Do you have weak developer boundaries?
Are you feeling totally and completely drained after work?
Unable to work on the projects or hobbies you used to find fun?
Is the thought of opening a text editor after the clock strikes five a laughable matter?
Well guess what?
Your boundaries probably SUCK!
Like cheap swiss cheese. And let me tell you why…
I’ve been doing a lot of self-work on personal boundaries lately.
I grew up in a home where setting boundaries were an act of treason that in my dependent eyes, would result in abandonment, or worse – death.
And because I couldn’t rely on any ounce of consistency, my strategy was instead to become utterly self-reliant. To the point where I was proud that “I’ll do it all on my own” and “never ask for help”.
Does this remind you of anyone?
When you combine permeable boundaries with a fixer-giver-hero complex, you get someone who says yes too much and invariably burns themselves out.
How does this show itself in our everyday life as developers?
Boundaries are everywhere.
Every thought you have or action you take or don’t take is a boundary line being set or broken.
An analogy I like is the maintenance of a ship whilst sailing across the ocean.
If the ship is not properly cared for, boards begin to rot, and your attention must be put on trivial distractions instead of the great path forward.
These are some of the ways we let our boundaries slip:
When we wake up and immediately grab our phones and become reactive to the onslaught of texts or social media outrage, we are sanctioning that mental state as the frame of our day.
When we leave slack notifications on while writing code, or worse – have the slack window open on one of our monitors.
When we let the loud minority of customers who complain direct our development, constantly putting out fires instead of focusing on the customers that matter most.
When we lower the bar for the quality of code we check-in. Increasing the number of times we say “I’ll clean it up later”.
When we don’t write tests when we definitely had the opportunity to.
When we accept a deadline without any push-back, despite knowing that it could result in a poor, rushed implementation.
Over-volunteering to complete tasks when you’ve already got a full plate.
I could go on for days.
This is just a tiny list, there are so many other things, micro and macro, that we do to compromise ourselves.
So – what can we do about it?
What can we do to start putting ourselves first and getting back the freedom to do more of what we love?
How can we begin to correct the course?
Just as the problem of weak boundaries shows itself as a series of tiny, day to day compromises, the solution is to apply discipline and diligence in the other direction.
First, understand that this selflessness (aka codependency) is not getting you anywhere.
People do not respect (and are suspicious of) those who say yes to everything and let their build up of stress leak out as passive aggression and resentment.
Your work starts to suffer, you stop doing things you love, you burn out and all you can do when you come home is veg out on television and cheap food (which keeps the cycle going).
Next, begin to apply tiny acts of discipline to your day that promote self-respect and really, self-love.
You’re going to stop compromising and start being kind to YOU.
Begin to identify loose ends. The areas where you accept sloppiness in yourself and others and draw a line in the sand.
Frame your day on the right foot by making your bed (a tiny win) instead of looking at your phone.
When you’re writing code, keep slack notifications off. Give your team what they need to reach you in an emergency and focus.
Focus your product’s features and support on the customers that champion what you do for them rather than the vocal minority of complainers.
Choose to slow down and not check-in code that you know could be better.
Be willing to say no to certain requests for your time when you can feel in your body that you’ve going to crash.
Be willing to say no to features that would blur the core focus of your application.
Don’t be afraid to speak your concerns about a deadline being too soon.
Unsubscribe from newsletters that don’t empower your mission.
Unfollow “thought leaders” that bring needless drama and outrage to your feeds.
Be willing to give your teammates the opportunity to learn and handle a task without you instead of volunteering or trying to get your hands in everything.
Choose to ignore the latest hot framework and instead master your current tools.
Batten down the hatches and sturdy the ship so you and your team are empowered to focus on true, value adding work that empowers others.
So that when the day is done, you are not half brain-dead from all the fires you’ve been putting out.
As you begin to implement these changes slowly over time, you’ll notice a new energy and freedom inside you.
You’ll feel invigorated and capable.
Your team will respect your time and trust that they can count on you.
Your own physical health (and your codebase) will begin to improve.
You’ll come home, take some time for yourself, and then be inspired to work on a personal project or hobby, or spend time with a loved one without feeling exhausted.
Boundaries are everywhere.
What are you allowing in?
Ready to go deeper?
If this article resonated with you, you are probably the kind of person who recognizes the potential for greatness in yourself.
If that’s the case, I’d like to offer you an additional resource to expound upon this idea. I’ve compiled my top tools, tips, and books on building stronger boundaries.
These are resources that are dear to me that I have shared with my closest friends and family. I’ve also added summaries so you can decide whether or not it will be of value to you.