Dodging Burnout, 4 Hours at a Time

  1. Location: You need to go some place meaningful to you. This could be a coffee shop, a park, the library, the top of a mountain, a hiking trail, the apartment complex pool, whatever. It needs to have space for you to sit and spread out with your (note)books. I like to switch the location up every few Decompresses.
  2. First hour: deliberated disconnection. This may take the form of catching up on your RSS feeds, grabbing your favorite caffeinated drink and setting up your coffee house perch, responding to those last few emails so you can turn off your email client, closing down those in-progress Twitter-conversations, whatever. The point here is to set things up so you can confidently ignore everything for the next three hours. When you’re ready, TweetDeck, Facebook, email clients go off, phone to do-not-disturb.
  3. Hours two and three: stimuli. Now that you’re disconnected from the world, you can let your mind wander, but in a structured way via some activity. This may sound hand-wavy, but what I mean is: pick an activity you’ve been wanting to do, but haven’t had time for. For me, sometimes it’s digging into a book (usually related to my professional life). Sometimes it’s learning a new framework or language. Sometimes it’s going over business paperwork/plans I wrote up previously and seeing how I’m tracking. Sometimes, it’s researching a topic I want to know more about. The carved out time allows me the space to get into flow, but I usually plan for two unrelated activities, say reading a chosen and looking at business paperwork. The point of two is to create synthesis, and allow my brain to explore things in new and weird ways, making connections I wouldn’t have made if I were engaged with them in the context of the daily rat race. Ultimately, the goal is to wander through some unconstructed brain-space leisurely… but in a way that’s guided by a mission and grounded in a purpose. It might be a weird analogy, but you know people who always say they solve that nasty software bug or come up with some great lightning talk idea in the shower? This is like that, except with less water and more time.
  4. Hour four: reflect, record, and reconnect. This is the part of the 4-Hour Decompress that not only ties it all together, but actually makes it more than just “hey, let’s screw around for 4 hours.” Take the last hour to reflect on where you wandered in the previous two hours, and write down what came to you. It could be a list of tasks you want to tackle in the office later, someone you want to speak to or email with questions, or even cards to put on your personal kanban board. It might even be a random list of ideas to explore on the next 4-Hour Decompress. When you’re done writing these up in your Moleskine or OneNote or whatever works for you, take a moment to deliberately reconnect to the world again. Since the point of this is to get away from the pressure cooker and stress that is the daily grind, you want to re-acclimate to it again: you wouldn’t dive into a hot tub, right? If I’m in a coffeeshop, then I’ll have another espresso before leaving. If I’m at the library, I might pack up my gear and people-watch for 10 minutes. If I’m at a park, I might take a catnap in the sun. Whatever helps you merge back into hectic daily life.

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Build & release engineering / DevOps / human factors; Managing Partner at Release Engineering Approaches: Simply ship. Every time. @ShipShowPodcast alumn.

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J. Paul Reed

J. Paul Reed

Build & release engineering / DevOps / human factors; Managing Partner at Release Engineering Approaches: Simply ship. Every time. @ShipShowPodcast alumn.

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