Quality Life, Quality Work

Two blog entries ago, Tobias touched upon some good practices when wanting to maintain a fast, stable development speed. Perhaps counter-intuitively to some, his first rule of thumb was:

Decide that your private life is at least equally important as work. Don’t do overtime unless absolutely necessary.

This scenario may sound familiar: Your team is on a crunch, and developers are haphazardly checking in bad code, not checking in their work, breaking things, and generally communicating poorly. I’ve seen it happen dozens of times over the course of my years in the games industry; in most of those instances, my co-workers simply hadn’t had enough rest, or they were desperately overworked and in need of a vacation.

I get a little jealous, as an American, when Tobias and Niklas talk about the vacation standards in Sweden. Under the country’s Annual Leave Act, all Swedish workers get 25 days of paid time off per year. Unless I aggressively negotiated with my employer, I would normally get the typical 10 days vacation and — if I got lucky — an extra five days for personal or sick time off. Which, I feel, is simply not enough time to decompress, given the amount of work we do.

My point is that it’s important to rest. First, there’s regular rest on a daily basis: Go home at a reasonable time and enjoy your life. Sleep enough. Take breaks from thinking about work. And there’s data to back this up: It’s important to take breaks in order to replenish your brain to do your best at work. According to studies by the American Psychological Association and others, sleeping enough and taking regular breaks improves performance by regulating your stress levels. Quite simply, spending more hours working at your computer does not necessarily mean getting more work actually done.

Likewise, taking time away from work is key. In an article titled “The Data-Driven Case for Vacation,” the Harvard Business review makes clear the importance of regular holidays — vacations or staycations, whatever you fancy. “Over the past three years, we have partnered with the U.S. Travel Association to more clearly understand the relationship between well-being and taking time off from work,” it reads. “Our hypothesis has been that without recovery periods, our ability to continue performing at high levels diminishes significantly.” This is, as the study points out, in direct conflict with the common misconception that the longer one perseveres at work, the more successful they will be at completing it.

Our Machinery might just as well refer to our physical bodies, which need taking care of! Stress affects the brain and its many nerve connections, the rest of the body feels the impact. Reducing work stress with time away and regular physical activity produces endorphins (chemicals in the brain that act as natural painkillers), and also improves the ability to sleep, which in turn reduces stress. Exercise, meditation, acupuncture, massage therapy, even breathing deeply can cause your body to produce endorphins.

Currently, Our Machinery is just the three of us. But when we start building out our teams, a crucial aspect of our management approach will be to make sure our employees maintain a great quality of life while working with us. This means making sure they don’t feel overworked, and helping them manage their time well so they can enjoy their lives outside of work. This will result not only in happier employees, but a better product. We only get to ride this bullet train called life but once, so let’s make it count. :)

Go camping!