know when to stop!

Getting started in web development was one of the best decisions I ever made. It’s challenging, fulfilling and has so many avenues of opportunity. I will say, when I first started and began to recognise the scope of it I was a little taken aback. My main thoughts were:

  • I’ll take forever to reach an employable level
  • All of this is completely foreign to me
  • This stuff is way more complicated under the nice polished UI

My natural instinct to such a seemingly daunting task was to go full throttle for as long as I possibly could to get as far ahead in a short space of time. It was the way I used to work when I was solo and working for a carpet & upholstery cleaning company and that took 3 years to lead to burnout, but physical burnout. Surely this job is all sitting down, it can’t possibly be as bad.

I was wrong. Very wrong.

Mental burnout is just as painful. I was pulling 10 hour shifts not moving from in front of the screen and it got to me quickly. I did learn a lot, but it took it’s toll. I had to dial it right back for a few weeks to recover because I was actually causing the physical problems I’d earnt at my old job to flair up cos I was stressing myself so much. But it was a part of my personality, I always give all I can and then keep going…

But, I started to notice something. The code I wrote in the morning, when my head was fairly fresh was 1,000,000 times better quality than what I wrote, if I managed to write any, after 6 hours of screen time. This got me thinking. I had seen plenty on twitter about taking 5-10 minute breaks every hour and had always thought “nah, they’re just being soft”, maybe I was wrong. Too old-fashioned. Running myself into an early grave. It can’t hurt to at least try prioritising rest. Disciplined rest.

So I did. I forced myself to take breaks and I even made myself STOP after 5 or 6 hours every day. My overall productivity increased. My clarity of thought improved. I realised I was stressing for absolutely no reason, I couldn’t come up with a real solution to problems when my brain was tired. It was better to drop it and come back in the morning.

I even maintained a number of personal projects which I interspersed throughout my day to give myself breaks from work. It was great and I’m in a much better position now for it because I have almost 1 year of real work experience, which would be technically true whether I worked 3 hours a day or 13 plus I have a decent little collection of solo projects where I can show off what I’ve learnt along the way. I wouldn’t be able to show the stuff I have contributed to for work because it was part of a team effort and often had a lot of guidance, it being my first year. Also it took me a few months to even be able to read and understand the code bases I worked on in full.

The other important thing that I learnt was that unless the bug or issue was actually critical, it really wasn’t worth losing any sleep over. A lot of the times the “fix” was simple and you actually need the break in the middle of solving it to see the best solution. Your brain would process better if given the chance to let the sub-conscience mill it over. This I only learnt from observing my experienced teammates. I thought their coolness in the face of things that initially caused me stress was due to them knowing everything already, but it really came from their experience that they would see it clearer after a break from trying to solve it. Sure they have a tonne more technical ability but they are just far more accustomed to the hang ups of problem solving, which is a very large chunk of what web & software development is.

If I’m honest, it took me a while to wrap my head around all of what was mentioned above. Actually going through the motions was a valuable experience and I’m happy with the place I’ve got to for now. There’s definitely room for improvement, but that again is further proof that this career path is about smaller incremental improvements that eventually lead to a polished, easily maintainable and future-proof final product, be it your project or yourself.

Finally, here are some books that were recommended to me that helped me get to this point, some of which I even need to finish reading myself;

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