Tuesday 3 August 2010

Can our choice of recreation affect our performance at work?

This is a speculation into our choice of recreation affecting our brains and making us better at work.

I'm currently reading a sci-fi novel.  I alternate between sci-fi and non-fiction and that's pretty much it. I've known for a long time that the books I'm reading affect how I am. When I'm reading clever non-fiction I feel clever. When I read old novels I use longer words. Until now I hadn't given it too much thought, but then it struck me; sci-fi is making me a better programmer.

When I read sci-fi novels, I find my mind switches into a more futuristic mode, and it seems to stay there even after I put the book down.  Similarly, whilst I'm reading, I find that my thoughts flicker into programming, much more than when I'm doing other things, and it makes me want to be in front of my screen tapping out beautiful new code. It occurred to me that if I feel like this, do other people?  I googled it.

My brief research showed a lot of sites explaining the benefits of reading fiction; relaxation, escapism, stimulation of the right side of the brain, role-playing your own reactions through simulation etc.  I don't think any of these are what I experience.

I think that what I experience could be this: I love programming because it is a blend of creativity, expert knowledge and problem solving. I think that when I'm in a development cycle, the parts of my brain that manage these skills are more active. I think it's possible that sci-fi novels excite similar parts of my brain, and kind of keep them revved up. So when I read sci-fi I think about programming, and because I've kept that part of my brain revved up, it's easier to motivate myself to get back in front of the computer.

OK. So I'm clearly no neurologist and I have absolutely no foundation other than what I think I'm thinking. But imagine the implications if this were even half way true.  If we were able to identify the parts of our brain that are firing when we are performing well at work, and we were able to match it with an enjoyable past time that did a similar thing. We could help ourselves, and our teams, perform better and with more ease by getting them into recreational activities that kept them revved up.  Of course, I'm not advocating telling people what to do in their spare time, but I wonder how many people would find it useful to know how their recreation affected their performance and enjoyment of their work.  For my part, I'm going to stick with sci-fi until our software is written and see how it goes.