Maintain work life balance

Dear new developer,

Make sure you maintain your work life balance.

You’ll never know everything. You shouldn’t try. But even if you accept that, there may still be a temptation to work work work. Why?

  • You want to “prove yourself”. You want to over-index in your first few months. Working extra is an easy way to be more productive, for a while.
  • You want to move up. This engineer did the grind:

At night, even if I had went out with coworkers, I would go home and get back to work. I spent a lot of weekends staring at my computer screen while my friends frolicked (yes, I just said frolicked) at Dolores Park.

  • You believe in the mission of what you are doing. Especially when you are a part owner of a company, it can be fun to work on making that company better and better.
  • Building stuff is fun.
  • Uniquely, when you are contracting, you get paid for every hour you work. If you combine that with the feast or famine flow of work that usually accompanies contracting, it can be hard to stop working when the work is there. (Been there, done that.)

Some extra work, some of the time, isn’t a bad thing. Especially if you are learning or if you enjoy it.

However, you need to make sure you set some boundaries. Companies won’t do that (though a good manager will). One of my best bosses once said “work is a marathon not a sprint” and you need to treat it like that. That means as tempting as it is to overclock and work extra, you should save this for special occasions, if at all.

What can you do instead?

So many options: Call up a friend. Go do something fun. Find a hobby (that is not related to computers). Travel. Visit family. Get outside. Get inside. Read a book. Read a magazine. Volunteer.

And, more importantly, decide for yourself how much time and effort you want to spend on work as compared to the other things in life (this can change over time, by the way). And then communicate those boundaries both explicitly and implicitly.

You can be explicit by presenting choices to your manager: “I’d love to work on project X, but last week I understood the priority to be project Y, and I just don’t have time to do both of them well. What should I do?” (This is an example of the “yes, but” way to say no.) You can also ask about this at the job interview. (Yes, that is scary and shouldn’t be your first question, but it’s important to know.)

You can communicate boundaries implicitly by not answering emails or chat messages out of hours, leaving promptly at the end of the day, and respecting the work/life balance choices of your team mates.

Just like you need to manage your career because no one else will, you need to manage your work life balance, because no one else will.

Sincerely,

Dan

This post was inspired by a comment from JB. on the Denver Devs Slack.

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