Productivity and Self Care in a World On FireFeatured

Here’s a question that you might have considered lately: what are your New Year’s resolutions? Throughout the year, our resolutions give us the opportunity to evaluate our progress, and to decide on ways in which we’d like to improve ourselves. After a pandemic of world-altering proportions, where does that leave us in regards to personal goals and self betterment? Our daily lives may have changed, but now is still a good time to find a healthy place between self-care and pushing yourself forward.Big Dreams in Silicon ValleyEven apart from COVID, my life has recently been full of big changes, which has put work-life balance and avoiding burnout at the front of my mind. About a year ago, I moved to San Francisco to work as a full stack engineer at Render, a startup with an ambitious mission and a relatively small team. I grew up in a fairly small town, graduated from Michigan State, and worked briefly as a web developer in Phoenix. This has been my first opportunity to work at a startup.In case you haven’t heard of us yet, Render is a cloud provider designed to make deploying and hosting your code as easy as possible. All you need is to connect your GitHub or GitLab account to Render, and our platform gets your services up and running without any of the toil required with providers like AWS. We’ve been growing rapidly and Render is now used by tens of thousands of developers, and we’re seeking to support more and more customer workflows as time goes on.After being here a year, I can honestly say I love my job. Even with all the work to be done, our culture promotes healthy work-life balance and I genuinely feel like we all look out for each other. This post is a collection of my thoughts as I try to find that balance for myself, but I don’t think I could get to this point without the daily support of my teammates. I can’t wait to get back to working in person with the rest of the Render team, but until then, we all need to find the best ways to make working from home work for us.Stress Comes in Many FormsWithout conscious effort, it’s easy to take career stress personally and feel the urge to work longer hours in order to meet goals. With all of the growth we’ve experienced and with so many developers to support, responding to customer questions across time zones means that there’s pressure to be online at all times. As more organizations join Render, our existing features are stretched in new ways. This requires creativity and proactive thinking on our part, but also carries the anxiety of not knowing when we’ll run into the unexpected. The need to ship quickly to keep customers happy and to maintain our competitive edge in the cloud market is high.At one level, it’s admirable to try to work your hardest. It’s through pushing ourselves that we grow, and that gives us a competitive edge. This becomes an issue when you push yourself all the time over a long period. Even in the best of times, it’s not possible to always go at a 100% pace without breaks. With the stress that COVID has brought on many of us, from health anxiety to missed socializing with friends and family, your maximum speed is likely to be a lot lower now than it used to be.At the beginning of the pandemic when I started working from home, I felt like I would have so much more time for my hobbies - no commute time means more free time, right? In practice, I’ve felt more drained at the end of a work day, often feeling too worn out after work to do much else. But that’s still okay. We’re all only human, and it’s important to be understanding of your own personal needs and limits. Pacing yourself and taking note of your mental health doesn’t mean you’re lazy - these are key points of both avoiding burnout and being a successful team member.Set LimitsAcknowledging that you need to take care of yourself is not the same as doing it. Personal work-life balance is something that needs to be cultivated. In my case, I need to make sure that I’m not taking my work ‘home’ with me at the end of the day. If I don’t respect this rule for myself, I end up neglecting my time to relax and take care of myself, and I end up too tired the following day to do my best work during the day. I’ve had days where I decided to work for just a few more hours, thinking that I might as well just keep going since I’m already ‘in the zone' and don’t need to do anything else in particular that night. The hidden cost is that I end up neglecting my need to relax between working, and my stress level the following day is higher than it should be.Working from home throws an extra wrench into things. When there’s no physical divide between work and home, how do you separate the two mentally? Our natural inclination is to associate different locations with different kinds of activities- home is for resting, restaurants are for eating, work is for focus. For non-remote work, this comes for free as part of the work day, but WFH necessitates more conscious planning.To aid my own mental state, I’ve physically set apart an area of my home that is only for working. It’s not a very large space, but the size doesn’t matter as much as the fact that it has an explicit purpose. Even if your space is just a desk and a chair, it’s useful for how you mentally frame your workspace. I’ve also set myself working hours, and aim to be done with my work at the same time every day regardless of whether there’s more work to be done. There’s always more work to do, but that doesn’t mean you should constantly be working on it.You Already Have What it TakesIf you’re anything like me, one of your largest sources of stress may not be from your job and other people’s expectations, but from yourself. As women in tech, there’s often a strong, inward drive for success that can cause us to push ourselves too hard. Impostor syndrome is painfully real, and needs to be actively reasoned against. Don’t forget that you were hired onto your team for a reason! There will always be room to learn and grow, but there is no need to rush and push yourself to the breaking point. Getting to the finish line in one piece is more important than pushing yourself too hard and cracking under the pressure. Remember that you already have what it takes to succeed.New Years is fresh in our minds now, making it the perfect opportunity to take a look at your progress. Today is an excellent day to reflect on yourself, your needs, and what you need to do to bring more balance to your own life. COVID has changed what working looks like for many of us, but work-life balance is still important - perhaps even more important than before! Continue striving for your goals and moving forward, but be kind to yourself as well as we all work through these difficult and unusual times.
Thank you for sharing your thoughts, Danielle! I love the connection between taking things at work personally and setting limits. A great new perspective for me.
Danielle, thanks for taking the time to share your story and perspective. I agree that the biggest pressure is the pressure we put on ourselves. And I attribute that self-induced pressure to all of the many. millions of messages we receive growing up about the way society works and how we 'should' be. I'm many years older than you. Only recently, in my 40's, has it become very clear to me that the constant striving does more harm than good. The hustle mentality is damaging and now as a leadership coach for mid-career women, and as a friend to many of the same, I can honesty share that there is little long term benefit to taking on the mentality of having to work extra hard as a woman in tech (or any other demanding and male-dominated field for that matter). I lost a good part of my true self working in tech. It took me many painful lessons before I was able to fully acknowledge this. I truly believe the best thing you can do for yourself is to stay true to who you are and be extra kind to yourself. In the form of creating boundaries (I recommend a walk at the end of the work day to create a divide between work and home, as well as starting each day by taking a walk outside, preferably in nature), and also staying connected with others, and your true self. Journaling and meditation are wonderful ways to tap into your trueness. And I know this may come as a shock or with some resistance - but there's a school of thought that working less actually results in more. More results at work, and more satisfaction within. Sending you care and warm wishes for 2021!
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