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Down-Time, Burnout & Getting It All Done

Greetings, all...

I'm curious about how others' projects are scheduled, with regard to moving from completion of Project A to the beginning of Project B.

In my current evironment (single developer - me), there is an expectation that, if I complete Project A on Monday, I can be out of the gate working on Project B first thing Tuesday morning (which I have to get a jump on if I want to get to Project C by next Friday).  And despite the fact that these projects are quite small, I'm finding myself more and more burned out as time goes by.

I really loved my job a few months ago, but as this cycle continues, I find myself enjoying it less and less, and it botheres me I'm feeling this way.  I guess I just need a little down time between these projects to "flush my buffer" & recharge my batteries.

What are your thoughts on down time?  Developers:  Do you need this time & do you get it if you need it?  [Project] Managers:  Do you provide this time to your staff?

Jeffrey MacDonald
Sunday, February 2, 2003

Why not just take some vacation time?

Sun Tan Stan
Sunday, February 2, 2003

Why not writing specs and letting low cost people implement ?

Sunday, February 2, 2003

Lie about how long the work will take so that you can create some slack time.

Employers would love it if every second of our time spent in the workplace could be used 'productively'. I have to have time just to 'think and relax'.

Chris McEvoy
Sunday, February 2, 2003

I live in a technology-hostile redneck belt. Many managers and supervisors in my area come from capital goods and auto worker environments and they're used to squeezing the poor SOBs working for them until they break. So I am well familiar with where you're coming from. This kind of pressure comes from two kinds of polar opposite company owners: the kind that don't respect applied intellectual effort, and those who are former techies themselves who feel that every employee of theirs should work at the pace of a partner in the organization.

YES, you absolutely need slack time. And if you're working at such a pace, where does your self-management time fit in? IE, the time needed for you to plan and understand your current or next task, that is? It sounds to me like you're being used as a code mill or code machine.

You need to pace yourself. The fools that are saddling you with such an excessive workload need to understand that their rapacious greed can and will break the goose that lays the gold egg. IE: you could simply quit and go contract elsewhere and work at a similar intensity and make one *heck* of a lot more than you would as a regular employee.

I heartily second the notion of pushing back on your work by preallocating "zone-out time" and "planning time" and interlacing these activities with your workload.

Defend your personal interests aggressively. Nobody else will.

Bored Bystander
Sunday, February 2, 2003

When I have my manager hat on I always plan on 15% "slack".

So if the company has a nominal 40 hour week, I assume that a person assigned to me can produce 34 hours of work.

Further every project plan has a contigency of 25% to 50% depending on the risk or complexity.

When things go according to schedule, then the extra time is used to do lower intensity tasks: code review, refactoring, optional requirements, and better documentation.

If we are still ahead, then I split the time remaining in half, give the team some time off, and give the client a discount.

Anonymous Coward
Sunday, February 2, 2003

"Defend your personal interests aggressively.  Nobody else will."

I fully agree, after learning this lesson the hard way.  I too was a lone developer rushing from one deadline to the next, with no end in sight.  Everything was top-priority, and although I was able to sustain a break-neck pace for a while, eventually it wore me down, and I snapped.  I requested two weeks off, even though it seemed to me like this particular deadline was more urgent than most, and, surprise, I got it!  Remember, I was the lone developer, with nobody to step in for me.  And life went on.  I recovered enough to keep on pushing, and made it through to the end of the project.  But it taught me an important lesson: things often aren't as urgent as you are led to believe.  And yes, "Defend your personal interests aggressively.  Nobody else will."

I was talking with my supervisor about it a few months later, and he basically told me I needed to stop undercutting myself with best-case estimates, and to purposely factor in slack time, and that it was okay if I didn't tell anyone that.  He said when he was younger, he would pad his estimates by several weeks, get it done several weeks in advance, and just sit around while his coworkers requested extra time on their projects that they had underestimated on.  And his boss still loved him and thought he was doing great!  It's all in how you set other people's expectations of you.  Often I'm my own worst critic, and set other people's expectations based on my own.  I'm slowly learning that it's okay to pad, and that it actually makes everyone happier in the end.

Monday, February 3, 2003

I once had a project manager that could induce hysteria by her very presence.  Every problem she ever approached me with seemed, to her anyway, to be a matter of life or  death.  My first reaction was to go to the ends of the earth to solve the dilemma at hand.  Accordingly, this resulted in longer hours and an increased apathy towards my job.

Over time, I worked for her less.  However, as expected, she still periodically came to me with problems.  During 'crunch' times I basically had to tell her that I couldn't get to the problem in the timely fashion she had come to know.  Although this upset her, she dealt with it.  And so did the client.

I was lucky that this all came about, in the fashion that it did.  Mostly, because I got used to telling her ‘no’.  It was a stark realization that I could have done this sooner and saved some sanity.

Now that some years have passed since then, I have gotten very good at reclaiming my time.

Leave Me Alone Chicken Little
Monday, February 3, 2003

As a "manager" (I guess) who is still sort of techie, I have a slightly different perspective.

In my opinion, developers need "play time". Time to catch up on reading, get into a new piece of technology, and just play.

I actually schedule slack time in our releases. I tell the people on our team to just go play.

My problem? They won't play. They start working on the next release.

I've stopped considering it strange behaviour. They're just a very dedicated, engaged group of developers. I realize they're having fun, so why rock the boat?

Bruce Rennie
Monday, February 3, 2003


it is not strange behavior. It is dangerous behavior.  The 3 biggest dangers behind this are (IMO):

1) people burning themselves out.
2) becoming impossible for you (as a manager) to get your own team out of the loop before they all get toasted. Chances are if you try and drop the rythm, people will loose interest and leave. This is a huge problem and I've seen good teams disolving within weeks because of this. You cannot stop them once they're started.
3) substituting work for thinking. People will just work without thinking properly about their doings.

I would try and slow them just a bit down by:
1) ending every other day with a half an hour unreal/quake/duke/whatever session over the network
2) taking the team out every 3-4 months for half a day for things like gokarting/soccer/football/baseball/hockey/whatever
3) preventing them to put in unwanted overtime.


Monday, February 3, 2003

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