Relax!


Last week, during Spring Break, I started watching The Office. I had always wanted to watch it, and so when I found out that Netflix had the entire show (and the British version), I started and figured I’d watch an episode or two.

I started on Sunday. By Friday, instead of the ten or so episodes I thought I would have watched, I was halfway through season 7.

While I streamed the show on my laptop, I worked on a few assignments and projects I had put aside to finish during Spring Break—everything from updating my website to a few homeworks from different classes. Needless to say, I wasn’t particularly productive, but by the end of the week I was completely relaxed. Sure, I hadn’t finished the papers I had due the next week, nor had I finished the lab that I wanted to do for 429, but I had gotten exactly what I needed to get out of Spring Break. I was relaxed and ready, and when I got back at 11 PM on Sunday, I finished the lab, two homework assignments, and finished updating my blog by 2 AM.

Someone told me that all of my previous articles were “calls to action.” I’m inclined to agree, seeing as in my previous articles, I’ve advocated writing more, going to career fairs, and taking initiative with professors. Now, though, at least in the spirit of Spring Break, I’m going to advocate the exact opposite. Hopefully, you had a relaxing Spring Break (or, if you’re reading this from elsewhere, you’re about to have a good break), but even during the school year, take some time off to relax. I try to watch an episode (or two) of whatever show I’m currently in the middle of every couple of nights before I go to sleep, and about once a week or so, I go to a café or restaurant with a book and spend an hour or two doing nothing but reading. So far, I’ve gotten through Game Change and Double Down, which were about the 2008 and 2012 elections respectively, The Smartest Guys in the Room, which documented the rise and fall of Enron, and the first two books of the Ender quartet, and when the rest of my life is dedicated to poring over lines of code or pages of equations, it’s nice to have something else to think about.

I especially think this is important for computer scientists. Our lives are basically negative feedback loops -- when we succeed, it’s almost always after hours of getting frustrated by bugs (For more on this, check this article on feedback loops out).

It can get dangerously frustrating to spend your entire life coding, which is why most programmers have some kind of hobby they can lean on when they get frustrated (Bill Gates, for example, spends a few days every year in a remote cabin with no technology of any kind, doing nothing but reading). So every few days, remember to take a break. Do something completely relaxing, by the way—programmers have a tendency to interpret “taking a break” as “working on Java instead of Assembly,” so when I say take a break, I mean something along the lines of reading a book or watching TV. I can say from personal experience that doing something like that is incredibly helpful, not just because it’s psychologically relaxing but because I always find myself coding better after a break.

So in that spirit, I’m going to watch another episode of The Office.

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