3 Tips for Software Engineers to Avoid Bringing Work Home
#2 Have an End-Of-Work Habit
You are in the middle of writing code, and it's 5 o'clock. You don't want to end your day in the middle of a thought, so you keep working. 3 hours pass by, and you end up finishing work at 8 PM.
As you commute back from work, you cannot stop your mind from thinking if the algorithm you implemented is correct.
"What if the user doesn’t sign in?" you think. "Gosh! I didn't account for when the user doesn’t sign in!"
You do more work back home to account for that edge case. Once you finish fixing and testing your code, you look at the clock, now 11 PM.
Software engineering is a cerebral job. Even if your work clock ends at 5 PM, your mind doesn't.
That differs from other professions, such as pharmacists and doctors, who serve patients during designated work hours. When you are done with work, you are DONE - you don't have to think about work during off-time.
Even though your company said that you are working 40 hours a week as a software engineer, in reality you are actually working 70 hours per week.
Your physical body cannot rest because your mind cannot rest.
I have tried all kinds of tools to prevent bringing problems from work back home, and here are 3 tips that I follow and found the most useful in preventing that.
How to force your brain to stop thinking at a certain time?
Our mind is a superpower. Everything that we wish can be a self-fulling prophecy. You need to learn how to trick your mind into thinking it is okay to stop and continue the next day.
I used to think that I had to finish everything before I ended the work week.
Not finishing a bug that you intended to finish that day feels like watching a cliffhanger on TV. Your brain wants to know what comes next because you give your brain permission to think.
Sooner you realize that you work longer hours, which impacts your mental and physical health.
According to research by psychologist Bluma Zeigarnik, unfinished tasks stay on people's minds until they are finished—meaning once you get something going, you have much more drive to finish it, so your brain will stop reeling on it.
The Hemmingway Bridge Method
You need to trick your mindset into thinking that your task is never-ending.
You want a hard stop once you hit a certain time on the clock and delegate the unfinished task to the next day. You must create that Hemmingway Bridge to tell your future self to get back into that flow zone.
It can be uncomfortable to do this the first time. However, uncomfortable will become comfortable once you make it a habit to force yourself to stop thinking at a certain time.
Whenever I cannot finish a task in a designated allotted time, I often create "where I left off" notes for myself and "what I want to do next" notes. This helps me create a Hemingway Bridge that uses yesterday's flow state to drive tomorrow's momentum. When I start my work the next day, I will know where I left off. I can get into the flow state much faster and easier because I left all the notes on what I wanted to do next. This also helps me leave all my worries and thoughts in a note and not carry it back to my personal space.
Try this method, and your brain will thank you for it.
Have an End-of-Work Habit
Deliberately mark a time during the day to tell your brain that you are putting work behind.
Sometimes your brain needs a signal to prepare you for the time at home. It's even better if this signal can help you decompress. For example, you can take a more scenic route home, listen to music or a podcast to unwind and give yourself time to switch gears for family life. You can walk in the park for 30 minutes at the end of the work day to indicate that you are done with work.
I will exercise daily around 5PM to signal that I have finished my work. Then when I finish the exercise, I will start my personal evening routine.
When we are not working from home, commuting indicates that "you are done with work." You usually log off from your laptop and leave your work laptop in the office. However, now that many software engineers work hybrid or remotely from home, our work and personal hours often blend in. We may require certain activities or indications declaring that we are done with work.
Define Your Work at a Particular Time or Location
Create a designated space for work. Make a rule to work from home only in exceptional circumstances, and keep work computers, folders, and notebooks at your desk.
Your brain stores information about your surroundings and environment in cognitive spaces. Therefore, you must wire your brain about "work" and "rest" at a particular time or location.
The traditional 9-5 enables us to associate home with "rest." However, remote work has destroyed our association of home with "rest." Our work schedule becomes more non-linear.
"For example, a remote worker may start their day at 6:00 AM and work until 9:00 AM local time. To spend time with family, this person will not check their work email again until 3:00 PM local time and continues to work until 8:00 PM local time. And tomorrow may be a totally different schedule depending on work/life circumstances." - Gitlab.
The first thing I did when I worked from home during the pandemic was to move my work desk setup from my bedroom to another space, the "work" room.
When I go to the "work" room, my mindset will auto-switch immediately to work. When I go to my bedroom, my mind automatically registers rest time and time to sleep.
Doing this will mentally help you shut off work when you leave the physical room, giving you the incentive to work as efficiently as possible rather than lingering over tasks.
Software engineers never work 9-5 because our mind keeps running like a hamster on the wheel if we finish solving our problems by 5. These are the three methods that I use to save my mental health that may help you save yours as well:
Use the Hemmingway Bridge method to force your brain to stop thinking about problems after a designated time.
Create an end-of-the-day ritual to signal to your brain that you are getting off work.
Define a specific location or time for doing work.
Try these three tips, and you'll notice the habit of bringing work to home fades.
What method do you use to avoid bringing work home?
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