I’ve been an avid twitter user for years, but had to stop this winter. I have been listening to ‘Deep Work’ while driving cross country and have done a lot of thinking about how to do better work. One of the things recommended in the book is to quit social media or at least exclude it from the part of your day when you work. I’ve typically just blocked twitter from my network during the workday then used it as much as I wanted afterwards.
Well another thing I did in the pursuit of ‘deep work’ is to review my Qbserve stats for the last few months. My twitter numbers were way higher than I expected. I have been spending thousands of dollars worth of time using Twitter producing fun content that twitter then monetizes. I could have gotten a part time job or learned to paint.
Track your time. There are a bunch of apps that can do it. I use Qbserve because it stores data locally and felt like a less heavy weight solution. I have also used RescueTime, but found logging in again when I need to restart tracking to be a pain.
Once you have tracking going it gives you a lot of insight into what you are doing on your computer. Some people might think “ah, if I’m on the computer I’m working, what else would I use it for” but for millennials and digital natives who spend most of their lives on a computer it can really help.
For example I know how much clock time I spent reading Xianxia, translated chinese pulp fiction, on wuxiaworld.co this year, four whole days. That is nearly double the amount of time I spent on news.ycombinator.com which came in at 1 day and 13 hours. I also know how much time I spent writing, note taking and journaling this year, around 30 hours so far. Admittedly, I haven’t run the app 24/7 and didn’t start until March so I only have around 8~ months worth of data.
I don’t think I would have made the realization of how much time I was spending on twitter, without a time tracking app. It is a lot like Television for normal people, it is just on all the time when you are home, you don’t really think about it’s effects on your life. Most people underestimate how much time they spend watching television, but you don’t have to underestimate how much time you spend on Youtube, just get Qbserve and review the data occasionally.
In the week or so since I quit, I’ve already read a couple books and started writing on my blog again.
I’ve dealt with burnout many times in my 6 years as a software engineer. Usually, it’s when I get bored of a project or there is a slow period where I don’t have a lot of work to do. Counter to what you would expect having less work makes it harder to get that work done than when there is more to do. I think it is because when there is less of it, the work feels less important and subconsciously it feels like I’m not really needed. Like when you are in a meeting trying to estimate the impact of an issue with the whole team, but only three out of ten people are actually able to do anything before people are duplicating work. Then you end up waiting for other people to do basic things like read logs and tell you what they say. You could just read them yourself, but do we need 3 people reviewing the same logs right now?
I intentionally stayed on my current team for a relatively long period of time just to see what it was like. Earlier in my career I worked as a consultant where my longest time on one project was 9 months. Here at a product company we have been working on essentially the same problems for years. This is great in a way because I have been able to develop deep expertise in my systems and tooling, but the cost is of course burnout.
The pandemic has made this year significantly worse by forcing remote work. I’ve lived in studio apartments since college and rely on having an office to provide a distinction between working and other activities. Efficiencies, like eating at my desk, which make sense normally, serve to muddle work and play when everything happens in a 500sqft box.
Having everything muddled together makes it much harder to maintain flow. The absence of which makes everything more difficult. Especially, when your general happiness is influenced by your self-perceived productivity and usefulness as mine is. A large reason for my career success so far is how I maintain focus in the office. I don’t let myself do certain activities in the office like use Facebook, Reddit, Twitter or almost anything non-work related. Figuring out how to extend those norms to a single room lifestyle has been very difficult.
I haven’t been able to wait out burnout. In the past a team or job change alleviated the problem. This year it just got worse and worse by the end of my stay in Seattle I didn’t want to fix it.
The good news is that I left Seattle, living there has never felt right to me, the winters are horrible. In the short term I will be itinerant, but eventually I will acquire a new permanent space which will be larger. I’m hoping to move into a house or condo, but might end up in a one or two bedroom apartment with a dedicated office.
Fixing one part of my life that I knew I didn’t like has helped. It hasn’t fixed everything, but I’ve had a lot of time to think of ways to improve my working situation which I think will pay off.