Compelling thoughts

Sometimes I get singly focused on my work. It's all I can think about. I know its happening.  I even help it along by shutting myself off from everything else.  It's easy to do at work.  I go into my office, shut the door and I'm in my own little cave; a computer and a can of soda.  You know you've really got it bad when you forget about the soda.  That happens to me a lot.  Eventually I'll look away from the monitor.  Maybe its to stretch my eyes or arms or back.  Maybe its because I'm stuck on a line of code.  Whichever, I do it and I spot the can.  Then I remember getting it from the cooler and I realize it's not even open yet.  I'm thirsty.  I've probably been thirsty for a while.  I go to open it.  It's warm.  I must have gotten that can a long time ago.  What time is it?  4:00pm already?  Did I eat lunch?

On really bad days I can never break away.  Sure, eventually I throw in the towel, pack up and drive home.  But I never really leave it behind.  It's got a hold of my head and just won't let go.  I try to re-integrate back into the family when I get home.  It doesn't work.  Everyone knows that I'm not really there.  Sure I converse, but with dead-long pauses between statements.  My mind is back at work, working the problem.  Sure I play mindless games with my son, and I'm glad of it too, because my mind is busy elsewhere.  Still, it gnaws at me and I find myself counting the minutes until he's packed away in bed.  I know eventually the house will be still and my mind be able to stretch out and relax, and think about more complex things that wouldn't fit before.

This is not really a good state to be in.  Betsy tolerates it sometimes. Sometimes she loathes it.  I can tell, but I can't seem to control it.  The tumblers are spinning.  The lines are being written even as I daze at the television, even as I sleep. They are piling on, filling to capacity.  I worry that I can't hold them all.  I know that last one leaked away.  Maybe I'll remember it tomorrow.  Maybe I won't. Tomorrow will come eventually and I will be able to release what I have, download back to the machine in a rapid fire punching of keys.

I really hate it during these long stretches of focused, mind-sapping productivity.  I really do.  I'm hell bent on getting that last bit done and the code stable again, seeing those tests run and passing, every one an affirmation.  I really just want to check the thing in, to let go of it, so I can rest and regroup, to have closure.  Then I might just be able to break free, disconnect, go offline for a while.  I think I might enjoy it.

What do you think?


Comments (15)

  1. Haha, I know the feeling too well, I think most of us do.

    I have also had expereinces with the soda sitting there for so long that it goes warm, and often not even opened yet.

    It all boils down to concentration, I hate it when I get interrupted when I am in the middle of that type of state.

    Don’t worry Matt, you have a great name and have explained a common case of code-zombie.

    Matthew Cosier

  2. Jason Mauss says:

    I work from home and let me tell you, that can make it even worse.

    "Did I eat dinner? What time is it? 9pm? Why didn’t my wife call me for dinner? Oh yeah she sent up my daughter to tell me and I just forgot. Oh well I’ll get something later." Finally after the kids and wife are in bed I’m too hungry or have reached a good stopping point so I finally break away.

    Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy coding/working from home. It’s just that it makes it possible to sit in front of the machine for way too long.

  3. Bill Wood says:

    I know what you mean. I am like that too although less so now. On the positive side, you are accomplishing a lot; but it can cause you to let yourself down in other areas of your life. Its a kind of addiction. Meditation is a good way to back off a bit and see what your mind is doing.

  4. Scott says:

    I have the opposite problem Matt, I get the coffee and it sits there so long it goes cold. 🙂

    I finally bought a really good insulated cup.

    I get that distracted too, "Just one more line. Well if I write that then I really need to write this otherwise it won’t compile. Well I don’t like how I wrote that, back up and re-write it. Oh, I’m doing that over here too, time to break that out into a separate method. Let’s see, what’s the signature on that? Where else am I using it? Holy crap, midnight! I gotta get up at 5AM."

    Thank god that’s just on my hobby code. I usually leave work code at work. 🙂

  5. Jonno says:

    What’s the problem here? Are you concerned about the effect of your obsession on your relatationship with your family? Or you don’t enjoy thinking deeply?

    Isn’t the ecstasy of total immersion in a problem exactly the thing that made you a programmer in the first place?

  6. Yep, common programming affliction, it’s a blessing and a curse. The only real problem is that in computing, things move so quickly that what you thought was innovative in one moment is obsoleted while you’re myopically coding your hard won solution.

  7. Matt says:

    No way. The industry doesn’t move faster than my typing fingers!

  8. Chris Bilson says:

    Wow…I feel so much better – less abnormal – knowing that this happens to other people too.

    The worst for me is the 6:30pm phone call, "When do you think you’ll be done?". In classic Programmer form, I answer in minutes, and my wife knows I mean hours. "10 minutes tops…just one more thing…oh, and I need to update that server with the latest build for the testers tomorrow…oh, and…".

  9. Orion Adrian says:

    This used to happen to me coding. It typically doesn’t anymore. I just stopped enjoying the coding process. I became much more fascinated with the design process. Lately I find myself designing projects but not having the energy to actually code them. I write up all the class headers and outlines for the code and algorithms for the methods, but when it comes to taking all of that and putting it into something the computer will actually run, I lose interest. So now I have 20 or 30 designs for projects I don’t want to do. Oh well.

  10. Matt says:

    That’s like having a great idea for a book or movie but never putting it to paper or film. Its great to compile ideas, but its better to compile code.

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