One thing I've struggled with throughout my life (and I've particularly noticed it over the last few years) is balance. Balancing work obligations with life obligations. Balancing running with sleeping. Balancing taking on new responsibilities with doing the things I already know that I love.
For the last 10 months, I've found that working from home makes finding balance a little harder. There are some things that are a bit easier (like finding time to do my laundry and sleeping in a bit), but when my bedroom is also my office, it's hard to leave work at work. I'm also struggling with what I want my career path to be, and that struggle makes it hard for me to balance the work I enjoy doing the most with work that I don't love as much but I still know is important. There are lot of areas in my work life (and my life outside work) where I know I could be doing better, and that's one of the reasons why my life theme for 2021 is balance. Over the next year, I want to work on finding balance in my work and all of the things that surround it.
Balance In My Work
Last year I had the opportunity to try a lot of new things at work (from new codebases to new libraries to just new ways of approaching the same problems), and I loved that, but it also got to be a bit overwhelming at times. For this year, I'd like to find more of a balance between completing tickets that don't require me to learn anything new and tickets where I'm stepping outside my comfort zone and taking on new responsibilities or learning new things. I plan to do this by setting aside some time at the end of every sprint to review what I've done in the most recent sprint and identify some tickets that may be in our next sprint (which means this will probably happen after grooming) that I think will be a good balance. For example, in a recent sprint my primary focus was on creating a new API endpoint, something I had never done before. To find balance, I would have wanted my next sprint's focus to be on frontend work, most likely working in areas of the codebase with which I was already familiar. On the flip side, if I spend one sprint focused on frontend bugfixes in my team's dedicated area of the codebase, then for the next sprint I might want to work on building a new component or working in a different part of the codebase (or in a different codebase entirely). I want to be sure that I'm spending time doing the things I love to do, but I know that working on new projects and working outside my comfort zone can help me discover new things I love, and even if I don't love what I discover, it does make me a better overall developer.
I've struggled quite a bit with work-life balance. Sometimes (like early in my work from home days) I spend too much time working and don't have time to both relax and do all of my life things. Other times I let life take over and just do work in between life things. Neither of those is great. This year, I want to find a balance between work and life responsibilities.
I think the first part of this will be understanding that I don't always have to work an 8 hour day. My company doesn't track our hours (at least not for my team) and nobody really cares when I show up and leave (as long as I make it to all my meetings and get my work done), so there's no reason for me to set work hours based on a standard that doesn't apply to me. This year, I'd like to get into the habit of calling it a day when I'm done with what I had planned to get done that day. If I'm done with everything I needed to get done by 4 PM one day, that's okay. I can always reach out to my team and ask if anyone needs my help on something or if there's something that I should be picking up, but if the answer is no, then it's okay for me to call it a day a little early. It's also okay to work 9-10 hour days occasionally - as long as it doesn't become a habit. If my company doesn't require me to have my butt in a chair for 8 hours every day, then I don't need to set that standard for myself. Work hours should be the hours it takes me to do my work, no more and no less.
Another area I need to improve to find balance is stopping before the work is done if I've been working for a long time. There have been days when I didn't finish everything I wanted to get done before dinner, so I went back to work after dinner ... and once ended up working until 11 PM. That's not a good thing. I want to start setting a hard limit of stopping work by dinner time or 7 PM, whichever comes earlier (when I eat dinner depends on a lot of factors, including where I am and what dinner is). I don't mind pulling out my computer after dinner if I get paged or if a teammate who has different working hours asks a question, but I don't want to keep working late into the night, and I think setting a hard rule of not working after dinner is a good way to break the late night work habit.
Better Using My Free Time
One area where I have a lot of room for improvement is the balance between relaxation and enrichment. During the pandemic, I've seen many people talk about the shows they've binge watched or new hobbies they've picked up, and my response has always been that I don't have time for that. My schedule is essentially: get up, exercise or grocery shopping (depending on the day), work, blog or deal with personal responsibilities (paying bills, cleaning, etc), sleep. Maybe I have time for one episode of something. Maybe I have time to look into what's new and exciting in web development. But mostly I feel like I don't have time to just chill out and relax, and that's something I'd like to work on this year.
One change that I've already made (and benefited from) is changing my blog schedule from a new post every week to every other week. This not only gives me more time to think up a new topic, but it gives me back the nights I usually spent writing. Last week, when I didn't work on writing up a blog (although I did write up the topic for this blog), I not only had time to watch some TV, I also spent some time learning about React Server Components. I love writing and sharing parts of my journey, but blogging on a regular schedule can take up a lot of my free time, and I'm excited to get some of that time back for other pursuits. Maybe I'll even take the time to learn something new or take on a new hobby.
I don't know what 2021 will bring. I've dealt with enough unpredictability over the course of my life (and not just 2020) to know that life with throw a wrench into any plans I make. But the thing about balance is that it's not a plan, it's a lifestyle. It's a way of approaching my schedule and my life that helps me organize, and I know that finding balance will help me react well to all of life's twists and turns. I don't know if I will achieve any of the goals set out in this post, but I hope that when I reflect on this post next year, I do feel like I have achieved some semblance of balance and have learned how to use that balance to be more productive at work and in life.