#163: Taking time for self care

This is the first episode after a prolonged break - so firstly, an apology for the gap in recordings.

In this episode I wanted to talk about why I took a break, the lessons to learn and what I've been up to over the past few months.

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Published: Wed, 10 May 2023 16:21:19 GMT


Hello and welcome back to the Better ROI from Software Development Podcast.

First off, an apology to any of my long-term listeners. I've not recorded an episode for over three months now, and I wanted to talk in this episode as to why I felt the need to step away from podcasting for that time, the lessons that I've learned and what I've been up to over that period.

So why did I take a break?

I simply had too much going on and needed to find headspace to focus on client work. One of my clients had a critical need during the early part of this year with a major release coinciding with substantial team change. Thus, more responsibilities fell to me than normal. And while I'd never advocate a "one-man show" as best practice, it is something I've considerable experience with unfortunately. And through that experience, I knew I needed the headspace to take on that additional cognitive load. Thus, the decision to suspend podcast production for a period of time, both to give myself that headspace for cognitive load, but also to protect my mental health during a stressful and hectic period.

In talking about mental health, I wanted to touch on my own personal history.

Now, I generally feel I run rather hot - being substantially busier than those around me - that's a norm for me. But earlier in my career, I definitely felt I've come close to being overwhelmed by my commitments. I'm very cautious to describe myself as having come close to a breakdown - I'm not a medical professional - but I've certainly felt so overwhelmed that I'm struggling to know what to do next.

Thus older and wiser, I'm now much more conscious of times I'm heading down that road. Over time, I've learned to watch for certain signs that may manifest if I'm going down that same being over-committed path - not being able to switch off trouble sleeping, being irritable, and struggling to know where to start.

Thus, if I start seeing signs of those, I have an opportunity to take a step back and revisit where my current priorities are.

Now, I have an advantage over most people - I have plenty of discretionary activities that I can drop to provide me with breathing space. I'm well aware that many people don't have that luxury.

On top of my paid work for clients, which needs to take priority to put food on the table, I have additional calls upon my time.

Firstly, I obviously have the podcast - not a massive draw on my time, but I can soon eat into two to three hours per week. While each episode is quite short, it takes time to script the subject, record it, edit it, upload it, and produce show notes. And while I love doing the podcast, there is no financial or contractual commitment. Thus, it is an obvious candidate to drop for a period of time.

And secondly, my learning. As I've discussed on the podcast previously, I spend a lot of time learning - be this, listening to podcasts, books, courses, et cetera - I can easily spend 10 hours per week learning. Now, long-term learning is critical to me. Short-term though, I can obviously be something I can put down. However, I tried to keep learning going due to the compound interest benefit rather than dropping it completely for any length of time.

So in this case, while I suspended new podcasts for the last three months or so, I only really stopped learning for a few weeks.

The takeaway on this is if you need to take time off, do you know what your discretionary activities are?

So what have I been up to since we last spoke?

Well, obviously a lot of important client work - and I can report that has gone exceptionally well and received considerable praise. Thus, a good indication it was a right thing to step back from the discretionary work.

I've continued researching better ways of providing estimates. Back in episode 160 I promised to revisit my thoughts on estimates, and I'm continuing that research.

Complimentary to that, I've attended training for a change management process known as Kanban. I have to admit to only having a surface knowledge of Kanban and never taking the time to take a deeper dive into the methodology behind it. Kanban provides an alternative approach to estimation, providing a change management process over any development approach you may have in place. There is also a lot of crossover between the Kanban approach and much of the topics I've covered in this podcast, so I'll likely record a number of Kanban based episodes later this year.

I've renewed two Microsoft certifications. I've held Microsoft certifications for over 10 years now and need to regularly renew them. I've talked previously about why I value spending the time on certifications, but I will record a dedicated episode to take a deeper dive in the next few weeks.

I'm learning a new programming language, Scala. This is in response to a client need. They have a legacy system using Scala and need me to implement change. This is akin to learning a new spoken language. Often you can get started with the basic capabilities, a few words, a little bit of grammar, but to be able to make any substantial headway, further knowledge needs to be gained to be more fluent. Luckily, I've always picked up programming languages fairly quickly - definitely with much more success than my spoken languages, as my failed attempt at French, Spanish, and even Korean demonstrate.

And I've been looking at the Actor design pattern. Design patterns are a subject that I want to cover off next week. But in summary, design patterns are an approach to a common problem. And we see they use everywhere in design, be it in architecture, software, or even physical product. And these design patterns providers a proven approach to known common problems. And I've been specifically looking at the Actor pattern, which has included research and experimentation with various software products. More on that next week.

I wanted to use this episode to explain why I haven't been recording for the last few months, why there was such a long absence. I also wanted to use this episode to discuss mental health and to introduce the idea of making sure you have enough headroom - that when you need to focus heavily on something, you are doing it in a safe way.

So in your life, do you know how busy you can safely be?

How close are you running to your cognitive and emotional maximum?

Do you have discretionary activities that you can drop to free up capacity?

Are you healthy with the way that you work?

Please remember to take time for self-care for yourself.

Thank you for listening to this episode. I look forward to speaking to you again next week.