One of the things that frustrated me the most about my job as a programmer at Microsoft were the days when…
- The boss assigned me a bug
- I sat down to solve it
- After 12 hours trying to find a solution without success, I would throw in the towel and go home because I was the only one left in the office and other than that I was tired and starving.
I remember that those days I went to bed angry because despite all my efforts I had not written a single line of code and that made me feel that I had not advanced anything.
To make matters worse, the usual thing is that the next morning he returned to work and in 30 minutes he would have solved the problem, which made the experience still more frustrating because it left me with the feeling of “damn, this was super easy, why the hell didn’t I do this yesterday instead of wasting my time”.
When I changed my job from programmer to online entrepreneur and content creator at the end of 2012, I was convinced that I had said goodbye to these “lost days” forever…
Unfortunately, I was wrong.
It didn’t take me long to discover that, for some strange reason, the exact same thing happened with the blog articles as with the Microsoft bugs:
- I sat down to write a post
- I wrote several paragraphs, but immediately after I deleted them because they did not convince me
- The process was repeated for several hours until I reached a point where I would give up and close the laptop in frustration and without having written a single sentence fit for the article.
And of course, the curse was repeated:
The next morning I started to write and in an hour I had half a written text. And not in any way, but written goodjust as I wanted.
For many years, these kinds of experiences have been a mystery and a source of frustration for me…
Until recently, reading the magnificent book How to Take Smart Notes and researching how creativity works, I understood what was happening.
All those “false starts”, those failed attempts to fix bugs in Microsoft or to find the perfect structure for my next article were not a waste of time, but an essential part of the process to find the solution.
And it is that in any creative profession such as programming or writing, the real work is not programming or writing, it is thinking.
Programming or writing only the last step, what you do to translate into lines of code or thinking what has occurred to you after to turn the coconut.
But the important thing – and also the most difficult and the most time consuming – is the first thing: to think.
Otherwise, anyone could program an app or write a book in a day, because writing (whether it’s code or text) doesn’t take more than that.
When I sat down to fix an error in Windows or to write a paragraph and it didn’t come out, really what I was doing was thinking of a solution.
What happens is that I did not realize it because I was thinking “on paper”, not inside my head, which in these cases is the most effective because the brain has a hard time working with complex ideas and detecting patterns or inconsistencies between them while they are in abstract format in our mind.
Also, during that thought process I was unknowingly “feeding” my subconscious, which that night while I was sleeping was processing everything and looking for a solution.
So the next morning I was able to solve the problem in 30 minutes and I was left with a stupid face and the feeling that I could have done the same thing the day before.
It was actually just an illusion.
That “stroke of inspiration” had been the result of many hours of active work plus many hours of unconscious work, and it would never have come without them.
So you already know:
If you are a programmer, writer, designer… or if you do any other type of creative work, always remember that an important part of your job is to think.
That means having false starts, trying things and then not working out, or spending a lot of hours creating something only to end up scrapping it because it’s not what you wanted.
And although this process can be quite frustrating at times because the results cannot be seen with the naked eye, the reality is that you are moving forward and that all those efforts you have put into “active thinking” are never wasted time.
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