Reader Matt Doar writes in with this Mind hack which uses our brain’s natural ability to encode context as an aid to writing code:
My hack/tip/thing that makes people look at me oddly, useful for when I’m working on a large piece of software, an activity which involves holding a lot of related abstract information in your head. Here it is:
1. Pick one tune or one album that you like.
2. Listen to it while you develop the code. Over and over, on repeat. Listen to no other music. Headphones are a must for the office!
3. Don’t listen to it again until …
4. You need to work on the same code, then listen to it.
Lots of context returns with the tune and helps to write better code. One colleague suggested using scents too. Other colleagues (and my wife) just stared at me, then shook their heads sadly ;-)
I think this is great. By training in a tune-as-context you can then use it as a trigger to help recall everything else that was on your mind at that time. And the idea of using scents instead of tunes might work well – smell and memory are famously intertwined, and there may be a neuroanatomical basis for this: the nerves from the nose enter the brain next to the areas associated with storing memories for episodes. The only drawbacks are that you may not get as many distinct smells as distinct tunes, and tunes come with headphones to stop you distracting your colleagues – there’s no such device for smells (although maybe the message is that smells should be used for pair-programming or group projects).