Mindfulness and Pair Programming - an Excellent Duo

Pair programming has many benefits. It results in fewer mistakes and bugs, increases code quality, and improves knowledge transfer. However, it can also cause stress and tension between developers because working closely together is not easy.

So how can you improve working together in such a unique situation? The answer is mindfulness.

In this article, you’ll learn what mindfulness actually is and how it can help you with pair programming in a very practical way.

But let’s start from the beginning.

What is Mindfulness?

You have probably heard this word being thrown around a lot lately. Mindfulness apps have started to pop up on top of the App Store rankings. Celebrities, business leaders, professional athletes, and even some scientists have been raving on about it. Mindfulness is even adopted in many schools and business organizations. It is slowly penetrating all parts of our society.

So what’s the hype all about?

Mindfulness can improve many aspects of your life and treat depression, anxiety, pain, and addiction. It can also help you be more productive, improve memory and focus, relieve stress, increase energy, and improve interpersonal relationships.

Mindfulness is about being completely aware of what you’re doing and feeling, as well as your surroundings. In other words, being fully present. It is not something you do only when you meditate, but rather it’s a way of life. Being able to step back and be aware of your experience without any judgment.

But is mindfulness just some weird woo-woo esoteric stuff or is there more to it?

Well, if you’re someone who is scientifically-minded and skeptical by nature, mindfulness can definitely seem like some New Age nonsense. But don’t be too quick to dismiss mindfulness just because it sounds a bit esoteric and spiritual. There’s actually scientific evidence that supports the positive benefits of mindfulness in everyday life.

The Science of Mindfulness

Since mindfulness is becoming increasingly prominent in Western culture, it caught the attention of scientist. Over the last couple of years, more and more studies are being done on mindfulness and some of them are quite interesting.

Most of the studies are based on MBSR (Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction) and MBCT (Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy). MSBR was developed by Jon Kabat-Zinn, Ph.D. at the University of Massachusetts Medical Center, while MBCT was developed by Segal, Williams and, Teasdale.

Studies show that daily mindfulness practice and/or meditation can improve one’s mental state, help with depression and anxiety, reduce stress, and improve the overall quality of life.

Although there’s still a lot of work that needs to be done when it comes to mindfulness research, current studies confirm that mindfulness can have many positive benefits.

7 Benefits of Being Mindful while Pair Programming

Now that you have a better understanding of what mindfulness actually is, let’s see how it can help you while pair programming. As it was mentioned, being mindful can help relieve stress, improve cognition, and improve personal and work relationships. So let’s take a look at some of the benefits of being mindful while pair programming.

It Makes It Easier to Get Along

Although pair programming has many benefits, the reality is, working in a team is not easy, especially when working so close together. So naturally, it happens that two different personalities clash or that the two paired developers just don’t get along.

This is where mindfulness can help.

When you’re being mindful and completely aware of not only your partner’s behavior but also your own, it becomes easier to cooperate. Mindfulness is also about not judging and reacting without thinking. And that results in being more understanding toward your partner and coming up with ways to get along without any drama.

Helps with Focus

Pair programming for hours on end can be very exhausting and requires a lot of focus. If the focus is lacking, then more mistakes will slip through and your productivity will decrease.

In order to avoid that, use mindfulness techniques to keep your focus throughout the day.

For example, perhaps you’re feeling a bit stressed out, tried or overwhelmed and you can’t seem to concentrate on work. Simply take a minute to pause and take a couple of deep breaths. Become aware of everything that’s going on inside you, as well as your surroundings. Let anything in your mind that isn’t related to the work go. Focus just on your partner and the work that you need to do.

Mindfulness is great for getting rid of all distractions and that will definitely increase your focus.

Improves Communication

Working as closely together as pair programming requires you to demands good communication. If communication between the developers is bad, it’s very likely that will be reflected in the work.

Mindfulness can definitely help you improve communication while pair programming.

How?

If you’re being mindful while pair programming, you’re better able to take a moment and actually listen to the other person. It also helps you to be less judgmental and more understanding. When you’re fully in the present moment, you’re less reactive and more patient which can certainly improve communication.

Increases Productivity

One of the main ideas behind pair programming is that increases productivity and reduces mistakes. That’s because one developer is writing the code while the other one is checking it and then they switch roles.

But if both developers are not fully present, stressed out, or exhausted, productivity can still suffer. That’s why being mindful while pair programming is extremely important.

When you approach pair programming from a mindfulness perspective and become fully aware of what you’re doing now, your productivity will increase. When you’re able to focus your attention to the work that you’re doing, it allows you to finish tasks more quickly and accurately.

Mindfulness can also help you make better decisions and that will certainly have a positive effect on productivity.

Helps with the “Developer’s Ego” Phenomenon and Reduces Friction

When two highly experienced developers are paired together, the “developer’s ego” phenomenon often comes up. Since both developers are very experienced, they may tend to push their own ideas and think they’re always right.

When any type of friction occurs when two people are working side-by-side, the project will suffer and the results won’t be as good.

In order to avoid that, it is recommended that you try to implement mindfulness techniques while working in a team. If you’re fully attending to what’s happening and not being overly reactive, you have a much better chance of getting over your own ego.

When the ego is in charge, all kinds of problems can arise. So make sure to be mindful and simply aware of the fact that you’re not always right and that your partner’s ideas deserve as much attention as your own.

Reduces Stress

Working in a team can be quite stressful. And that’s particularly true for pair programming. Having to write code while your colleague is sitting right next to you and checking every line you’ve written can be very overwhelming. Especially if you’re working with a colleague that’s more experienced than you.

In order to avoid that stress of your work being instantly scrutinized, it’s important to stay calm and collected. And mindfulness can help you do that.

No matter what type of stress you’re experiencing, taking a few deep breaths and simply identifying and observing your inner state can make a world of difference.

Increases Engagement

What can sometimes happen with pair programming is that one developer is not as engaged as the other. So you end up with one person who’s doing the majority of the work, while the other is kind of slacking off.

But if both developers are being mindful while pair programming, their engagement will increase. When you’re truly present in the moment and focused on your work, there’s no room for slacking or distractions.

Conclusion

Even though mindfulness might not seem appealing to some people at first, it is definitely worth trying. It is not a spiritual or religious practice, but simply a way of becoming more aware of your thoughts, feelings, and emotions. Mindfulness helps you to be the observer, instead of getting caught up in everything that’s going on inside you.

That’s why it has numerous benefits to developers who are pair programming. It helps you be more productive and focused, as well as work better with other people. That’s why it’s definitely worth trying.

[ak]


Published in MinfulDevMag issue #4 – Back to Issue TOC

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