6 min read

Why I walk when I need to think

Why I walk when I need to think

In school, a long time ago, daydreaming came naturally. Whiling away time felt like something I was born to do. But fast-forward to now, and I just cannot sit still. I need my phone or my computer every minute I'm idle and its a bit scary.

Screen time, all the time

At the beginning of last year, I found myself on my phone ALL the time. Like ALL the time. I used to be active on Twitter and built a pretty decent online "brand", might even have had a few thousands followers who followed me for my technical content. But I noticed myself doomscrolling and spending insane amounts of time there, so I quit.

I was also super active on Instagram and my friend made a joke that the Instagram office probably has a picture of me labelled "Ideal customer". Not only did I spend a ton of time on the app, I also spent a lot of money buying all kinds of things peddled through ads. Dumb, but funny 🤣. So I quit instagram too.

So I am not on any social media apps, problem solved right? No.

I was so used to scrolling and consuming information that my mind NEEDED something. So I started scrolling LinkedIn for hours. YES. LINKEDIN. That was until I discovered Reddit. It was the most recent addiction that I lost countless hours to.

I blocked Reddit on my phone now. I still use it on my laptop because it is the best source of user reviews and advice on the internet, but I am spending waaaaay less time on it now.

I don't know how long this will last, but so far so good. I have screen time limits on Youtube and LinkedIn and Hackernews and I don't have any other time sucking websites.

I am distracted as hell

Those changes came a little too late. I feel like my brain chemistry has changed with all the digital consumption and habits. I can't do anything without being distracted as hell.

For example, let’s take me writing peer reviews. I sat down with the singular purpose of writing the reviews. Less than 5 minutes into it, I remembered that I had a PR open that didn't get a response, so I checked that and poked the maintainers again. And then I remembered that Berlin air quality is bad so I opened a dashboard of the Air Quality in my living room. And so on, until I suddenly remembered why I sat down, and got back to the reviews. Even sitting down to edit this draft has me jumping to a thousand places.

It's almost muscle memory. Lets say I open a PR and I have to wait 2mins for the CI to run, I instinctively open a new tab and press new to get the dropdown to point to Hacker News and hit enter. I didn't realise how automatic this was until I blocked Hacker News and I probably still opened it 20 times per day without consciously thinking about it.

Sitting still is important

I can't sit still with my thoughts for 2 mins. I tried it this long weekend, but everytime I thought of something, I had this insane anxiety to reach for my phone and look it up.

This is scarily bad because I need to sit down and think to do my job well. For example, I cannot just type out the peer reviews furiously. I need to sit down and think what each person did well and what they could do better.

I need to sit down and think about the strategy for the product.

I need to sit down and think to digest all the user feedback and understand which parts of the product are resonating and which are not.

I need to sit down and think to be able to vocalise my gut feelings.

If I can't do it, I'll be pretty shit at my job.

I have to admit though, this struggle is a relatively new one. Because, coincidentally, I had dedicated times where I could just think. Cycling was a great outlet for that where I could just think for 4+hrs at a time. But I unfortunately don't bike anymore, and there is a mental barrier that is stopping me from getting on the saddle.

The second best outlet for me was long showers. Every time I was working on a problem, I used to take a shower and I used to use them to think and process. However, hot water is EXPENSIVE (ask me how I know) and long showers are wasteful, so I don't do them anymore.

Once I stopped my long showers, the effect was immediate. I struggled at work and in my personal life, trying to remember things and get work done.

I realised that cycling and showering were great outlets because I couldn't use my phone or computer during those activities and they didn't require me to use my brain a lot.

(swimming could be a good substitute, but well...., I can't swim)

Walking: sitting still without sitting still

Someone suggested walking, and walking was something I used to do with my earphones on and an Audiobook playing. And I tried walking without anything in my ears and its decently effective. A lot of the same things that apply to biking also apply to walking, however it is still easy to whip out your phone and look up something. But more importantly, there is no dopamine hit at the end of a walk like in biking.

However, it is the best tool I have right now and I am wielding it pretty well. My office is 20mins by public transport and 45mins by walk, so I am taking the tram to go to the office in the morning, and I am mostly making it a point to walk back home. This way I can process through things from work, while also "disconnecting" by the time I reach home.

Now that I am spending at least an hour letting my mind wander, it’s been working wonders for me. I am able to articulate things better, write better docs but also I have energy to do the boring things like taxes and bills which I always delayed to the very end before.

I’m also trying to get longer walks in on the weekends and holidays. Walking for 10+KM for more than 2hrs at a stretch and letting my mind wander. I’m discovering new places and spots in and around Berlin that I never knew existed.

“Wasting” this time

Even though I recognise the importance of letting my mind wander, I have to constantly fight the feeling that I cannot afford to waste this time. This was particularly true this week when I had a ton of work to catch up on coming back from Easter break.

I had to fight the urge to take the tram back home, or optimise the 30mins here and there. And I am glad I still allocated free time. Logically, it is more important to make space for the walking when things get stressful, however, it is not as clear when you’re facing a mountain of work and short deadlines.


I miss the days I could daydream. I miss the days where I didn't have a phone. I miss the days where I wasn't consuming a deluge of information. Those were simpler, better times.

I want to go back there. I want to go to a dumbphone, but I also know that it won't stick, at least not when I am so reliant on my "smartphone" right now. Maybe one day in the future.

I once wrote about killing time, and how I'd like to spend a day a month doing nothing. I still want to do that, but honestly, I think I need at least an hour every day in addition to a day a month. Otherwise I function sub-optimally.

Also, damn, I need to get out on my bike more. Finally, here's some pictures from my recent walks.