Due to the current pandemic situation, most of us are most likely experiencing the life of working remotely. Together with that, a lot of people will also have experienced all the challenges that come with it.
One of the most difficult ones for me resolved around taking breaks. In the office it was something that I took for granted and never really paid too much attention to. Breaks would just happen naturally without too much of a conscious process behind it. But since I started working from home roughly a year ago, everything around it changed. Breaks became awkward, rushed, infrequent, extremely short, moments where I would constantly track the time, and the worse of them all, a feeling of slacking and guilt towards my employee for every minute not sitting in front of the screen.
After a few months it became clear to me that the way I was handling breaks was straight up bad, to the point that it was also just plain unhealthy. It was necessary to drastically change this, which took me several months. It definitely wasn't easy and it required quite some conscious adjustment to my daily rhythm.
And this topic of taking breaks is exactly that I want to cover in this edition of Take a Moment. If this is a topic that you didn't spend a lot of time on yet, then you should definitely do so as it can immensely affect one's mental and physical health. Therefore, please take this topic seriously and ask yourself:
Do I take breaks?
When I started working from home last year, I would have sessions of several hours where I was just sitting and working. Per day I would also only have a handful of sessions, which meant that on a daily basis I would take at most a handful of breaks. Unsurprisingly, that lead to a lot of physical health issues after some time.
But even after identifying the issue, it was hard for me to immediately change this daily rhythm that I had. It took quite a bit of experimenting, trial and error, several discussions with my team lead, and a lot of time to make taking breaks really part of my daily routine. In the end, there were 2 main factors that were decisive for me.
The first one was keeping track of the duration of my sessions and plan breaks accordingly. Methods I tried were manually keeping track of the time, setting alarms, and using a break reminder app like Time Out. For me an app was a great way to start, as it would actively force breaks into my daily routine. After using it some time I noticed that I created a habit of intuitively keeping track of my sessions.
There are dozens of ways to keep track of the duration of your sessions out there or to remind you of breaks, so I will leave that to you to experiment and find one that sticks for you. If you're not sure, you could try starting out my suggestions and work from there. But regardless of how you do it or what you use, the most important thing is to be mindful and conscious about taking breaks. Long term this will also improve both your physical and mental health.
The second factor was realising that I, in fact, deserve to take breaks. And so do you. Working alone and remote from home gives us a lot of freedom. Together with that freedom comes a lot of opportunities, but also a big responsibility to be able to manage that freedom. Because of this, a perspective is created that every minute not working equals a minute of slacking, which a lot of people that I have talked to also share.
But if we compare it to the time when we were working at the office, it was not like we were cramping out 8 hours of work every day back then. Besides working, we would have lunch, extended coffee breaks, toilet breaks, catching up or chatting with colleagues in the pantry, and so many other activities unrelated to work. So from those 8 hours at the office, it's most likely that at most only 6 hours were actually invested into work. And out of those 6 hours, it's realistically only possible to get 4 hours of creative work.
Even if it's possible to sit in front of the screen for 8 hours, it's definitely not possible to be productive for the full duration. So that should definitely not be expected of you, neither by yourself or your employee. Taking breaks regularly is a very important part of a healthy and long-term daily routine. But unfortunately it's also one of the most overlooked things when (starting out with) working from home. In fact, it's more than likely that you don't take enough breaks.
So for this week, I really want you to Take a Moment to think about your daily working routine and ask yourself whether you take any breaks at all and how often. And no not the ones where you rush to your coffee machine for a quick cup of coffee, but the ones where you actually take a break; the ones that you deserve.
I believe that becoming a great developer starts with becoming a better developer today compared to yesterday. The best way to be a better developer is identifying what you can improve upon and taking action to improve; become self reflective. And the best way to be self reflective is periodically stopping in your tracks, taking stock of everything that happened in the past and the present, and make a plan for the future; taking a moment.
To accommodate this, I’ve created Take a Moment: A newsletter focused on becoming a better developer by forcing you to stop in your tracks, take a moment, and self reflect one question at a time. Every other week you will receive a post like this in your inbox: one self reflective question and complementary descriptions around it for context.