So I’d been doing pretty well, publishing about a post a week. And then a global pandemic happened. Welp.
I’m almost halfway done with my internship, which is my very first job post-bootcamp. I started on March 2, and we were sent home to work from home until ??? on March 13.
I’ve never worked remotely, long-term. It wasn’t practical in my past career(s), or not allowed/encouraged. This is my very first remote experience. As a brand new developer. In my first job. During a global pandemic where we are all concerned for our loved ones, our routines are disrupted, and our access to outlets we might otherwise use for recreation is restricted.
To be honest, the first couple of weeks were hard. At first, I had laser-focus for most of the day. Then I swung back around to not being able to focus at all. On anything. Most days I’m somewhere in between. Some days I cried, just from exhaustion and worry. Some days I cried from being overwhelmed by the news. Over the last ~2 months (it’s already been that long?!) things have gotten better. My work product never suffered through this period of adjustment, but as I’ve learned more I’d like to think I’ve also gotten more efficient.
During all of this, I’ve had to focus on taking care of myself. Sometimes that means just going to sleep at 530pm after work. Sometimes it means going for walks with my dog, or reading a book, or completely avoiding my laptop outside of work. As a new dev with a set end-date for her current job, I know that I’m going to have to study to find a job again soon, and that it will mean studying outside of work hours. But I also have to stay sane.
But this isn’t a post about me now, this is a post about you now.
I have the benefit of coming to tech as an adult with 8 years of work experience, and 3 years of grad school before that. It means I have already had time to make mistakes. The biggest mistake I ever made was getting so burnt out that I got physically ill.
Do not do this. 0/10 recommend.
It’s tempting. You want to be successful. There are a lot of things happening right now that you can’t control - stock market changes, company layoffs, the trajectory of COVID-19 cases. You can control how much you work. It feels as though you can control your success.
Do not trade control for your health.
I have listened to many people talk about how they feel burnt out and more stressed than they did before, how the lack of face-to-face interactions is frustrating, how switching to 100% online communication is hard, how they feel as though they have to be “on” 24/7 because they always have access to their machines. And it makes my heart hurt. Because I know where this ends.
By the time I finally made a significant change to get back on the right track - I was barely eating, I’d lost weight, I’d stopped doing basic tasks on a regular schedule (laundry? taking out the trash?). All I was, was my work. I woke up at 5:45am - and that’s if I hadn’t been interrupted by phone calls during the night. I consistently worked until 10pm or later - sometimes the late evening was the only time I could contact witnesses or other attorneys. I worked full days on Saturdays, and half days on Sundays. I was easily pushing 90 hours a week on a regular basis. I became my work. It was my whole life, my entire identity. My value, in my mind, became tied to my success at work.
All of this stress aggravated what I’m sure was an already present anxiety disorder. The courtroom went from a place I loved being to a place that made me feel sick when I had to enter. The fear of failing made me physically ill - because mistakes were not mistakes with my work, they were mistakes with me.
I got so exhausted that I was afraid if I slept in my bed, I wouldn’t wake up when my alarm went off. So I started sleeping on the couch, with the light by the front door on. My brain was so wired I also couldn’t fall asleep without the tv on, just to have something to listen to that wasn’t a running narrative of all of my cases and all of the things that were due or coming soon.
This was normal. This was my life. I didn’t think anything of it.
Until one day, I did. I broke. And after that, I made changes.
And swore never again.
You can absolutely do things to keep yourself healthy. But first you have to accept that when you are healthy, you are going to work better. I promise. You will be more efficient when you can think straight. When someone works that many hours per week, it’s not all productive. Some of those hours are because their efficiency just goes down from exhaustion and distraction. Do not let #hustle pr0n make you feel guilty for sticking to 40-50 hours a week.
Everyone talks about setting boundaries - I know how difficult this can be. I know that you might work for someone who’s never heard the word “boundary” in their life. I get it. But within the parameters of your work culture, try.
Don’t check your email after Xpm. Just don’t. You’re not going to be able to deal with it, the people you need won’t be available to reply when you need them, you’re going to be stressed out because of it, and it’s going to rob you of the sleep you need to actually do the work the next day. We live in the future, but phone calls are still a thing. If it’s an emergency, a true emergency, your phone will ring. Even if that’s not how things “normally” work - it’s how things work if there is an actual emergency. Is someone dying? Bleeding? Being arrested? Someone being upset they’re not getting a response when they want it because they want it is not, in fact, an emergency.
Do not feel like you have to work X number of hours, or X time in order to be productive or get your work done. If you are healthy you can be efficient. If you can be efficient, you can probably get your work done in the 40 hours you get each week. Take breaks. If we were still in office buildings - coworkers talk together. They tell stories. They go for coffee. They don’t show up and work in silence from 9am to 6pm (or whatever the hours are).
Remember this isn’t actually normal “work from home.” Your level of stress is much higher than normal. It just is. There’s a disease that you can’t see, that has no vaccine, that kills ~1.3% of the people who get it, that you could pick up by just being in the same area as someone else. You know that the mortality rate varies widely between different demographics. It could sicken or kill your loved ones. Your kids (if you have them) are probably home - expecting more help with school than normal. Needing more supervision. Making more noise. Your workspace isn’t (or wasn’t initially) what you’re used to. If you have a partner who has also been told to work-from-home, you’re working in makeshift office spaces where your coworkers (and managers) are ALSO stressed and dealing with change. If you don’t have kids - maybe you have pets, who are also dealing with new routines. If you live alone - STILL STRESSFUL. Who will take care of you if you get sick? Who will notice if you’re looking or feeling “off”? If you do not feel anxious just reading this paragraph please check yourself for a pulse.
Take care of yourselves.
There will be managers who expect your productivity to double because come on, you’re home all day!! There will be managers who do not care that there are 5 million other things you’re dealing with each day, that it’s not a vacation. You have no idea what THEY deal with! There are managers who don’t feel you’re being productive unless you’re at your desk, unless they can see you. And you know what? They can get over it. I know the job market is looking scary - obviously don’t risk your job. But also don’t be afraid to just do the minimum when you need to. Do what you need to do to stay employed, and do not beat yourself up for the days where that's all you can bring yourself to do.
There will be people who claim this is the time to hustle, to start a business, to learn a new skill, to tackle a side project - as though this were some kind of vacation. There will be people whose advice comes from a place of incredible privilege. There will be people who talk about what comes next - what are you going to tell an interviewer this winter? How did you LeVeL uP?! Mute or block them. Just do it. You’ll feel better.
Figure out what healthy looks like for you - what a good mental day looks and feels like. Find things that help you get there - opening the windows? Going for a walk? Making food you enjoy? Watching an hour of dogs doing goofy things on youtube? Reading? What does it take for you to end the day able to take a deep breath? What does it take for you to start the day with the hope that things can get better?
You know yourself, and you are your greatest investment. Everyone else will deal.