It's easy for a software developer to turn into a workaholic. Not only does their regular work require long hours of sustained focus, but they are always under some pressure to learn new technologies in an ever-changing technological landscape: blockchain, AI, this framework, that library.
You may recognize this feeling: When you're not working or learning, you feel as if you're falling behind on other developers who look more successful, earn more money, and may replace you before long. You're anxious when you're not working, so you never stop.
But you know it isn't sustainable. You're on the road to burnout, something your body tells you in subtle and, sometimes, not-so-subtle ways. But it's not easy to simply stop working. You struggle to relax. You can't take your mind off work. These are the signs of workaholism. And here are five ways to pull yourself away from that workaholic mindset.
1. You Are More Than Your Work
Workaholics conflate their self-worth with their work. You are worthy only because your work is, only because you've worked eighty hours last week, only because you were the only one who could make the code work. While it's good to take pride in what you do, your work doesn't exclusively define who you are. Humans are multi-faceted beings who play multiple roles in their everyday lives.
So as an exercise, think about who else you are in life. Are you a parent, a sibling, a runner, a painter, a musician, a beekeeper, a gamer, a friend? These roles define you just as much as your work does. How much each role takes up will vary throughout your life, but you should give each role at least some breathing space.
Besides, the workaholic in you isn't very smart. If you don't rest, the quality of your work declines, both within a workday and over longer stretches of time. The most productive developers are those who understand how to rest deeply, so they can return to work well-rested and motivated. You don't have to kill the workaholic inside you. You just have to convince it of the benefits of rest.
2. Set Hard Rules
If you're a workaholic, chances are you're disciplined. You're strict with yourself. Once you're convinced that you need rest, it's a good idea to set a hard stop for your work. Decide on a time after which you won't do anything work-related. You'll even try not to think about work.
This is made much easier when you have a system where you offload tasks that are still roaming in your mind. Instead of remembering that you need to reply to Mary's email, put that task in your favorite task management app for whenever it's due. When you have a trusty system that will remind you of the right tasks at the right time, you'll be able to relax much better after your hard stop.
You can offload your tasks from wetware to software in a shutdown ritual that you do every time you're about to stop work. Such a ritual will make it easier to stick to your hard stop. It could be something as simple as offloading your tasks, closing your laptop, and saying out loud "I'm done with work."
3. Plan Your Free Time
This may seem a little paradoxical, but it's a great idea to plan your free time. A clean calendar may look relaxing, but to a workaholic, it's often simply more space to worry about work. You don't have to schedule all your free time, but at the very least plan a few activities throughout the week and the weekend.
If you're a remote developer, it's a great idea to schedule a few social activities. Loneliness in remote work cannot be underestimated. A coffee with a friend may be the perfect antidote, even for introverts. Or go on a date night with your partner. Book a movie. Plan a long hike on Sunday. Whatever it is, have something to look forward to. It will take your mind off work.
4. Find a Hobby
You know you're a workaholic when you've convinced yourself that your work is your hobby too. It's not. You may enjoy programming, but the programming that you do before and after a day of programming can't be considered your hobby. A hobby is a different activity altogether, and preferably something that doesn't involve a screen.
Many people don't have hobbies, but they are a great way to detach from work. The difficulty with a hobby is that you have to find one first. That requires experimentation. You will need to try new things. Some of those things you won't like. Some things you won't care about. But the experimentation is worth it.
Go dancing. Paint some Warhammer 40K models. Learn how to play drums. Figure out how to bake. Eventually, you'll find something that sticks. A new world will open, with more detail than you could ever imagine. Finding the right hobby can bring you tremendous joy and return balance to your life.
5. You Are Not Alone
Whether it's a therapist, family, a friend, or someone who's willing to listen, don't be afraid to speak to someone about your workaholism. You are not alone. Many people have the same fears and insecurities that accompany a workaholic attitude. People who have gone through it can provide guidance that goes far beyond what's written in a blog post.
Asking for help is not a sign of weakness. It's a sign of strength. Not only do you realize you have to do something about your workaholism, but you're willing to reach out to others to try and solve it. On its own, that's already more progress than most. There is much more to life than work. Finding the right balance may take time, but you'll live a healthier and happier life when you do.