31 December 2008

Down Time == Productive Time

Back in my college days - long enough ago that mainframe computing was still the rage - I discovered the pleasure of The Holiday Break.  Classes were over, everybody went home, the university was largely empty, and as a result you could grab all the computing time you wanted, and you could work for hours undisturbed.   The Christmas holiday was always the best. 

Fast forward to present day, and I continue to find the time from just before Christmas until just after the New Year a sort of magic time to get things done.  Many offices are shut down for the holiday, so my unpredictable 45-minutes-or-maybe-3-hours commute becomes predictable.   The shock jocks and on-air "personalities" on drive time FM radio are all on vacation, and so the radio actually plays music.  Things in the office are quiet - folks don't normally schedule releases, death marches, etc., around the holidays.  The time of year puts people in a mellow mood.  All-in-all, it's a great time of year to grab some quiet time.

Quiet time becomes productive time in unexpected ways.  Since I'm not in the throes of a major release crunch I actually have time to catch up on some reading.  Today, for example, I read about  20-30 pages from some of the books shown on my current reading list at the top of the blog.  I also read a few great blog posts about a number of things technical.  So great, I'm reading and surfing...but is it productive?

Oh yeah, it sure is.   I concocted a new way to visualize how well or poorly a very complicated n-tier application is performing, in part based on some blog reading.  Very cool stuff, for which I cannot take all the credit, but about which I will blog more in the near future.

I also got a couple hours to write up some much needed documentation, and spent time catching up with colleagues who actually have time to talk about what they are working on and what sorts of challenges they are facing.  This naturally leads to more ideas, and the ball starts rolling.

People often talk about the December holidays as down-time for business, and I'm sure that it is.  But the flip-side of the coin is that it can be a great time to open up the mind, solve some problems, and come up with good stuff to tackle in the upcoming year.   Down time offers the chance to productively daydream without (usually) getting off schedule.  So for engineers, down time can be super productive time.  And maybe that's why when the weather gets cold, and the Christmas bell-ringers appear on every street corner, my mind turns to thoughts of  software design, architecture, and coding.  

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