Work-life balance in the tech world can be a complicated topic to write about.
On one hand, most software engineers and developers, with their ability to do their work from anywhere, have a strong control of their schedule and lifestyle. On the other hand, how many times have you read or heard about nightmare coding projects that creeped into the evenings and weekends?
We spoke to 13 software engineers and developers from varying companies and lifestyles, ranging from global corporations (Microsoft) to fully distributed teams (Buffer, Automattic) to founders of startups about work-life balance and what a typical day in their life looks like.
Chris Coyier is a website designer and developer, as well as the co-founder of CodePen, a social development environment for front end designers and developers.
I’m fairly early to rise. Up by 5am. I clean myself up, feed the dog, do some home duties, and ride by bike down to work. My wife and I share an office room to ourselves in downtown Bend, Oregon. I’m there before 6am. My wife takes the mornings with our 2 year old daughter, we have child care during the day, and I take the evenings to split the parenting load a bit.
The early morning hours are the best. No meetings usually.
I pick something super random and fun to work on, which for me is usually something like writing, building something, improving some process, answering some hard email, or the like.
That’s often my favorite and most important part of the day as it’s deep work into something valuable.
Then the rest of my day gets broken up by scheduled things. I usually have a handful of meetings in a day, both internally with my teams and externally with things like potential customers or advertisers. I find the day disappears rather quickly to bouncing back and forth between communication channels, meetings, emails, and coding.
I always try to get outside at some point doing the day for a stroll and change of scenery, then I kick off by 4:30pm or so to bike home.
Mark Palfreeman is a UI Engineer at Microsoft, currently working on developing a component library for the company’s online store and marketing websites.
A typical day working from home looks something like this:
- Morning: make coffee, read a book or exercise (when it’s warm outside), eat breakfast and shower
- Work: check to-do list and calendar, work on my most essential/complex items in the morning
- Lunch: eat as a family, play with kids
- Work: code reviews, email, continue morning tasks
- Dinner: help while my wife cooks, eat as a family, play with kids until their bedtime
- Evening: clean up the house, wind down with a TV show, book, or game
Justin Hunter is the co-founder & COO of SimpleID, a platform focused on increasing user engagement and retention in blockchain applications.
Thanks to COVID-19, my life each day looks a little different than it used to. With both of my kids home from school and my wife working from home, we’ve got a full house.
So, my day usually starts at about 6:30 am. I’ll drink my morning coffee, catch up on emails, and then start trying to generate leads. This is a relatively new approach for me, by the way. I’ve found that the success rate I have with sending emails and messages early in the morning is much higher than any other time of day. But I digress.
At about 8am, I’ll take my dog for a walk with the family. From 8:30-9, I do what has now become the hybrid school/work calendar for the day. I will look at my meetings for the day and my tasks I need to get accomplished, and then my wife and I write up a schedule for our kids’ school work around that.
From 9-12pm, it’s a mix of work, meetings, and helping my kids with school work. Lunch and another walk happens around noon.
Then from about 1pm-3pm, it’s more of a mix of work, meetings, and school work. From 3-5pm, I have a little more focused time, and this is when I tend to do development work.
Igor Debatur is a software developer and the co-founder & CEO of Uploadcare, an end-to-end cloud platform, covering the complete media pipeline: uploading, processing, and delivery.
My workdays start early, at 7:00, because for me the most productive hours are in the morning.
Before doing anything work-related, I take some time for my personal morning routine. I go for a run, then take an hour to read something. Such a gap helps me to fully wake up and settle down into a focused working mood.
Once I’ve checked my day plans and decided which tasks are the most important at the moment, I start my work. At my current position, it consists mostly of meetings with a very diverse agenda, from business tasks to technical details.
Usually I try to avoid all the meetings which can go well without me. And to keep track of all of them, I rely a lot on recordings and notes. For meetings and calls, we use Zoom in combination with Gong. This tool keeps both video and text records for each discussion, so I can quickly look through any notes later if necessary.
Victoria Gonda is an Android Engineer at social media management platform, Buffer, where she works remotely on the company’s Android applications.
I work remotely, and I try to follow as much of a routine as possible to keep my work and personal life separate.
After I get ready in the morning and water my plants, I sit down at my desk to get going for the day. Because my team members are across many time zones, I start my day with any more synchronous or blocking communication. This is when I schedule most of my meetings and respond to messages in tools like Slack and GitHub.
Once that’s out of the way and I know I’m not blocking anyone, I work on my heads down tasks, whether that’s coding, documenting, or planning. At some point in the afternoon, I usually close all communication tools for a time so I can be truly uninterrupted.
Right after lunch when my brain slows down for a short time, I do more of my asynchronous communication. This is usually longer-form discussions in Threads or Paper. Sometimes I take advantage of working from home to take a short nap during this slow part of the afternoon before I get back to my heads down work!
Marcus Wermuth is the Engineering Manager at social media management software company Buffer, where he is helping to build the mobile team and strategy.
I wake up after at least 8 hours of sleep, normally that is around 7am but it depends when I go to sleep. I am very intentionally about this (read Why we Sleep – it changed my life).
Next thing is taking a shower and walking my dog. While I walk my dog I normally listen to an audiobook, mostly fiction, as I prefer to read non-fiction as I can take notes much easier.
After around 20 mins we are back home and it’s coffee time. I am a big coffee nerd so that time is very important, I usually brew a V60 in the morning, and the grinding sound and smell has become sort of a morning ritual.
At around 8am I have my oatmeal with coffee and start the day by catching up on things, Twitter, LinkedIn, email and other articles I wanted to check out. Until 12:30pm I have mostly heads down time, as most of team is in North America.
I answer requests, emails and document any new thoughts. After lunch with my wife at home, I spend the time either reading or doing something for my own personal brand: writing an article, working on my website, preparing a talk or similar things.
My afternoons from 3pm to 6:30pm are mostly filled with various calls, either one-to-ones with my team or other project and team meetings. After I am done with my last call, if my wife didn’t walk the dog yet, I use that to get out of the house again and catch some fresh air.
Once dinner is done, and it is a normal weekday we spend most of that time reading some kind of book. We just recently canceled Netflix and Amazon Prime to use more time together or read.
Evelyn Chan is a Software Engineer at Square, a San Francisco-based financial services, merchant services aggregator, and mobile payment company.
A typical day for me consists of a mixture of coding, reviewing code, and talking about code, with a few meetings sprinkled in there.
At a glance, it sounds repetitive, but each of those pieces is so broad and presents unique challenges that I never find it boring. I also spend a lot of time brainstorming new product features, playing around with new tools, and reading about new, innovative technologies.
Here’s a recent workday I went through:
I wake up at 7AM and am out the door by 8AM. I listen to a podcast on my commute. I get into the office at 8:30AM, grab breakfast at our cafeteria, and review any open pull requests in the morning. (Pull requests require peer reviews to merge a piece of code into production).
I have a 15 minute stand-up meeting at 10AM with my team to discuss what we worked on the day prior, will be working on today, and if we have any blockers that prevent us from completing a task.
Afterwards, I grab my daily cup of coffee and get to coding. Our projects are broken down into tickets in a shared JIRA board. I pick a ticket off the board to work on and pair with a teammate on it. I go to lunch with my coworkers and we end up taking the full hour.
Afterwards, I wrap up the ticket, write a few tests, and make a pull request. As I wait, I pick an article off of my reading list about some new features in one of the tools we use.
Once it gets approved, I merge it, test it in our staging environment, and deploy it to production. I leave the office around 6PM and head home, finishing the rest of my podcast on the way back.
I’m training for a triathlon right now, so as soon as I get home, I change into my swimsuit and drive over to my local gym. I swim for about 30-40 minutes and grab a quick dinner afterwards.
On other days, I’ll attend networking/social events, grab drinks with friends/coworkers, or work on personal projects. Once I get back home, I wind down with a book and get ready for bed.
Artur Piszek is a Cognitive Engineer at Automattic, where he works on the Earn offering for WordPress.com, which provides tools to help transform websites into businesses.
My days tend to be quite varied. Both my wife and I work remotely for the same company, so we do travel a lot. We have an apartment in Warsaw, Poland, and whenever we are there, I aim to complete the following routine:
- In the morning, I run, swim or do a bodyweight workout unless it’s a gym day.
- Then I write a few words in my journal to get the nagging and distracting thoughts out of the way.
- Sometimes I would do Wim Hoff breathing exercises to oxygenate.
- The above three would take no longer than 1 hour total.
- Ideally, I’d skip breakfast and start working right away. I am most productive in the morning, so I would try to write some code or prepare an internal document. It’s usually a blog post, because at Automattic, asynchronous communication is the default, and much of it happens on our internal blog system.
- If it’s a gym day, I will go before lunch, because that’s when the gym is empty. I have an online coach from NerdFitness that helps me in my workout routine (it’s a lot of squats and deadlifts).
- Just after the gym, I’d cook lunch for my wife and me. It’s usually a salad with a sauteed eggplant or something similar during the summer. Since winter is coming, we may want to change that menu. Working from home allows us to cook, but there is also a looming risk of the fridge being too close. I am a snacker.
- Way too often, I find myself plagued by the post-lunch slump, so that is when I plan the busywork – for example, answering on Slack. I am in Europe, and my colleagues are mostly in the US, so all calls happen in my afternoon/evening.
That is, of course, an ideal day and rarely the reality. Sometimes I get into heated discussion first thing in the morning or skip a workout and then feel unfocused. But I hope to have more days like these.
When I travel, my schedule is naturally all out of whack. I try to do as much work as possible in the morning, to free up some time for sightseeing during the day.
I can balance working and traveling pretty well right now, but staying healthy on the road is another matter – recently, I hired a remote fitness coach that sets my workouts.
Miguel San Román is a Senior Product Engineer at social media management platform Buffer and also the Co-Founder of OTTER, a digital carpentry platform.
I love to wake up early, as long as I’m sleeping enough hours, and have a bit of a quiet morning for myself and not feel like I have to rush out of the door. Recently, when I wake up, I grab a decaf (I’m “reprogramming” myself not to be super caffeinated as soon as I wake up) and meditate for 10 minutes with Muse.
I start my workday working on Otter, at around 9am, either by having some meetings or coding new features on our web app. I like to start the workday with a big personal goal before I jump onto my responsibilities at Buffer.
Then by 11am or so, I shift gears and start working on Buffer. I usually have lunch at around 2pm, so that gives me three hours of uninterrupted time to work on the most important goals I have set up for that day.
Deep work time is where the most valuable output comes from, and that might mean being heads down with a piece of code, or writing some documents for the team.
After lunch, my calendar is sprinkled with meetings. Those meetings range from 1:1s with my manager, mentoring other engineers, and team-wide sessions to brainstorm new things, share the status of the current work in progress, or do a retrospective to grow together.
This schedule also helps me a ton because some of my teammates at Buffer Analyze start their days on my afternoon, and shifting a bit the start of my day for Buffer ensures I have some overlap with them in case we want to brainstorm or pair program on something.
Paul Tune is a Senior Machine Learning Engineer at graphic design software platform Canva, where he works as part of the subscription arm of the company, Canva Pro.
Working in a startup means that I’d have to take each day on its own.
I can describe a rough outline of a day however. Typically, I start the morning with exercise, which could be lifting weights, boxing or some HIIT-style cardio exercises. I’ve also been doing gymnastics with a personal trainer for about a year now.
After that, I’ll head for breakfast at Canva, which is graciously provided for staff, and chat to colleagues before starting work.
My mornings are usually (unless something more urgent appears) reserved for working on season goal projects: these are projects deemed important for the year’s quarter. Canva works in a seasonal cadence which spans (roughly) three months each.
For me, this would be a data science-based project, which includes quite a bit of the engineering and testing for the deployment of machine learning models, or the exploration of Canva’s massive datasets. I may have to work with the Data Engineering team, or discuss issues with the Data Analysts about the data we’re seeing.
My afternoons are reserved for meetings and other tasks such as reviewing code from my colleagues (called a pull request), polishing old code or, refactoring, in software engineering parlance, having product discussions with designers and product managers, and helping to answer a variety of data questions from stakeholders and engineers.
Towards the end of the season, I am involved in planning the next season’s goals.
Lately, I’ve also been involved in planning and staffing in order to grow the Data Science specialty at Canva. This would mean interfacing with my fellow colleagues in the same specialty, and educating Canva’s staff as a whole about what data science means and what kind of impact the field can have on Canva.
Corey Ginnivan is a Product Designer & Front-end Developer at Appbot, a tool that aggregates app store reviews on iTunes, Google Play and Amazon stores and more.
I’ve been messing around with routines recently to find out what works better for me. This is roughly what a day looks like for me at the moment:
5am-ish: Wake up to do 15 minutes of stretching and just wake up a bit (I use Sleep Cycle which monitors my sleep and wakes me up during a light sleep, so it’s not as abrupt as a normal alarm).
5:30am: Jump in to “design practice + learning” – basically just reading articles, working on a side project, or writing up some Crash Course tweets. Gotta train that brain.
6:30am: Hit the gym for an hour.
7:30 – 8am: Have a protein shake for brekky, get ready for work, then jump on the bike and ride to work (only about a 5 – 10 min commute). Shower when I get there.
8/8:15am (depends if remote day): I make cold brew coffee at work, so I grab a glass of that and just start figuring out what I want/need to accomplish, get ideas out of my head on to paper.
8:15am – 4:30pm: Working! We’ve got a good thing going at Appbot where we don’t waste too much time with meetings, so most of the workday is actually knuckling down and getting things done.
Majority of my day is spent coding updates to our marketing site, working on new feature concepts, fixing bugs, planning out future updates or iterating on our design system. I take an hour for lunch somewhere in there with the team, or cook something if working from home.
4:30pm: Ride home and shower, then unwind a bit.
5pm – 6pm: More personal design work or learnings.
7pm – 10pm: Free time! Take the time to cook something nice, play games, chill with the housemate, head out for a beer with friends, play team sport (AFL or Netball generally), or just kick up the feet and watch some TV shows/movies.
10pm: Try and go to sleep, sometimes it’s a bit later though depending on what’s happening.
I’ve been working from home for the past two years now, and really enjoying it.
The regular workday will start around 8am. First, with my wife, we’re taking care of the kids (we have two, a 2yo girl and 6yo boy). Then, bringing them to school and at the nanny. Having to do this everyday helps me keeping a sane work schedule.
Back home at 9am, I start working. It’s usually a lot of coding, as little meeting as possible until noon. My wife gets the kids from school and the nanny and we all have lunch together.
Being able to eat together every day is really a godsend that the remote work allowed me to do.
Then, the kids go back to school/nanny, and I’m playing video games or coding until 2pm. Back to work, a bit more meetings because NYC is now awake, and coding until +6pm.
Back home, taking care of the kids, bath/diner/story/bed. Then watching shows/movies with my wife until she goes to sleep.
Finally, before going to bed, I usually code a bit on the current side-project I have for 1-2 hours.
Pamela Assogba is a full stack developer, working as a systems engineer at Vox Media. On the side, she also runs a community called Color Coded and a small bakery called Madjé’s Cookies.
I’ll be honest, my routine, like most people, has been affected by the COVID-19 pandemic and the subsequent quarantine. So instead of a recent day, I will take you on a typical good day in my life:
6:00am – 8:00am: I wake up, brush my teeth, journal, and go for a workout usually at the gym or on my yoga mat.
8:00am-12:00pm: Work! As a systems engineer, I work with other developers and try to make their lives easier. My team sets up infrastructures that help their velocity and productivity.
I spend a good amount of time working on tools that I will implement in other team’s projects as well as helping out with general support questions (bugs, broken internal tools, etc.)
12:00pm-1:00pm: I’ll get lunch or go on a lunch walk. Depending on where I’m working that day, I may also be on my way back home.
1:00pm-5:00pm: More work! The latter half of the day is a little less organized because I am a textbook morning person. Alongside the work I’m supposed to be doing that day, you may find me browsing the old Youtube, especially if there’s a new Bon Appetit or Binging with Babish video.
5:00pm-8:00pm: I’ll work on whatever is on the to-do list for the side activities. It could be baking for the cookie business or planning things for the community.
8:00pm-10pm: I’ll do a fun activity before winding down for bed, like cooking, reading, or watching New Girl for the nth time.
Before you go…
If you’d like to sponsor or advertise with Balance the Grind, let’s talk here.
If you’d like to have a conversation with us about how you balance the grind, get in touch with us.
If you never want to miss one of our conversations about work, life & balance, subscribe to our newsletter.