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“Me-time” For Software Engineers

How to tap into what you truly believe in

If only I had two hours to focus on that, how good would it be.

How often did you have a great idea that you wanted to try out, but you or your team didn’t have the availability to take it?

Or this deprecated package that has been nagging you for ages.

Or a command being frustratingly slow.

Imagine your next meeting is gone, and now you have 2 hours to work on one of those? No strings attached, no one to argue something else is more important, true liberty. What would choose to do?

Those are the most memorable moments in my career, and unfortunately, they mostly happened in my free time/overtime.

Photo by Austin Distel on Unsplash

What kind of tasks are good candidates for “me-time”

Not all tasks are a good fit for me-time.

You need a goal, and you should have all the pre-requisites before starting.
You shouldn’t need to ask another developer, designer or administrator to provide something to you.

Experiment and learn new things

Learn and explore cutting edge techniques.
You have heard of this hot new library that claims to be four times faster than what your project currently has.

Go for it! Create an experiment branch or repository and see how far you can go in a few hours. Also good to share with your colleagues what you learned along the way.

Improve the existing codebase

Your current stack is good, but somehow some rough edges are bothering you.
Consistency is missing in some places.
Tests do not cover this in the code.
Comments are outdated.

I find those taks therapeutic, like washing the dishes.

Add some automation

Automation provides a sequence of high quality, repeatable and documented tasks. It removes time spent on the wrong thing.

Investigate an odd behaviour somewhere

You have those errors so common in your terminal that all ignore them.
It is time to investigate if it is a legit warning or something you can forget.

Last-mile on a feature to give it some polish

You managed to do 80% of your project, and the deadline is already here.
Thankfully you delivered the most value. The rest will mostly linger and stay under “Phase 2”. But among the remaining 20%, there was a feature you think was fantastic or worth it.

How to get more of those moments

As a developer

Emphasize you want to do what you were hired for, to make high-quality software.

Build the trust that you need for “me-time” to become commonplace.

Push to experiment with those dedicated time frames and measure their success. Show the value of those tasks.

E.g. how much time did we save, benefits of new libraries or new versions

As a manager

An engineer frustrated won’t stay in the company. Engineers are more expensive to hire than retain, so your team satisfaction is your priority.

Make sure your team feels solid ownership of their code. You are more willing to maintain your own home than a rental place.

Plan for the unexpected by having enough buffer time for feature work. If this buffer time is unused, you can use it for general improvement.

It is your job to explain the importance of that kind of work to the rest of the company. And ensure every discipline is aligned with what you are trying to achieve.

Conclusion

I believe that people deep down know what they should do or work on. Why hire smart people to tell them what to do? Just listen to them.

One day, I hope that no engineers will have to justify why they need to spend some time on things that “don’t bring” value.

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Loïc Masson

Loïc Masson

I’m an tech enthusiast. Curiosity makes me go out of my comfort zone, away from web development. Tinkering with writing and game development.

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