The Watercooler
Thoughts on engineering and the working life.

The Effects of environment upon Productivity, Part 1

By Hoang Do
Saturday, February 23, 2002

This has been an informal study with myself as the subject of [Image]the experiment.  I have been noticing specific behavior trends  upon productivity brought about by changes in environment.  As a software engineer, I have found that most of my days are spent in front of one computer or another.  My hands are always at a keyboard or mouse and my eyes are always trained upon a monitor.  As a software architect, I find that I often have to throw my mind inwards to visualize software concepts.  This state of inward looking might be called something of a software Zen or the more hip term of "being in the zone".  This sort of mind state is quite useful in that it allows you to concentrate and think deeply about a specific problem.  However, growingly I find these moments of deep thought difficult to achieve.  It can sometimes be frustrating to find myself not being able to "get in the zone" of achieving the deep concentration that I require.

During a different moment, without deliberation and while driving by a seaside road, I would suddenly find myself smack within that center of thought I have been trying to achieve.  Suddenly, everything is clear and my thought process flows effortlessly.  This achievement was unintended and never strived for, yet it happened out of the blue.  Another example of this sort of occurence is when a problem is solved during sleep.  In a specific instance, a problem would frustrate me for days on end.  Then one night, I would find myself thinking about the problem in my sleep and coming up with a solution in a dream.  Now, if only I could have gotten the thought onto paper upon awakening, I would have been as happy as a clam.  As these sorts of situations occur time over time, the growing question of how to consciously achieve (or to bring your brain to) such a state comes to mind.


Over the years, I have realized that environment has much to do with allowing your mind to think.  There are many factors that can affect how a person feels or thinks.  For instance, the level of environmental noise is one major aspect affecting programmers.  From the level of traffic noise to the computer fan hum to even the refrigerator running or even to the TV commercials, these are all environmental noise that interfere with our thinking process.  Have you ever noticed how when the TV commercials come on, the volume is suddenly louder?  Advertisers have caught on to this a long time ago and are actively using it to "hypnotically" influence you .  The presence or lack of light is another factor.  Have you noticed that people living in Oregon or Washington state are more likely to be depressed?  A hint... it rains for much of the year there.  For myself, I am always put at ease when I visit a seaside coast.  If you pay attention to yourself, you will notice certain times in your life you are more at ease than others.  And it is during these times that you can overcome obstacles or problems with relatively less effort.

Well, I will let you ponder on this for a while....