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First of all, a little background:

I'm a programmer, developing web-based applications, working a full-time job for the first time in my life. I've been working in the area for a decade now, but always on part-time, with long pauses between projects.

I'm hyperactive. I've been diagnosed with mild bipolar disorder for which I take medication; that is somewhat under control; I don't have any excitement or depression peaks during the day, but my mood still swings from very motivated to very demotivated every other half-week or so.

I have a tendency to procrastinate and I become bored with what I'm doing, regardless of what it is, very fast. I have literally tons of interests and can spend hours reading about them at random, but can't develop anything productive with those interests.

I have a very big difficulty with starting new projects and completing old ones, based on my tendency to become bored fast.

I'm fairly good at what I do.

The problem:

I work very fast. Too fast. I complete tasks a lot faster than my co-workers, in general. Although I am not as organized or as motivated as them, I can complete big projects in very little time, if I overcome the difficulty in starting. I usually can do that easily when I'm in a paid-work scenario.

Trouble is, I find myself having very little to do with my free time at work. I also don't feel at ease to do other things to distract myself while at the workplace, although I feel I'm entitled to them, since I complete tasks on time. That leaves a very big void that is hard to manage. As said, I'm hyperactive and I become bored easily. Being bored is the worst feeling I can have. When the work day is done, I'm exhausted by the fact I had to spend hours doing nothing, which I don't think is reasonable; most people would find that a blessing, but I just can't cope with the void.

What are your suggestions on how to pace myself at work? How can I handle things more slowly and what do you suggest I do to not burn myself out when I have nothing else to work on?

Thanks in advance for any help.

EDIT:

To expand a bit on the problematic here,

Doing more work is not the solution; besides, most of the time I am focusing on a single project and there's really nothing else to do until I receive new instructions for it.
Also, after completing tasks, since I do it on high-performance mode, I become so exhausted I can barely think straight for at least a couple of hours.

I have in the past stumbled upon this problem, more than once. Sometimes it even interferes with the way the company I work with perceives my work capabilities or even with their timeframe for the projects.

For instance, the current project I'm working on was thought of as taking at least one year to become fully complete. The first phase was expected to take at least six months. I completed it in about three, and that is counting the time I spent working on side projects and other stuff. This hurts the company itself, since they're being paid by month of work done: if I end the project before time, it will make them receive less than what was expected at first.

On my previous job, I worked part-time and received a hourly-based salary. I used to receive a lot less than all my colleagues, despite getting the same amount of work done. This led to conflict, inevitably, because I felt I should be paid more, regardless of if I worked less hours than them or not. I could not pace myself to burn out 8 hours per day if I had tasks I could usually complete in 2 hours or less. They could (and they did). Besides all this, to my other colleagues I was seen as kind of a slacker, since they perceived me as working very little, because they could not check the extent of work that was done, just the time I had spent on it. This led to them having little respect for my opinions, which in turn made intra-office relationships bitter, because I held at first a position that surpassed them in responsibilities. Since they thought they worked more, they started wanting that position for themselves, understandably.

What I am looking for exactly is methods to better pace myself at work, mainly. I don't need to perform better, nor to find ways to be more productive; I am productive enough as it is.

Thanks again.

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3 Answers 3

I work a lot faster than average. I don't work overtime frequently, but I do always work 7/8 hours per day. And I haven't had "nothing to do" in 11 years. (I was entry level 11 years ago. And even then I asked for more work and got it.) So I don't agree with the premise of there not being anything to do. I can't tell if you don't want more work because you are too tired or feel you are doing enough. If the later, you need to re-evaluate your philosophy. There are always things to learn and process improvement opportunities.

With respect to the former, it is possible you are burning yourself out from working TOO fast. Everyone has limits. I notice that if I work too many hours or don't get enough sleep or if don't take a midday break that I can feel my mind slowing down/getting foggy. And if I push too far past that, I find it hard to think. This isn't politically correct. People like to brag about how they "never take lunch." This doesn't make me a slacker and people I work with wouldn't think that.

As an analogy, think about running. It's possible to do an X minute mile. It's not possible to maintain that pace for a marathon. You want to work at a pace you can sustain all day. Consider the Pomodoro technique for force you to take breaks.

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Thanks for the answer. I do think I work too fast; my trouble is finding a way to tone things down. I found out about the Pomodoro technique recently and am interested in the approach, I think I will indeed try it out and see how it works out. –  aenariel Jun 14 '13 at 21:55

I too am a web developer, work faster than my colleagues, and feel the exhaustion and headache after a sprint of productive work. In my case, the sprints are necessary and unavoidable since my managers are fond of demanding adhoc, urgent requests all the time. In your case however, there is no reason for you to finish earlier since your company is billing by time and you are expected to follow a project schedule even if it is most likely padded.

The problem with work sprints is that you become a zombie in the process. Sudden bursts of productive might give you an adrenaline from time to time, but after that, you will feel exhausted and worse, empty and bored. It's like being in a trance in front of your computer while the world around you goes by.

Furthermore, your programming skills is just one part of equation. Projects are a result of a business need. Intentional but unnecessary work sprints will mess up your project schedule, alienate and embarrass managers and colleagues, and worse, prevent you and your company from additional revenues that your company's clients have already budgeted and agreed to anyway.

I don't have any knowledge of bipolar disorder, but my advice is just to find other activities worth doing aside from programming. I'm not suggesting to slack off like your colleagues, but plan ahead and spread your effort. Use your extra time to explore and enrich other areas of life such as meeting and talking with people, planning your finances, and learning other things in our field (we always have something to learn in the IT field). Even as competent and skilled programmers, we have to admit that interpersonal, business, and time management skills will bring us further in life than our coding skills.

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Well, if you are DONE with your work with the agreed definition of done, and it happens fast, be glad about it. I hope you don't match those I met frequently who believed being done and sat back, while their work could not survive even the second pass of a review, kept crashing, ignored some requirements, was unclear, lacked documentation and tests, etc. I just assume that you mean what you say.

So, once done you can do a plenty of sensible things (just what jumps into mind):

  • start the next work item in the backlog, board, ...
  • review others recent work
  • review some of the codebase
  • create some automatic tests
  • improve the working environment
  • read some books or articles
  • think strategy for the project
  • do some dogfooding of your product
  • help out others with their work items
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Yes, I am done. I perform my tasks well and review them upon completion. More work is not the solution; all you've mentioned is what I usually do. I still have spare time. Besides, after completing tasks I become so exhausted I probably can't do any more work-related stuff. Pacing strategies is what I am looking for here, more than anything. I will edit the original question to expand on the subject. –  aenariel Jun 14 '13 at 13:21

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