Steve Rydz

the importance of unplugging

Three years ago I had a weeks annual leave coming up and I decided that I wasn’t going to write a single line of code for the whole week. That might not seem so strange seeing as I wasn’t “working” that week, but like most coders I know I spend a decent amount of my personal time writing code too.

When my time off arrived I decided I’d try not to use my laptop at all for that whole week. Ideally I wanted a week offline, but in today’s world that is almost impossible. There’s always something which requires an app or a web browser, but as I could take care of most of that stuff on my phone, I settled for leaving my laptop lid closed.

When I returned to work the following week I was actually excited about writing code again, and I had a fresh perspective on how to approach the challenges I faced on a daily basis. Since then I’ve tried to follow a similar pattern every time I take time off.

I deliberately skipped over something there. Prior to the week off I’d been struggling with burnout. I had no motivation at all. This wasn’t purely caused by coding in my free time. My Sister had been diagnosed with cancer (she’s fine now) and two of our three cats passed away all in a matter of months, so that definitely took its toll, but burying my head in a text editor certainly didn’t help. What I really needed was to spend some time in the real world.

The lesson I took from this was to make the most of my free time. Yes, it’s important to keep my coding skills up-to-date, but not at the expense of everything else. Not only do I try to minimize my time at a computer during my holidays now, I also do the same at the weekends. I have to spend some time with my laptop as not only will it get lonely, but I still have a desire to continue building on my coding skills, but keeping that time to a minimum means I focus more and am eager to come back to it.

I’ve found that if you truly want/need a break it doesn’t really matter what you do as long as it’s different to what you do all week long. It helps to have other interests. For example I’m a keen guitar player and even keener amateur photographer. The great thing about these activities is that they are totally immersive. When I’m running through scales or wandering the streets with a camera my mind is entirely focused on the task at hand, so when I get back to work my mind is clear and focused.

There are other benefits to spending time focusing on other things too, such as developing skills and even expertise in other areas. Some examples for me are that I’ve learned how to do sweep picking by taking the time to focus on that particular technique. I’ve also met two of my favourite photographers: Joel Meyerowitz and Matt Stuart; at recent book signings. I’m also lucky enough to be attending a workshop with the aforementioned Matt Stuart in a few weeks time.

And there we have it, that’s how I keep myself wanting more. For another take on this why not have a read of Tom’s post on the subject? How do you keep the dreaded burn out at bay? We’d love to know!

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