In today’s world, where corporate culture shifts intermittently to give protective room for employees, a work-life balance is needed more than ever. The impact of COVID-19 is still a reality for a lot of corporate bodies. As a software engineer who combines both art and science to solve a problem, you will find yourself, either consciously or subconsciously, trying to solve an imaginary problem. This can be related to projects you’ve worked on or the ones you are anticipating solving.
Family is another crucial part of life that, if not given the time required, could affect the productivity of a software engineer. It doesn’t matter if the engineer is married or not, the family encompasses more than our immediate environment. In Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, the need to be part of a community, either family or friends, is undeniably an essential ingredient in a human’s social existence.
Then how do we, as software engineers, balance our work life? It bundles up to several deliberate actions geared towards preventing a clash or overlap in both. After almost getting crushed and damaged with nonchalance towards my work-life balance, I figured out deliberate things I needed to do to maintain my creativity and be at the top of the game. Below are 7 things that I believe will help you maintain a proper work-life balance:
- 1. Understand the concept of time and time management
- 2. Prioritise your tasks
- 3. Migrate from Todo apps to calendar
- 4. Implementing some basic ethics in your personal life
- 5. Communication is important for a healthy work-life balance
- 6. Know that it’s not all about you
- 7. Software engineers should plan ahead of time
- In conclusion
1. Understand the concept of time and time management
If there is any concept that has been misplaced in good work-life balance, it is the concept of time and time management.
Let’s take a look at the concept of time from the first principle. In our science classes, we learned how time (T) is measured in seconds (s). This isn’t just the final destination as regards time, there is still more. Every single one of us measures our age in years. This shows how our time on earth is limited. Seconds make a minute, minute makes an hour, hour makes a day, days make a week, weeks make a month, and months make a year.
If we properly understand how limited our time is, I believe we’ll take the concept of work-life balance about time management seriously.
As software engineers, we have our own time and paid time. If you work 5hrs/day, you still have 19hrs for yourself, which you can use either for personal growth, career growth, or just free time to enjoy life and some fresh air. For remote work, working hours may be in different time zones. Some might require us to be awake at times when others are sleeping, but planning our time and managing it well is putting ourselves at the top of the game. While in the office, you want to concentrate your energy on getting the tasks at hand done, so it doesn’t overlap with your life outside the office.
To work remotely at times could be a very depressing thing. Because your employer could take all of your days in the name of “working from home”. I was reading some employee reviews on amazon’s work-life balance on Glassdoor, some amazon employees took to the platform to express their dissatisfaction. I believe software engineer work-life balance is very important to the productivity of a software developer.
A time well-managed will help you separate your time from work hours, and take you a step further to achieve a work-life balance.
2. Prioritise your tasks
One important thing we want to be conscious of in delivering high-quality work is priority. Productive people know that it’s not about how many tasks they get done per day, but how much impact the tasks have on their goal. They understand that life satisfaction doesn’t come in the count, but in the significant impact of every task they get done.
Every morning when your mind is undistracted, you want to prioritise your tasks for the day. You want to be in charge of the day and not let the day be in charge of you. You don’t want to do ‘anything’ that comes to your mind as the first thing, but you want your prioritised tasks to be the first. If 5 tasks were assigned to you, check the priority and get prepared for it.
3. Migrate from Todo apps to calendar
I have personally signup to several tasks management apps. I use Todoist most of the time, but the challenge always is that I forget to open the app at one point or the other. Then I completely got lost in the day. I automatically give up on life to take charge. If you’ve found yourself in this same scenario, it’s time you migrate to a calendar app. A calendar app doesn’t only manage your tasks, but it show’s you the timeline in real-time. It prompts you to act when you’re about to forget. Your working schedule is shown right on the calendar as opposed to the traditional to-do list. Apps like Google Calendar and Calendly are helping to shape proper work-life balance. You can now block some time on your calendar and send out your calendar link to someone that intends to have a conversation with you. This helps you to focus and spend time hitting your goals for the day.
4. Implementing some basic ethics in your personal life
Software engineers are in some tech companies treated as robots. They are expected to swap their family time with work. They are almost at all times expected to be working hard during vacation time. Product managers sometimes could drop in a message during your fun time.
Except your company has a vacation policy that put your mental health into consideration, it is always advisable to separate your time from work hours.
You want to keep out your phones when spending time with your family. This might be somewhat strange and impractical for a senior software engineer. Due to significant responsibilities given to them, a senior software engineer might be required to be always on call in case of urgent fixes or breaches in security. Notwithstanding, tech companies should encourage software engineers to spend adequate time with their families. This gives them a break from work and increases their productivity levels.
5. Communication is important for a healthy work-life balance
As simple as communication is, it’s still a thing I battle with each day. It is a requirement I haven’t met so well.
Being a ‘Yes man’ doesn’t increase productivity. Instead, it piles up tasks that eventually lead to burnout. In my experience working with a startup, I was a ‘Yes man’ to every task assigned, both the simple and the hard. I have daily tasks assigned that could take me forever to complete. I progressively got soaked into a very wrong work culture. Overtime work is a common term used to describe me by my colleagues. I go the extra mile daily and spend all my own time to ship a feature.
I became a subject of mockery because it’s a voluntary role. I’m not getting paid to work. But I always wanted to give my best by taking on more daily tasks.
Putting your best in a company is great. I have always encouraged putting the best in every project and doing nothing but the best. But don’t do this at the expense of your mental and physical health. Communication will help you to discuss deadlines well with your product manager, and also help you to avoid burnout from long hours of deep work.
6. Know that it’s not all about you
Most software engineers could be found sitting at the corner of their room, hub, or office alone trying to solve a problem or the other. This is mostly out of a burning desire to change the world. The personal life of software developers or software engineers is believed to be the same as being with the screen all day. It’s common slang to say “Software Engineers have no life”. I have never subscribed to this statement once.
As a software engineer, you need to understand that the problem you’re solving, and the positive impact you’re trying to make in the world, shouldn’t be just about you. It’s a blessing to the world to hear your view about a particular problem. The tech industry shouldn’t just wake up without you trying to do your thing. This is why FAANG companies are putting in several resources to help you achieve a healthy work-life balance. Immerse yourself into a great work culture. Fitness activities help your mental health. Your physical health is needed even more than you needed it by your colleagues. Give your best and maintain a good work-life balance, knowing that it’s not all about you. The community, family, friends, and colleagues need you more.
7. Software engineers should plan ahead of time
A software engineer’s life is by default, not a good work-life balance. Being overworked is a common thread, and the stress software engineers pass through is not a funny one either. This calls for proper planning ahead of time.
I would have included this point in the time management, but it is strong enough to stay by itself.
The best work-life balance is a lifestyle that is well-planned without intrusion. Of course, there are set rooms for unforeseen circumstances, but frequent intrusions that create stress and disrupt fun times with family and friends aren’t one of them.
It’s always a good practice for software engineers to have a side project they’re working on. This is to exercise their creativity and expand their thoughts. If a software engineer’s job isn’t giving enough room for creativity, it’s obvious that burnout is right around the corner.
Plan and execute those tasks that can disrupt your two weeks (depending on your company) during vacation time. For new parents, if you’re either doing remote work or working physically at a company, this planning is essential for your well-being and also your child care. Separating allotted hours for your tasks will be a good propeller for your mental health. You won’t feel out of place or trapped in the parenting cycle if proper family planning (agreement with a partner) is settled.
A software engineer is a valuable asset to any company that requires their service. They shouldn’t be treated as robots. Proper and nondisruptive vacation policies need to be put in place to secure their mental well-being. Such days as vacations shouldn’t be a time for urgent bug fixes. The vacation wouldn’t have been instilled if work is all we want to do. This time needs to be respected since software engineers commit several hours daily to fixing, building, or releasing a feature at their paid time.
A very good work culture is that one that properly considers the employees, not as robots, but as that’s having a life outside the work environment. A proper vacation policy will give lots of room for employees to become productive people by encouraging a healthy work-life balance.
Manage your time to stay ahead of it. Prioritise your tasks to hit the significant tasks first. Migrate from Todo apps to a calendar app to track your progress in real-time. Implement some basic ethics while with your family to avoid disruption. Communicate before the tasks become overwhelming. Know that it’s not all about you. Your friends and family need you to be healthy. Plan it today so it doesn’t affect tomorrow. Then, you’re on your way to achieving work-life balance as a software engineer, which will in return increase your focus at work and help you have a fun time with your family. Since it’s not an easy task, no matter the difficulty, strive to achieve work-life balance at all times.