Thursday, 2 June 2011

Balance – Work


For many people work/life balance is a constant struggle, in the previous posts on balance I covered balance at home and socially but you need to crack balancing work with everything else since you spend so much of your life in work.

Because there is so much that I could cover in relation to work I’m just going to focus on a few of things that I feel are important namely your job, passion and burn out.

Your Job

You spend most of your waking hours at your job and it should be where you get paid to ‘geek out’ and exercise your passion for code. It is important that you enjoy where you work and what you do, if not you’ll most likely find your dissatisfaction spilling over into other aspects of your life.

I speak here with very real experience where I had a job that I didn’t really enjoy, oh I could do the job perfectly well but I just didn’t get any real enjoyment out of it and it was noticeable both inside and outside of work.

If you find a job you love it will help with balancing out the other things you need to deal with as it can reduce the amount of coding you feel you have to do outside of work to keep yourself happy, if you find that you are spending more time out of work doing what you love than in work in my humble opinion I would suggest you need to find a new job to give you time to do other things.


So Paul Stack wrote a blog post on Passion a while back about why he likes working with passionate developers and for him what extra they bring to the table over the person that simply views development as a job. I would consider myself a passionate developer, I love coding, even when not coding I am often thinking about coding and although the stuff I'm thinking about is not complex algorithm's or clever solutions to technical challenges I'm still thinking about it in my own time.

However there is a darker side to passion when it becomes all consuming. A passionate developer can become a thorn in a teams side they may be argumentative, intractable, disruptive and in the worst case bullying. This may be justified by the developer themselves saying that they are only trying to help the other members of the team, they only want the team to do it ‘the right way’, etc.

Now I’m sure that most passionate developers have been guilty of the darker side at one time or another, the question is how do you deal with it? Hopefully you work in a good team who will tell you when you’re going to far allowing you to ‘dial it back’ since you need to continue to work with them but if you notice you are guilty of ‘the dark side’ and your team aren’t telling you then you may want to look at your behaviour, nobody wants to work with somebody like that and you could find yourself isolated.

Balance your passion to do good work in the best way with bringing others along for the ride and although not everybody will be happy all of the time you are more likely to have a better working environment.

Burn out

This a dreaded topic for many geeks, for some its like the bogey man for others its a badge of honour, but whichever one it is its never nice.

So what is burn out? it will vary from geek to geek but often its when you reach a place where you simply cannot bear to touch a computer or think about coding no matter how passionate you are about it and for some geeks that continue to push it when in this state it could mean ending up having a breakdown, which could very well be game over. A lot of geeks fall into the trap of feeling that they have to “beat the project” and it then becomes a personal challenge to ensure that they “win” but unfortunately this attitude can accelerate you towards burning out.

I believe I managed to avoid it a few years ago (only my friends and family could tell you if I did or not) when I was on a death march project and attending a computer science course at college part time, it got to the point where I simply didn’t want to be in front of a computer which when you’re job is to develop software is a bit of a problem, luckily for me the project came to an end at roughly the same time as my college course allowing me time to “take my foot of the gas” and when I wasn’t in work just not touch a PC and relax.  This Stack Overflow question about what causes burnout elicited some really good answers including some peoples personal experiences of burnout.

The sad thing is that burn out is completely avoidable, it may be difficult to see it when you’re in the grip of some death march project but if you can see the signs you can do something about it.

One of the obvious signs is the amount of hours you are working, as these start to rise you are becoming more out of balance, then you have the out of hours working that effects your family and/or social life all signs that things are going wrong and I’m not even considering things like not sleeping well or other physical symptoms.

So how do you handle this and avoid burn out? well assuming you are working for a company and not yourself you talk to your boss, its not in their interest or yours to have you burn out since hiring a replacement is likely to cost the company more time and money than allowing you to work normal hours plus you working longer hours should be a red flag to management that the project needs looking at. But what do I do if they won’t listen I hear you cry, well then in all seriousness find another job, if the company don’t value you enough to take your concerns seriously and are happy for you to burn yourself out its up to you to look after yourself and vote with your feet.

If you’re working for yourself its much more difficult but I would suggest that you need to look at your longer term goals as “killing” yourself over a project isn’t going to help your business grow in the future, only by balancing your need to work vs. your need for down time can you make the business a success.


I turn to the tech you use and how balance can play a part there as well, even if you don’t see how it can.

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