One of the things I've always struggled with is setting aside "downtime" for myself. Over the last few years I've tried to rectify this by setting aside at least one day a week where I'm not working or thinking about work. This is typically on Sunday. Over the last few months I've been able to focus my time on my business, Highview Apps, and my consultancy. This has freed up a lot of my time as I've gone from working 10-12 hour days down to 6-8 hours. My time is much more focused and there are a lot less distractions now that I'm primarily working for myself.
This has allowed me to finally get back my nights and weekends as I only work those days in emergencies. At first it was extremely difficult to relax at night. Many nights I would finish up work, eat dinner, hangout with the family and then relax and read or watch a little bit of tv. This was a huge struggle, I always felt guilty that I wasn't working and I would constantly beat myself up because I was "wasting time" not working. I've been trying to form a habit and make myself realize that nothing bad is going to happen if I relax. It didn't help that over the years I didn't stick to my "down time" schedule. Especially within the last year, I found myself working Saturday and Sunday most of the time. I would typically put in a minimum of 4 hours on the weekends and I began to burn out.
I'd burnt out once before so this time I was more conscientious of it and recognized it early on. For me, I can tell when I'm burning out because I start to become very depressed. I no longer want to hit the gym, I isolate myself from friends and family and I begin to eat terribly. I find comfort in sugar and everything begins to feel like a waste of time. I decided it was time to tackle it head on. I was no longer going to allow myself to overwork and I was going to start putting aside time for myself. This is when I decided I was no longer going to work weekends or nights.
I started my transition in July and have held strong. I worked one night (we had an emergency bug fix for one of our apps) and on weekends I check our support inbox once in the morning and sometimes once in the late afternoon, that's it. I keep away from our codebase, marketing tasks and any deep work. If I need to work a weekend, I schedule it in advance and push hard to ensure I don't let myself slip. Below are are some strategies I've used to help keep myself from burning out.
Meditation has been a huge step in helping me relax. I started mediating in early January of 2019 and have been meditating pretty much every day since. I do miss days from time to time but I don't stress over it. It's taught me to live more in the moment and focus on the now. It's also helped be become less reactive in stressful situations. I'm still new to the practice and am enjoying the benefits in my life.
It's helped me understand that I need time to relax and not always focus on work. Since I started, I've been thinking about what's important in my life and it's helped me understand that happiness does not come from outside factors. I use the app calm and love it. I still do daily guided meditation and use the music and sounds sections throughout my day.
I've been walking daily for years and find this to be a huge stress releaver. I try not to pay any attention to anything, I ignore my phone and only listen to podcasts, if anything at all. I try to take in the environment around me and focus on enjoying nature. If I can find a place to hike it's even better. Keeping this routine in place helps me focus when I'm working or trying to solve a hard problem as it gives my mind, body and soul time to reset.
This is my biggest focus. To me there is no better way to spend your time than with your family. A lot of times we get caught up in deadlines and work itself and we unintentionally put family second. Over the past few years I've started to put family time above all. I try and make sure to eat dinner with my family on a daily basis and I always ensure I stop working at a reasonable hour. This has been the bedrock of my downtime over the last few years and I intend on keeping it this way.
This sounds crazy, but I just started focusing on this over the past year. I've stopped working nights and weekends, and I make sure to find time to do things that I enjoy. I began to volunteer coaching sports in town and I started playing video games again. I always make sure to put time aside for reading comic books as well. These are things I enjoy doing for myself and I gave them up for a long time. I've found when I give myself permission to spend a bunch of hours each week playing video games and reading comics I'm more focused when I'm with my family or working. I find myself less distracted when I'm running into a hard problem and when I finish my day I feel good because I put in a solid set of hours with real focus.
Tracking & Scheduling Hours
Managing my time has been another key factor. When I put in a solid 6 hour work day, with minimal to no restrictions, it's amazing how much I can get down. I feel tired, accomplished and I always make sure to take the last 10 minutes of my day to review what I've done. If I leave my desk at the end of my work day and feel like I accomplished a lot, there's no guilt about putting down the laptop after hours.
The key to my success has been tracking my hours with a time tracker (I've found Hamster or Clockify work great on Linux) and I schedule all of my work in Trello. When I finish a task, I log it in hamster or clockify. This helps me stay focused and I feel very accomplished when I'm done. At the end of each day I review my Trello board, I line up what I'm going to do tomorrow and I no longer need to think about it. I rarely feel like I didn't accomplish enough. On Friday's I typically line up a set of important goals I want to accomplish during the next week which helps me stay focused and confident. I never go back and look at what I did previously as this is really about making sure I don't waste time trying to figure out what needs to get done next.
Setting aside time to for myself, friends and family has been the most productive thing I've done in years. The 50-60 hour work weeks are behind me and I'm more productive than ever. I get much more accomplished in my 30-40 hour weeks than I ever did working 60 hours and my business is much better for it. Don't get me wrong, I still struggle checking our support email when I shouldn't and some weekends I feel guilty because I'm not "accomplishing" anything while I'm relaxing. Whenever I feel like this, I remind myself that when Monday morning comes I feel refreshed and ready for the week if I relax. The days of dreading Monday are long gone and I hope they never come back.