Wednesday, 21 October 2009

Not a Geek on Fire, More a Smouldering Wreck

Last week, I had my first block vacation this year, I booked a week off based about work schedule and for the first time in a long time, I was genuinely really unhappy.

Why the Sad Face?

To be honest, on the Monday, I had no idea – I just felt really crappy and had no idea why. This set alarm bells ringing for me – I am normally a very focused individual so when I feel clueless, I know something is up.

So, I fired up MindMeister and got to brainstorming. I wanted to get to the root of things – and fast. This process took about 3 days for my head to start unwinding, which shows how much of a mess it was!

Work vs. Personal Life

Now, I know many people are a fan of the “work and personal life our separate”. While I agree that work ends when your shift is up, I do believe that work should be personal in that we should be passionate about it, embrace it, enjoy it and want to do better at it.

This attitude can be great when work is going well, but when things are not ideal, it can bring you down. I won’t go into details here but put it this way – I am not 100% at work at the moment. There are many things that I feel need to change both for the company and for me in my own personal development.

I took plenty of time out to:

  • List the positives about my job and how I can boost them and make them more positive.
  • List the negatives and come up with as many ideas/routes I can to fix them.
  • List my core “wants” out of my employer and thought about routes to implement or needs for any change.

This gave me a lot of “food for thought” across the board..

Side Projects

Being a geek, I have been working on a couple of side projects (one of which is Tomato Timer). Since moving to my biphasic sleep pattern I have gone a bit crazy on trying to get other projects up and running.

The problem? I don’t give a crap about any of them.

Sure, of them, Tomato Timer was an interesting idea – but was it worth anything? REALLY? I don’t think so (or not as much as what is was costing me).

Since moving to kanban I have become very focused on value but sadly, I wasn’t really assessing it on things I had already started. This meant that while I have been good at not taking on new things since going to kanban, I have still been chasing my tail with the old.

So, my review didn’t end well for Tomato Timer, here is my current plan:

  • I intend to fix a (major) bug that has appeared in Tomato Timer and then get the source code up on GitHub for people to do with it as they wish.
  • I have other project ideas that I would like to work with, but these are very focused on technical goals that I would like to meet. Put it this way, you won’t see much more in the way of desktop apps from me for a while!
  • That said, watch this space for web bits ;)

Personal Life

Ahh the personal life.. Where to start? What personal life? For the last year and a half I have just been a complete freaking nerd. I have been so focused on studies etc I have let living pass me by. Couple that with the “chasing tail” feeling due to the above – it leaves a real bitter taste.

The truth is this, I miss my friends, I miss my family, I miss ME. I’ve always had a “work hard, play hard”  attitude, but at some point – I stopped playing!

I have some interesting ideas for the personal plan.. Won’t go into details until I have something more concrete.. But let’s just say “I am cooking up little somethin-somethin” and I feel good about it all.. Really good.. :D

Rob’s Final Thoughts (AKA “The Point of this Post”)

So, let’s try and wrap up my thoughts into a few points:

“Busy” is not always “Productive”

First off, let’s be clear about what we mean by “productive” (or perhaps, what it should mean) – productive is creating things of value. I’ve been going at the grindstone for a long time and I feel that I have produced very little. Ipso facto - I have produced very little. 

Burnout is Sneaky

Burnout is one of these things that you don’t know you have until you stop and you feel everything cave in (both body and mind). During the week’s break, I slept.. A LOT.

I’ve learned from this – I have totally reworked the focus of my weekly review to look out for signs of burnout. I’ve started scheduling/forcing myself to have free time and - having finished reading “Yes Man” (great fun and very thought-provoking) I have started being a bit more open to new opportunities.

Avoid Burnout, But Keep the Fire Burning

Don’t let things like work kill your passion. Find ways to remove/get around issues that are dulling things down and get back into loving what you do. Keep focused on doing what makes you happy. The rest will follow naturally.

Don’t Forget to Play

After getting all this down, I went out for a few drinks with my flat mate. I was already feeling a lot more positive having gotten all my thoughts and feelings down. I ended up seeing a rocking band, meeting some great people and it literally made the last few weeks melt away.

One small amount of good play time can make a lot of lame time go away.. :)

In Summary

This wasn’t intended to be an “emo” post where I just whine (apologies if it came across that way). I just wanted to let people know why I have been so lame recently and why code/technical output here has slowed. I also wanted to cover the obvious key points that I noted in my review.

I hope this post gave you some food for thought..

How happy are you? Are you on a path to burnout? Are you already burned out?

6 comments:

  1. Hah, great post dude.

    It really is easy to succumb to burnout once you let it sneak up behind you.

    This is the reason why I'm building up on my non-tech hobbies (e.g., photography, travel, and scale models) as well as my non-work tech stuff (local UG activities, talks, industry orgs) because once you get fed up with the tech stuff, you need to have something to escape to.

    Anyway, goodluck with your plans. I'm sure you could find something that'd keep your fire burning. ;)

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  2. Hey Rob,

    I've been following your post and tweets for a while now and the GTD attitude is very inspiring. The way you are going about it seems radical to me sometimes but you do get things done!

    This post is great in showing a pitfall that people can walk into easily. It shows the real effects that can happen when doing it. You couldn't have written this post if you just thought about taking the attitude your are taking now.

    When people are going to try your way of GTD they will also have to find their balance and the things they value.

    So thanks for this post and while watching for the value you see in it, I think you eventually should write a book about it.

    About your final question, I am very happy. Still I don't get as much done as I want to but I don't let that bother me too much. Also I put my personal live first and I find value in doing things for my family. I also find a lot of value in doing stuff for other people, even if there is no direct value for myself. I am nowhere near a burnout but I also have a very long to-do and wish list.

    Keep it going and keep the sadness away.

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  3. Hi Rob, good post

    I have a tendency to plan and attempt more than I could reasonably accomplish in about 50 lifetimes, and need to know when to stop to avoid burnout. A couple of suggestions to throw into the mix...

    1. Taking a "day of rest" each week. A day that is not focused on "getting things done" but physical and emotional recuperation, and just enjoying being in the company of friends / family.

    2. Its counter-intuitive, but doing things that bring happiness to other people is one of the best ways to find it yourself.
    Selfishness turns out to be a fast track to unhappiness. (please note, I am not trying to imply that you are selfish in any way! I just think we all have that tendency)

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  4. Rob thanks for sharing this. Great post and nice to get some balance. I had a feeling that you were running at overdrive, think I mentioned about sustainable pace too. The great thing is that you've recognised this and adjusted. I've certainly be suffering myself over the last few weeks (due to illness) and so have had to slowdown. Sometimes even when you notice burnout it still hits you.

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  5. One of the things I like the most about your blog is the brutal honesty. You document what you have learned, what you have still to learn but most importantly your journey in getting there.

    Good to know that you are attempting to strike a better and more healthy work/life balance. It is very easy to get that balance wrong, and like you say it is very stealthy problem when you do get it wrong. You tend to lose perspective , and work takes on an unhealthy importance and steals all focus. I have been there a few times, and when you suddenly get a moment of clarity - it is a horrible feeling.

    Our work is fun, and I think a lot of us take it home with us but there still needs to be a work/life balance. It makes you a happier person, and a better, fresher developer.

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