More often than not, we do more work than just our jobs. We polywork. This could come in the various forms like projects, hackathons, writing, podcasts, streams and even startups that we work on the side. Yet usually when we introduce ourselves to new people during networking, we tend to state only our job role and what we do as part of that role. For example,

  • 2 years ago, I would introduce myself as a final-year undergraduate in Singapore University of Technology and Design studying Information Systems.
  • Now, I would introduce myself as a Software Developer at Thoughtworks where I get to work on client projects of various tech stack and domains.

Stating job roles like these helps you to build some impression of my career and learning interests if you haven’t heard of me before, but that would just be the tip of the iceberg.

Why people polywork

People are curious and complex creatures. Each of us have many different needs to be met and itches to be scratched. It will be nice if there's a way to fulfill each and every of such desires through a single job but the reality is that this just isn't possible. Most of us are paid to work 5 day work weeks from 9-6, and the nature of jobs necessitates that we work to fulfill specific demands of companies and markets before our own personal interests.

Of course, there could be lucky occasions where we get to polywork in our job itself. Recently I had such a chance to present a talk through a company event to the public, and speaking in public is a task outside my usual job scope that I wanted to practice. Nonetheless, we still won't be able to do everything that we want to do within our primary jobs. This leads to the common practice where we put in extra time and effort outside of work to do even more work, especially in the tech industry. I believe that it is ok to polywork to achieve our goals, but it is also important to find a balance and not neglect self-care.

When things are out of balance

People always promote work-life balance, but at the same time you can't deny the fact that your life is your work. The relationships you make, the housing you buy and the food that you get to eat are all obtained through the work you do and the decisions you make. Such thoughts alongside peer influence have pushed a lot of people to strive for higher work productivity and praise those who have succeeded. Amongst the topics that clamor for clout, mental health still remained as the elephant in the room.

Everyone will suffer burnout at some point of their career. It is only a matter of when and what are the factors. These factors could be due to tutorial hell, imposter syndrome, lack of fulfillment in their jobs & life etc. I experienced it before too, even as a junior developer. To combat this, setting explicit self-care boundaries helps to go a long way for reducing the risks and recovery from burnt outs.

The practice of self-care

I have a variety of things that I like to do outside of my job, this includes:

  • Spending quality time with my family, playing games, watching anime
  • Reading articles to increase the breadth of my knowledge
  • Working on side projects to improve the depth of my understanding of programming languages and libraries
  • Writing to share my technical knowledge
  • Engaging on Twitter

Having a variety of activities to do helps me to look forward to different stuff so if I ever get tired of doing one thing I just do another. For self-care, setting explicit boundaries that are aligned with your values helps a lot in less guilt tripping when you don't feel as productive.

These are some boundaries that I've set; you may have some that are similar.

Learn to say "no"

There are many times where we find ourselves having a lack of time for the things that we truly want to do, because we signed up for way too many things to do. Learn to commit to your values and also say no to arrangements that don’t match. This is how I made time for things that matter to me.

  1. I will always prioritize spending quality time with my family over joining tech events & networking.
    • Previously, I have been invited to quite a lot of work events, ambassador and tech group meetups that tend to happen on weekends.
    • Saying no to these events meant missing out on some opportunities, but I'm much happier to be making my loved ones happy. We don’t already have enough time together.
  2. I also want to spend less time on social media so that I have more time for other things that I want to do.
    • To cut down Twitter time, I turned off notifications on my phone.
    • I also rarely visit LinkedIn and Instagram nowadays. I only open up Facebook occasionally for cute pictures to send to my family.
  3. For technical writing, unlike many authors, I don't force myself to have a fixed publishing schedule.
    • This may cause me to have lower viewership, but I rather deliver quality than quantity, and at a pace that I'm comfortable with.
    • On the occasion that I get paid writing opportunities, I only choose to accept assignments with rates that are worth my time and deadlines that I'm more comfortable with.

Setting fair expectations for yourself

There’s a Korean saying that if a crow tit walks like a stork, it will break its legs. This means that if you try too hard to be someone unlike you, you tend to end up miserable. It is good to draw inspiration from those who have succeeded, but you should always set reasonable and fair expectations for your own growth.

If you have circumstances where you cannot devote yourself to grow as much in a certain aspect, then obviously you should not blame yourself. On the flip side, in the case that you have devoted a lot to grow a certain aspect but you did not manage to hit your own expectations, remember to be objective — do not compare subjectively. Evaluate whether the initial set expectations really made sense and reflect on the steps you took to attain growth. For measuring growth, you could even choose to apply project methodology like agile rather than waterfall to measure your growth in smaller iterations.

Conclusion

There are 7 habits of highly stoic people that Michael McGill pointed out, and the most resonant of them all for me is to not worry about things you have no control over.

Your life is your work. Be proud of the challenges that you have overcome and what you have achieved so far! Polywork can become inevitable in order to achieve the many goals that we have, but remember to find a balance that is aligned with your values and practice setting boundaries for self-care.

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Meet Estee Tey: Besides designing and developing, Estee is also a strong proponent of “Learn in Public”. She is a technical writer specialising in React Native (Typescript), Web development, open source and UXUI. Her works have earned her a spot as a featured Hashnode author.