On typical Fridays, I would often go hang out at bars with friends, celebrate weekly wins, and was overjoyed for the weekend.
Because of this routine, when I went deep in self-reflection by meditating on a Friday after work I saw the welling up of joy and anticipation for the night.
I wondered, where does this feeling come from? There’s nothing inherently different about my internal state now vs any other meditative sitting. Why is this coming up? Why can’t I control it? Why can’t I bring it up on other days?
Societal expectations, habits, and history are very strong and deeply ingrained in the mind. It takes years of practice to unwind these subconscious patterns and master them. However, just noticing them at a surface level and understanding their nature can help setup success.
Another example of the same situation “feeling” a different way is when I do work on my own time. I’m not “on the clock”, but I have an itch to scratch or rising motivation that I can’t explain.
I could go play video games, watch tv, catch up on reading, but instead I choose to think through a hard problem or debug some code.
The difference in feeling is subtle yet influences everything about the activity:
- I’m more open to rabbit holes and going deep to investigate underlying logic; it’s my time, I can do what I want with it.
- I’m more creative in problem solving. I’m no longer driving precisely at what the company/manager/team wants or what some ticket says, I’m coding for myself and what I want
- I engage my subconscious, often if I’ve taking my free time on a problem it will stick with me throughout the night even in sleep thinking through all different paths I could have taken
- It feels good! When it’s my time I feel more comfortable with not being productive. It’s not about the goal, it’s about the journey.
- It’s more productive. Despite the previous bullet, it’s usually much more productive because when stress goes down and creativity goes up programming gets better. Happy engineers write better code.
It’s not something I can control, like Friday nights it’s an involuntary shift in approach that happens naturally and is difficult to reproduce.
Not All Good
Sometimes working on your own time is a recipe for disaster. Burnout lives here and work/life balance can quickly go out the window. Like the involuntary feeling of excitement and anticipation that a Friday night brings, we need to be aware of the feeling going into off-hours work. Is it going to be the big win, or are we pushing ourselves into a bad area?
There’s a lack of distinction in our industry between positive off-hours work and negative. Corporations tend to play on the safe side saying you shouldn’t work off hours and go so far as to say don’t use internal comms off hours because it sets a bad example. This throws the baby out with the bath water.
We need new terminology and re-framing around the concept of positive, motivating, productive off-hours work. Something with no shame attached and that doesn’t require an apology the next day.
I don’t have any brilliant ideas here, if you do, please comment!
Maybe this is connected to “flow” time but having flow time during the day still feels different than working off-hours. Again, this feeling of freedom and change in approach is something I have yet to be able to replicate during the work day. It’s not about time of day either, take a vacation day and do some work and you get the same results.