I was hired as a software developer to help build a website for a customer loyalty program.
Due to business and technical challenges, the requirements changed every couple of weeks and our product owner needed someone to help do basic business analysis. This included defining and locking in business & technical scope, creating user stories that were clear in terms of business and technical feasibility and thinking about the overall strategy.
Having some previous experience as a business analyst, it was proposed that I be transitioned from being 100% developer to 50% developer — 50% business analyst.
Over a few months, the business recognised the work we were doing and decided to entrust the team with the delivery of two more digital products, a content managed website and an android/iOS mobile app. This meant that the product owner had the following tasks:
- The management of three different development teams
- Defining business strategy for three different digital products
- Ensuring the team could work together to provide value
- Communicating the customer benefits of each product to the business
- Convincing the business to provide funding for new features
- Defining user stories and the sprint to sprint stuff that comes along with product ownership; and so on and so forth
As you can imagine, all this work was not manageable by one person, quickly, my role transitioned from 50% development — 50% business analysis to a three-way split between development, business analysis and assisting with product ownership. Context flipping became a day to day part of my work life and the workload increased significantly.
I spoke to quite a few different people about this situation — the general advice was always one of the following:
- Harden up, that’s life, you just deal with what gets thrown at you and manage it accordingly, work overtime if you have too.
- This is the business’s fault, they should understand it isn’t manageable and find budget to hire more resources, you should raise it with them and sort out more resourcing.
- You cannot do those 3 major roles consistently enough to deliver value — the quality of what you’re delivering is going to drop.
Although I enjoyed the experience of learning skills outside of my usual software development environment, things started to get overwhelming. To start with, being someone who prides themselves on quality, I would work unpaid extra hours just to uphold the quality of the deliverable.
Work started to get uncomfortable, it slowly started to transition from being a place I enjoyed coming to each morning where I faced different but manageable challenges that kept me engaged and set my career direction, to a place I didn’t want to be, a place where the thought of giving up lingered in my mind, I felt like I wasn’t being valued because there was so much going on.
The pressures of the perfect juggling act.
This is an experience many people face nowadays. The challenges of working in environments where the expectation is to adapt and change, pile on more and more until we either give up or turn into robots, accepting anything passed to us no matter how much extra work is required. The reason we keep pushing is because many of us share a common drive to keep progressing, but progression shouldn’t come at the cost of our mental (and sometimes physical) health.
The majority of us are going to be working for a long period of time (upwards of 20 years), hopefully with a drive to consistently improve and progress. We need to learn to draw a line and find balance — pushing back when we know there is too much on our plates.
Building a career is like running a marathon, we find a consistent pace and do our best to run for a very long time without burning out. Adjusting to our environments as they change.
For me there were a few things I did to help me get back to a balanced life, anyone feeling they are going through something similar — here are a few things that helped me:
- You work for your manager, but they also work for you → yes they have business objectives and revenue goals to meet, but the only way they can achieve the outcomes they want is through team members who are healthy and fit to work, who are passionate and enjoy what they are doing. Don’t hesitate to talk to your manager and work out a plan to transition yourself into a more comfortable and manageable state. In my situation it took a few conversations about role clarity and what the expectations are of me.I found having my manager verbalize their expectations, made them realise themselves that it was too much to ask of one person.
- Find something you look forward to outside of work→ A healthy life needs something more than work, for me sports and exercise were a big factor in finding my balance. It let me set goals external to work and it allowed me to think about something else other than work. Being committed to a team, I was forced to manage and restrict my working hours to make sure I could attend games on time. Although exercise works for me, it doesn’t have to work for everyone, I encourage you to take a second and understand what makes you tick, it could be anything, playing video games, watching a new Netflix series, listening to podcasts, reading or starting a side hustle! Don’t just think about them though, push yourself to do them.
- Spend time with friends and family → Something I caught myself doing was focusing so much on all this other stuff outside of work, I had lost sight of spending time with my family and friends, although time with them always put me in a really comfortable space, simply just having the presence of someone I can relate to really helped me find a balance, having them give me advice on my situation was an added bonus. (Keep in mind it’s always a two way street, if they are there for you, you need to be there for them)
I feel it’s important to keep in mind that at some point everyone has a lot on their plates, as much as you push to avoid being in situations where you’re overworked, sometimes it’s unavoidable and the fact is, you’re not alone.
Being conscious and critical about your situation and always keeping what is physically and mentally best for you in the back of your mind is a really healthy space to start in. The next best thing is action-ing as much as you can.
Remember the best thing you can do for yourself is to try your hardest to be a better, healthier version of yourself compared to yourself from yesterday.