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Discussion on: I'm an engineer, educator & innovator with 10+ software patents from my R&D past. Ask Me Anything!

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Juanita Soranno

How have you found ways to balance your "day" job with the work you do for GDG? I want to be more involved in tech education outside of work, but find myself worried about burning out.

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Nitya Narasimhan Ask Me Anything

What a great question!!

So the honest answer is: NO! I haven't found the "best" way to balance work with community / evangelism work, and YES! burnout is real.

That said, I am now in a better place about how I think about this and make choices - it's a WIP but the biggest positive step for me was this year, when I started trying to clearly articulate three things:

  1. Motivation - WHY am I doing this? e.g., what is my goal? and what are the checkpoints or milestones that help me measure my progress?

  2. Incentive - WHAT am I getting from it? e.g., if this is for altruism, my incentive should be a sense of fulfillment; if it is for professional growth, my incentive should be a growth in network or influence; if it is for monetary gain, then beware! There is a delicate balance between making something sustainable (meet costs) and making it profitable (business) - and I recommend reading this article (whistlinginthewind.org/2013/01/15/...) by one of my favorite people (Dan Ariely) on why moving from social obligations to money-minded ones can be a one-way street.

  3. Opportunity Cost - What am I LOSING by doing this? e.g., what else could I be doing with the time/resources I am spending on this, which would meet the same goals as 1? and what else do I actually need time for (e.g., family) that I am sacrificing for this.

Burnout happens when your dis-incentive to do something outweighs your motivation to do it. And more often than not, burnout is a mental wellness issue. It's about emotional labor, decision fatigue and excessive stress. I was lucky I saw the signs earlier this year and took a step back to work on myself. Here is my current strategy.

  1. Break my day into 5-9am / 9am-5pm / 5-9pm / 9pm-5am.

  2. The 9am-5pm is for professional growth. I dedicate time to tasks that help me grow my professional network, execute on my client obligations, explore new career venues. As a remote worker & consultant, GDG and public speaking contribute to this segment by giving me resources to learn new things & connect with people who then recruit me for various projects. Whatever I do here, I need to justify how it helps my career.

  3. 5am-9am is for self-care and family. I focus on quiet time, getting ready for the day, making healthy foods, gym & sometimes sketching (my version of meditation).

  4. 9pm-5am is for sleep. I never make it just right - mostly I end up sleeping later and waking up later, but I keep trying. It's the most critical thing I need to work on. Often times when tasks in other blocks run over, I sacrifice sleep (stay up till 1am, wake up at 5am) and that is unsustainable.

  5. 5pm-9pm is my only "flex time" - everything else I do needs to fit into this. This include mom-gineer duties and emotional labor. I play this by ear.

Splitting the day into these time zones helps me quantify time spent. I say NO more often. I ignore more emails/alerts, stay off social media more and try to reduce other distractions during the day.

I've also found that the altruistic work has paid dividends in other ways - speaking opportunities, requests to build courses (for profit), consulting gigs (and offers for full-time), entrepreneurial opportunities (starting an apps lab) etc.

The key is to weigh those three: motivation, incentive & opportunity cost - and take a decision that prioritizes YOU.

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David Haile

I agree with your implication that having a tech hobby can lead to burnout. In my experience, I have 4-6 hours of intense development work in me per day (occasionally 12-18 hours). If I get up early and work on a hobby project then arrive at work at for a regular day, my productivity period ends far earlier than if I didn't work on the hobby first. I've started considering what is scheduled for the day before diving into a hobby project. If it is nothing but meetings, I can easily afford the hobby time.