I am a software developer that loves to code. I am also a person that likes to spend time with family and friends, go out for a run, take in a good movie and enjoy the great outdoors. Unfortunately, my work responsibilities make it difficult to do all of these things because:
- I have deadlines
- I need to ensure the quality of my work
- I have multiple projects that require constant attention
Since I am not getting paid by the hour (except in some cases), staying productive and healthy as a developer is critical. Here are some things I've learned over the years that help me stay on top of things:
1. It's OK to say "no"
I have a problem with saying "yes" too often, especially when the person asking is a co-worker or someone I know socially. If I'm not careful, it will affect my productivity. Sometimes it's more efficient to take on less work than it is to rush through everything and start falling behind on deadlines due to fatigue. I'm still learning how to say no but in the meantime, I have found that being upfront about my schedule and priorities helps everyone be better organized and effective, myself included.
2. Don't forget about yourself
There are plenty of people out there who aren't afraid to make sacrifices for their families or careers but that doesn't mean you have to be one of them. Having good relationships with your family and friends is important; they help you make better decisions at work and can even protect you from burnout during stressful times. When you feel like you are in need of a break, take one. Whether it's lunchtime or the end of the day, just taking 15 minutes for yourself can do wonders for your productivity (and sanity) levels in the long run.
3. Consolidate tasks
If you have multiple projects going at one time, try cutting down the number of tasks required on each project so they fit into an achievable timeframe with room for breaks and downtime between projects if necessary. For example, if you are working on four different projects each requiring five hours per week and a full-time job, you may need to reduce them to three or two in order to make it all work.
4. Prioritize tasks
When you have many different tasks on your schedule, prioritize them by importance and urgency, and put the most important ones first. Be realistic about how much time you can spend on each task without neglecting other responsibilities. If something is not a high priority but is taking away from something that is more important, see if there's a way to end or modify it for the good of your overall goals. This will keep things from getting out of control later on.
5. Make use of tools
There are many tools available online that provide great support for developers such as Google Docs/Drive (for collaboration), Slack (for communication), Buffer (for scheduling social media posts), Trello (for task management), and Github (to manage code revisions). These tools allow teams to stay connected without having constant meetings or phone calls all day long; using these types of tools has actually made me more productive by reducing some of the distractions in my life instead of adding more distractions via email messages/texts/phone calls/meetings etc... The key is training others on how these systems work so they also understand why certain functions don't exist within those tools - for example, slack has no direct way to post status updates via Twitter so another tool is needed, for example, Zapier or IFTTT.
6. Learn from mistakes
The best way to improve is to learn from your mistakes. If you find yourself working on something that's taking longer than expected, don't just say "well I'll get it done tomorrow," instead take the time to stop, reflect and think about where you went wrong. Maybe you didn't plan enough time for testing or maybe you didn't know what was required in the first place so took a "shot in the dark" approach. Either way, try not to repeat that mistake again and if possible, come up with some sort of documentation explaining exactly what needs to be done and how long it should take so others can pick up where you left off without needing a ton of hand-holding or supervision.
7. Find a good work/life balance
If you are constantly working late nights and weekends, it's going to affect your personal relationships and your health. If you don't have any free time to do things you enjoy, then you will burn out sooner or later. I've been burned out before and in some cases, it was due to personal reasons I could not control (such as the death of a family member) but for the most part, it was from not listening to my body's warning signs when I was overworked. To avoid this, make sure you get enough sleep (7 hours is recommended), eat healthy food, exercise regularly, and take breaks during the workday even if others don't seem to notice or care that you're gone - they just may appreciate it more than they realize!
8. Make time for fun activities
During hackathons or marathons where we work around the clock on a project for 24+ hours straight, drinking energy drinks and having snacks delivered can help keep us going but sometimes the best thing for productivity is taking a break! Taking 15-30 minutes here or there throughout the day for yourself can boost your overall morale which helps in other areas of life such as work, school, and home, etc... It also helps to deal with bad news better if something goes wrong during the day because at least I know there is some downtime coming up in my schedule that will allow me to recover mentally so I'm not carrying those feelings into future tasks.
9. Learn how to say "no"
This one goes hand-in-hand with #1 above. Saying "yes" too much can lead to burnout just as easily as saying "no" too often. Try cutting down what is asked of you by doing more research on what needs to be done before accepting any new responsibilities. This way if it turns out you cannot complete all requests in a timely manner then others won't be waiting around while you try and figure everything out at once. Be upfront about your workload so co-workers/clients understand what's going on instead of simply giving an excuse such as "I'll get it done tomorrow." In many cases, people will be respectful if you explain clearly why something isn't possible without going into details unless they ask for more detail first.
While it may not be possible to avoid burnout 100% of the time, it's important to recognize when you're starting to feel overwhelmed and take steps to mitigate the situation as soon as possible. If you don't, you could end up taking your work home with you, or worse yet, quitting your job altogether. By knowing the warning signs and how to prevent burnout before it happens, you'll be able to utilize your energy more effectively and enjoy your work more than ever before.