On one of the last Fridays of 2021, the product management group at BRYTER gathered to reflect on the past year. It was a mix of highs and lows, of personal and professional milestones and disappointments. And it was the first time since leaving my startup job that I was able to look back at those first ten months of 2021 with enough distance and see how bad things had gotten up until that point.
Utter exhaustion from overwork had become my leitmotiv in 2020 and 2021.
I tried to do the job of three people, and I tried to do them well. Too many parts of the business depended on me, or at least that's what I thought. People kept throwing me curveballs. The pay wasn't great, and I was constantly broke. I wasn't only overworked, I was overwhelmed.
The way back to sanity permalink
I've known it for a while – it played a large part in me changing jobs – but the end of year reflection among the PMs put it into sharp focus: this is neither a healthy nor a sustainable way of living.
Since the beginning of January, I have experimented with various habits to teach myself a sustainable working style, and most of all, to regain my energy for anything else.
I track my work hours. permalink
I had effectively lost track of how many hours I worked every week. It never felt like I had gotten enough done during the day.
Now I am tracking everything as if I was billing by the hour. This has helped me a great deal to learn what a normal workweek looks like. The tracker shows me when I have clocked enough hours and it's time to log off for the day, even if some tasks are left unfinished.
I consciously take breaks. permalink
I am really bad at leaving my desk and taking a break. A real one, without reading Slack on my phone or answering emails. I am tracking those as well, and I try to end up at around 1,5 hours per day.
Those regular breaks have added a level of calm to my days that I hadn’t expected. This has a lot to do with how people at BRYTER use Slack: it feels closer to email than instant messaging and lacks the constant urgency I have experienced elsewhere.
I avoid working evenings. permalink
At some point, late work simply got out of hand, which inevitably led to me falling asleep way too late, getting too little and too poor quality sleep, and waking up groggy the next day. Now I try to stick to an 8-16 schedule as much as I can. If I do have to work late, I make sure to take a longer break during the day, rather than piling hours on top.
Unfortunately, this habit is still very much a mixed success. I still fall into the trap of “I’ll just quickly finish this one thing…”, but less often. It’s progress.
I removed all work communication channels from my phone. permalink
It's just not good for me, and it's not necessary at BRYTER either. I sometimes check Slack after hours in case I am waiting for something, but I do that from my laptop. And nothing that ends up in my email inbox is urgent, ever.
Not having my phone connected to work communication makes it very easy for me to “ignore” everything that happens after hours. If anything is on fire, people will always be able to call me.
It's a bit too early to conclude, but the situation is improving in almost all areas. I get more and better sleep. I spend more time with my family and less time scrolling on my phone because I am too tired to do anything else.
And last but not least, the fact that I managed to write this article at all is proof of great progress.