the desk, requires effort. Effort in a form of moving your body. Maybe you are aware of the fact, that your brain needs a steady flow of oxygen to provide results. Well for this to work properly, you need a healthy cardio-vascular system. If your veins are clogged, it becomes harder for blood to move around. Well, if you regularly visit your favorite places in nature by riding a bike, walking or hiking, it helps maintain your healthy veins, or even make them more efficient. Well, the body adapts to a lot of stimuli. I am no specialist in this topic and I believe, that if sitting at desk all the time, just using your brain and fingers is all you do, the veins that support your brain are still completely healthy by their daily usage.

There is however still a good reason to have a healthy cardio-vascular system to the other organs as well. For one, it helps you live longer, which is, if you are sporting a good enough life an important reason. When I did not keep my body in good shape, it had a lot of other bad side effects, namely obesity. Obesity made my low self-esteem even lower. This made me further believe less in my soft-skills, maybe passing on opportunities that I could have easily handle. The day when I started seeing myself as fit and healthy, my perception of the world has drastically changed, for the better. And being a great at programming requires a lot of other skills, confidence being one. Confidence is required for mostly everything for delivering outstanding results. In programming, if you can confidently persuade your client or your boss that what you are proposing will work, it may let you work on that proposal, or keep that job in the frist place. Becoming fit and healthy was the biggest boost in my overall confidence I can think of in my life, and I had become fit by a lot of riding, walking and hiking. If you are serious about programming, consider moving your body regularly, if not already doing so.

Bonus: Nature can provide unexpected solutions

Sometimes it happens that you work on some hard task and you cannot find a solution anywhere. You stop, go doing something else, for instance you take a walk. As you walk you stumble across ants moving a piece of food here and there. You may not realize it right away, but your mind can bring you back into the working state and you get a long needed hint, that can bring you closer to the solution you are after. There is a lot of engineering that is inspired by the solutions that nature itself came up with. Your solution for instance might imitate how ants pass pieces of building material among them.

I know, working when you are trying to relax is not a good way to relax. This is a bonus point, because it does not really fit into the relaxing in the nature topic. It does however relate to nature and programming. The three main points I have presented are all about relaxing, about spending time not working to deliver better results later. Relaxing more deeply, meditating, having no thoughts is a delicate art, only few master properly and one I myself still struggle with, so for now, relaxing while having thoughts is sufficient for me.

Conclusion

Relaxing in nature as a programmer brings at least three positive effects. I do make use of all of them regularly. You can start doing all three right away:

  1. Relaxing helps identify procrastination, because it requires effort
  2. Color that plants reflect helps relax my eyes
  3. Getting to the place to relax mainstains my body healthy

Apart from that, changing an environment you spend time in for a brief period of time can help help lead you towards an unexpected solutions, or you can even find inspiration in the nature itself. The next time you feel like not working just go outside and relax.