Handling the low tide
There are times where you have no other choice but to take your foot off the gas, and still be at work. You’re not taking time off, but you can’t do the work you usually do. Examples for reasons which can cause these are: code freeze, a holiday season or a shift in direction.
Personally, I don’t like to be in this situations. I like sitting at my desk knowing what’s the next thing I need to tackle. When dealing with such ’low-tide’ times, it may be the case that you can’t do your top P0 project. If I need that sense of purpose, what should I be working on?
I like lists. I like patterns. I like if-this-then-that plans. For these low-tide times, I like to get back to a pre-defined list of things I can do.
When things aren’t burning up, the mind can work at a slower pace, which allows (at least to me) to think in more detail. I try to remember incidents when I explained something to someone. Then I did the same for another person. And another. During those low-tide times, it’s a good use of time to document such areas. That way, the next time I need to explain that area - I have a good reference. Even better, if that piece of information is easily discoverable, I won’t even get to the point where I need to reference it.
Learn something new and / or interesting.
I once heard from an engineer I admire: ‘When was the last time you saw someone who’s reading at their desk?’ When I heard that - I couldn’t remember the last time it happened. And why is that? Well, you can argue that books are rarely used these days, but I’d have the same answer if you mentioned a Kindle. The point is that I rarely see people around me read and learn something as part of their job. Most of the learning I see is on-the-job, as a mean to do a specific task. When things are calm, I’d suggest developing your knowledge and practice learning.
Experiment on your own work.
A sub-section of the previous one is experiment with something new in the context of your work. Using a better framework for a project. Testing a new tool for a job you already do. We don’t usually get to those during our day to day.
Tackle tech debt
“Oh, that flaky test has been bugging me for a while”. “Oh, I know that API could be better. I even know what it should be, but I don’t have time”. “I wish we used a different framework for that area”
Finally, one can also embrace the low-tide, and breathe. Acknowledge that there’s less work to do, and accept it. You can take a longer trip to work. You can spend more time with family or friends. One way to think about this is ‘I’m spending less time working’. Another is ‘I’m recharging my batteries so I’ll have more energy when things get back to normal’.
The cliche says: “We’re here for a marathon, not a sprint”. Another cliche which is less vocalized is that people get burnt-out. It’s very common. We should practice self-care. The way I see it, we should identify cases where we can lower the pace, take a breathe and recharge ourselves for later.