Today I’m going to share my top 10 tricks I’ve learned to help maintain an identity and sense of self-worth outside of work. In other words, how to stop worrying about work all the time and enjoy my time outside the office.
1. Find interests, hobbies, projects, or activities that you can sink your teeth into outside of work. Maybe it’s painting mini-figs. Maybe it’s dog training. Maybe it’s training for a triathlon or even building a table top RPG. Whatever it is, make sure it’s something that isn’t the same as what you do at work all day.
Many of my artist friends continue art-ing when they get home — but focus on a style or technique they don’t use at work and personally enjoy. The point is to give you a sense of accomplishment that isn’t purely related to your work. Something that you can be proud of and grow at independently from your company.
2. Prioritize physical activity. Most jobs in tech involve a lot of sitting. And anxiety. Getting some sort of movement into your day-to-day can make a critical difference in both mental and physical health. Yoga, running, climbing, Muay Thai, Barre, whatever.
It doesn’t have to be about being the best or pushing yourself. Exercise can (and should) be enjoyable. Don’t feel like you have to run farther this week than you did last. Try running until it stops being fun. Or, if running is never fun, maybe find something else that you actually do enjoy!
3. Make at least a little time for you each day. It’s easy to structure your entire day around work and life responsibilities. 30 minutes just for you might seem selfish but if it helps recharge your battery, then you can be a better friend / parent / partner when you dive back in.
4. Make friends outside of work. Tech companies are often filled with young, talented, awesome people who love all the same things as you. But having only work friends means you’re surrounded by work all the time. And it makes it extra hard to emotionally separate the two.
Most cities have meet-ups based on common interests. In Boston, I was a part of many such groups: from the Oregon Ducks in Boston meet-up, to social Ultimate Frisbee. Find what you love and use it as an opportunity to meet new people.
5. Set aside problems that can’t be fixed right away. I’d bet a lot of young people in tech have trouble sleeping. I sit in bed at night looping through the same problems/fears over and over, not making progress but unable to stop thinking about how I should solve them.
For me, I know I need a plan to let problems go. So now when I start to loop, I make a plan for when (not how) I’m going to fix it. Maybe even add it to my to-do list. I also imagine a literal box under my bed that I stuff problems into, knowing that I’ll “open” it in the morning
6. Set boundaries. I don’t have email alerts on my phone for work email because I will read every single email that comes in no matter how late it is if those notifications are on. I also set do not disturb hours on slack. I have “working hours” set on Google calendar as well.
If my team needs me to come in early or stay late, cool. If there’s an urgent need to contact me outside of working hours, they have my phone number. But even just the act of setting those boundaries helped me to switch off and be present when I’m home or on vacation.
Just the act of setting boundaries helped me to switch off and be present when I’m home or on vacation.
7. Get perspective. For most of us in tech, we’re fortunate no one dies when we screw up a calculation. I like to remind myself that my current company was fine before I worked there and they’d survive just fine if I left (although I hope they would miss me at least a little).
To get perspective, I sometimes ask myself what the worst possible outcome of a problem is if I don’t solve it optimally. Often it’s not that bad and I’m worrying a lot over nothing. Just having to say the thing you’re worried about aloud can help you see how silly it is. Or at least you can build a plan to mitigate that risk.
8. Get a dog. I’m only half kidding. Having a dog means I have to leave the office each night. I’m not staying around until 10pm on nights I don’t need to. But obviously having a dog is a huge responsibility and not for everyone.
So my real advice is give yourself a reason to go home. Could be a pet, an S/O, a nightly class, or a regular social event (see #4) like a game night. Just get something on the calendar that gets you looking forward to going home.
9. Try quitting caffeine. This is probably my most controversial advice — and it won’t be for everyone — but caffeine makes getting good sleep harder and makes some people much more anxious. This makes little problems feel a lot bigger.
I used to drink over 200mg of caffeine a day. I started every day with a cup of coffee, sampled the free caffeinated soda liberally, and had at least one energy drink before the day was done. I had trouble sleeping… and I didn’t know why. Quitting caffeine made a big difference in my overall energy, as well as my ability to control my anxiety.
10. Strategically invest your “emotional chips”. It’s easy to care about everything when you work on something you are passionate about. Learning to be intentional about where you invest your emotional energy — and where you don’t — can make all the difference. In other words, pick your battles.