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Listener Question: Simon asks, "How do I switch mindset from personal project to day job?"

Published 8/26/2015

Today's listener question is about working on side projects in the same space as your day job. Simon, who wrote into Developer Tea via email asks, "How do I transition from working on my side project in the morning, to working at my day job, in the same space?"

This episode, I review three red flag scenarios, and routines to help segment your day so you balance side project and day job effectively.

Useful Default Concepts

Thanks to today's sponsor: Harvest

Harvest is a time tracking tool built for understanding where your time is going. And for developers, it takes the pain out of time tracking. You can start a timer right from issues in JIRA or GitHub without searching for your timesheet.

Try it Free for 30 days, and if you love it use the code TEATIME at the end of your trial and get 50% off your first paid month.

Transcript (Generated by OpenAI Whisper)
Hey everyone and welcome to Developer Tea. My name is Jonathan Cutrell and today I'm going to be answering a question from listener Simon. Simon wrote in to Developer Tea. at gmail.com with this question. He said, hello Jonathan, you encourage people to craft, to experiment and to create something outside of their regular day job hours in order to learn. You also talk a lot about integrity, including integrity towards your employer. However, I sometimes feel uncomfortable having personal projects as an employee. I'm working on a budgeting app in my free time and I'm really loving it. New features come to mind regularly, even when I am not actively working on the project. Now as you said in your past episodes, humans are not machines. Thoughts aren't treated the way processors treat threads or like browsers treat tabs in their individual sandboxes. And for me, it's kind of hard to switch off the personal project mind at 2 p.m. when it's time to go back to my day job and turn on my professional project mind. What are your thoughts on this conflict? I'm betting you'll come up with something related to routine. Thanks for your help. Simon, Simon you're right. I am going to talk about routine. I'm also going to talk a little bit about what integrity means and the simple idea that you must also have integrity to yourself, to your own aspirations and your own desires in life. We're going to open up into all of that discussion. I want to thank today's sponsor, by the way. Today's sponsor is Harvest. If you like Simon, have side projects or if you're a freelancer, Harvest is a great way to do your time tracking. So make sure you check that out. We'll talk a little bit more about Harvest later. But I want to talk about Simon's question and I want to talk about the way that I deal with Developer Tea. If you guys didn't remember from past episodes, I've told you before, but Developer Tea for me is actually a project that I do outside of my daily work hours. I have a 9-5 job. I am the director of technology at Whiteboard and sometimes 9-5 doesn't really cut it. Sometimes I have to work late hours for Whiteboard as well. So having a side job like Developer Tea, that can be a little bit challenging and I totally empathize with what Simon is saying here. It is easy to feel like those two things can compete with each other. Now Simon, the reality is, it's very natural for you to feel this way because the work that you're doing at work is very similar to the work that you're doing not at work. And so it can seem like you are stealing some of that same energy, some of that cognitive load away from your job at work. Now I want to talk a little bit about when that can actually be a real problem that could possibly get you fired or perhaps put you in a situation that is a little bit awkward with your employer. But then I want to talk about the less dangerous scenarios that you can mitigate with, like you said, some of your routine, some of the things that you can do on a day-to-day basis to shift your brain in and out of those modes, working for your side project but also working for your professional project mind as you call it in your email. But before we jump into that, I want to reframe this conversation a little bit and say that I think it's totally fine for the things about that side project to come up in your mind while you're at work. And here's why. Imagine that you're doing a project on the side and maybe it's a hobby project, maybe you're painting a room in your house or perhaps you are doing some landscaping at home. And while you are at work, you come up with an idea for your landscaping project. Now that doesn't necessarily have anything to do with programming but conceptually it's the same idea. When you have integrity to your employer, it doesn't mean necessarily that every single thought that you have during the day is purely related to work. It does mean that your energy that you output is focused and that you're intentionally trying to do the best thing for that employer with the time that you have available but your employer cannot have an unreasonable expectation on your mental trains of thought, especially when it comes to the things that you are unintentionally thinking about. Ideas that you have at the spur of the moment. Now it's your responsibility to know what to do with those ideas and to not treat your employer's time as if it is your own. You are getting paid to be at work. Obviously those thoughts they need to be compartmentalized and you need to respond to them by maybe taking a note on the side just like you would do if you had a personal side project that wasn't related to programming. If you thought of a color that you wanted to paint that room, then you might write it down or send a quick text to a friend or to a family member that lives in the same house as you but you wouldn't just completely ignore it or feel guilty for thinking of a color and certainly you shouldn't feel guilty for these things coming up in your mind throughout the day without your control over them. Of course as with everything you have to balance this, if those thoughts about your side projects are dominating your focus, regardless of whether that side project is related to programming or painting a room, if they are dominating your focus and you're unable to actually put in time that is worthwhile for your employer, then you have a focus issue. We're going to talk about hopefully some things that you can do to mitigate that focus issue and actually focus on the things that you should be focusing on at the times that you should be focusing on them. But again, I don't think that there's anything particularly wrong with features coming to mind at the spur of the moment. Just like they do when you're at home, you could think about work when you're at home. You could think about that professional project when you're at home. So the conflict doesn't actually occur when you have a thought. There's nothing particularly wrong with that. It's what you do with that thought. Do you allow it to rapture your focus, to take you away from being productive at work? Do you allow it to cause an actual productivity issue for you at work? And perhaps that's the first red flag scenario. If you are allowing this side project to cause productivity issues, then you probably have some changes to make or perhaps you need to consider maybe slowing down on that side project, putting a little bit less effort into that side project so that you can maintain integrity with your employer. So I want to talk about some other red flag scenarios, perhaps some more ominous ones that you should be watching out for that anybody working on a side project, especially in the same space using the same skill set that you use at work. These are some things that you should be looking out for in those scenarios. So number one is if your company has a non-compete clause and the work you are doing somehow violates that agreement that you have with your employer, this is obviously not okay. If you are violating a non-compete clause, then you can get fired and your side project can very likely get axed. Now I don't know exactly how this works with international law for those of you who are listening overseas. You should seek some kind of legal advice if your side project is serious and if you feel like this could be you. If you signed some kind of legally binding contract that this allows you from working on similar type of work outside of work, then it's very possible for you to lose your job over this kind of thing. The second red flag scenario is something that's not so much in legal binding paper, but if somebody at your company specifically, if you're boss or someone that is higher up than you has told you that specifically side projects are discouraged or otherwise a breach of your employment obligations at the company, then it's possible that you're in a very difficult situation, you could be fired for that kind of thing. You could be fired for something like insubordination or perhaps simply because your employer thinks that you are being less efficient than necessary for them. Number three is if you've seen other people fired for their side projects, if you see other people in the company that you work for getting fired for the same types of things that you are doing, then it's possible that you'll be fired. Now, this is not to say necessarily that you should still be working for this company. If they are willing to fire you for a side projects, it's not my personal belief that a company should fire someone for a side projects. If that person is effective at their job and if they are meeting their obligations at their job, but if you see other people around you being fired for similar things that you're doing, then it's very possible for you also to get fired. It could be that you are okay with being fired. Simon, I don't think that that is the case. It sounds like you want to do well at your job, but that you're enjoying your side project and you want them to coexist. I'm just giving you all of the listeners, not just Simon, but all of you who are listening some overarching ideas about how to think about side projects and when you could be putting yourself in a dangerous position as it relates to your employer. The last red flag scenario is if you are truly, actively and consciously working on your side project while you're at work without your employer's approval, this is obvious to most people, but some people still will engage in this kind of activity where they work on their side project while they are clocked in at their day job. This is obviously just not a good idea. You're probably going to get fired if you get found out unless your employer has said that you have some amount of time where you can work on your own side projects while at work. With that said, if your company has allowed you to work on side projects while you're at work, it is an overarching legal agreement that anything that you do while at work when you are employed full time can be claimed as your company's property. You want to be relatively careful if you are working on a side project that you want to own when you are at work, even if your company has said that they allow you to work on those side projects. Now that we've covered these red flag scenarios, I want to say that I don't think anything can beat transparency and clarity. If you go and talk to your employer and ask them how they feel or what the rules are at the company about these side project conflicts that you may encounter, then you will get much better guidance and you want to keep these things in writing, make sure that you have a very clear understanding of the situation at your particular company. Every company treats these things differently so I can't speak to exactly how your company Simon, how they work or really anyone else who listens to this podcast. But if you go and talk to your boss and ask them to give you some clarity, I am sure most bosses would be happy to do so. So Simon, we've covered the red flag scenarios. I want to talk to you guys a little bit about today's sponsor and then I will continue to talk about the issue of conflict between work that falls outside of your day job and how to deal with these side project issues. I want to talk about routines and what you can do in your day to day routine, what I do specifically to kind of segment my work day and keep Developer Teawork separate from my day job work. Hopefully that will give you some ideas for your work Simon and for other people who are dealing with similar conflicts. But first like I said I want to talk about today's sponsor harvest. If you guys have not heard of harvest, harvest is a time tracking tool and it's built for understanding where your time is going for developers and takes the pain out of time tracking. There's a browser extension for Chrome for example. It integrates with Gira and GitHub without actually searching for your time sheets. It's really cool you can do a timer on your issues on GitHub which is really interesting to me. Not only will you understand how much time you're spending on client work, you can very quickly turn that stuff into billable hours into an invoice on harvest and it integrates with PayPal stripe all the things that Developer Typically use to get paid kind of over the internet. You can get a 30 day trial at get harvest.com and after your trial, if you're a listener of Developer Tea, you can use the code T time to save 50% off on your first month. If you decide to continue using harvest, that's T E A T I M E. Of course this will be in the show notes at DeveloperTea.com. Check it out get harvest dot com. Don't forget if you decide to use harvest to enter that code T time. Of course you can try it for free for 30 days. You really don't have much to lose. Check it out get harvest dot com. Let's get back to Simon's question. At the very end of Simon's email, he said, I'm betting you will come up with something related to routine and that's absolutely correct Simon. My routine is the thing that I rely on the most. If you had to characterize some of the things that Jonathan Cutrell from Developer Teawhat he believes in, I believe that routine is one of the most powerful tools that we can use to affect the things that we want to affect in our lives. Things are so powerful because they set up our brain to have a default way of thinking. They set up our brain to expect certain things. If we set up that routine in such a way that we do the things that we want to do and if we have certain ways of understanding the brain and how it works and how it responds to these different actions, then we can more dependably control what we do in our day to day lives. The very simple concept here is to just assume that you are going to go and exercise three days a week and even plan out which days you're going to exercise. Then if you want to change your routine for one day, then that is the day that you'll miss that exercise. But by default, you're going to exercise on those three days. If you plan that routine, if you have a routine, then not exercising is the abnormal situation rather than exercising being the abnormal situation. It's a very subtle shift in the way that you think. But it's a very powerful one. I talked about this in another episode, the useful defaults concept. That is to very simply make the things that you want to occur over and over, make them the default thing, make it a default habit that you do the things that you want to do, that you truly believe are good for you to do. So as it applies to your question, Simon, there are some routine items, some routine things that I do basically every day. It's abnormal for me not to do them, but there are some routine items that I do every day. One of them is I exercise most days. I have some sort of break after my nine to five where I go and I exercise, whether that is lifting weights at the gym or doing some light cardio or running around the neighborhood. I spend about an hour to an hour and a half and then at the end of that exercise, I very often, I'll either stretch or I'll sit in a sauna. You could call this meditation, I suppose, where I basically don't think about anything and maybe I'll listen to music or maybe I'll just sit in silence for a few minutes. But the idea is to have a very short period where I break up my work day from my post work day where I'm working on other things or perhaps I'm spending time with my wife or maybe I am doing Developer Teawork. What this allows me to do is kind of close out my trailing thoughts at the end of the day. If I'm still thinking about work at the gym, that's typically okay because it doesn't take a lot of cognitive energy for me to lift weights or to run. And I can allow those thoughts to kind of come to a close. And then when I am done working out, I can think about new things. I can go and work on Developer Tea and focus on Developer Tea. Now Simon, you may be thinking, well Jonathan, you're talking about how to focus on Developer Tea, not how to stay focused when you're at work. But the truth is that those are two sides of the same coin. And what that means is basically if I am able to create some protected intentional time to focus on my side projects, then I am more able to create protected intentional time to focus on work because my brain knows that I will have time later to focus on Developer Tea. I'm not constricting that time and I don't ever use my work day to focus on Developer Tea. Instead, I allow myself the necessary time later in order to focus on it. Now there's one more component of my routine that I feel like is very important. I've talked about it a few times on previous episodes. It's very simple. At the end of the night, especially if I've been working on side projects, I spend five to ten minutes planning out the next day, especially planning out the early morning of the following day. And that allows me to very easily get into the mode that I need to get into the following morning. To think about what I was doing the night before, those thoughts are no longer lingering because I've intentionally shifted my brain away from those thoughts. Now I will say this as well, when you go to sleep, your mind has the time to consolidate your thoughts. In other words, if you're working on a side project at night and then you go to sleep, it's very likely that a lot of the thoughts that otherwise would have lingered will be consolidated in your sleep. So it's very important to get good sleep. Now, I'm not going to talk a lot about sleep in this episode, but sleep will help you consolidate thoughts that otherwise would end up kind of bleeding over into your professional work. So if I could sum up the advice, Simon, of how to shift between those two modes of thinking. Number one, I would say be very intentional about providing yourself the necessary time in order to focus on each thing fully. In other words, give yourself a block of time to focus on your side project. Don't do it in the cracks. Don't do it only when you have time. Make it a part of your plan. Make it a part of your routine. Secondly, give yourself time to consolidate and close out thoughts from each of those working processes. Don't just work right up until the time that you're getting ready to go to your job because you aren't giving yourself time to consolidate those thoughts. Keeping can consolidate your thoughts, intentionally consolidating your thoughts. Writing down notes is a really good way to do that. I exercise, like I said previously, I do a little bit of kind of meditation. That helps me consolidate my thoughts for the day and move into a different mode of thinking. So give yourself protected time, very simple idea, plan that time out, and then give yourself consolidation. Give yourself the ability to take the thoughts that are left over and close them out. Finish thinking about something, give it a kind of a wrap up. Now I alluded to something very simply a second ago that is taking notes. It's very important for you to take notes on things that you want to do next on a given project in order to get that stuff out of your brain. I've seen this at work in my own life so many times. If I feel stressed about all of the things that I have to do, one of the most relieving practices is to actually write down all of the things that I have to do. Everything that I have to do now, everything that I have to do this week, everything that I want to do in the next year, I can write it down and it relieves me from thinking about those things all the time. That also will help me consolidate those thoughts and get them out of my brain so that they aren't kind of taxing me. As I'm in, there's so much more to say about this subject and quite honestly, we're going to be talking about very similar subjects in the future. Stay tuned to Developer Tea. If you feel like this was valuable information to you, obviously subscribing is the best way to make sure that you don't miss any future episodes of Developer Tea. There's even information out there for example that says that decluttering your life, taking out the trash or cleaning your desk, that kind of stuff can help you focus better. That's the kind of stuff that we want to talk about in the future. There are people who have PhDs who study this kind of stuff. I'd love to talk to those people on the show. Make sure you stay tuned to Developer Tea. Simon and anyone else who is interested in these topics. Thanks so much again to Harvest. Of course, Harvest is the sponsor for today's episode. If you like me, hate time tracking and you wish it was simpler, you can check out Get Harvest.com. Harvest makes time tracking a whole lot easier. You can track your time on your issues on GitHub, for example. Just click a little timer and it will go ahead and create an entry. You can even convert that directly into an invoice to send and you can get paid through Harvest using PayPal or Stripe, the things that you're probably already using anyway. Go check it out Get Harvest.com and use the code T. Time to get 50% off your first month. Of course, the first month is free so it would be the first paid month and you would get 50% off for that month. Go and check out Get Harvest.com. Of course, the show notes are on developertea.com. Thank you again for listening and until next time, enjoy your tea.