Tech Career Insights: Does the Early Bird Really Catch the Worm? Choosing the Right Shift

Does the Early Bird Really Catch the Worm? Choosing the Right Shift

By Channel Lawton

Which shift works better for developers: The ‘early’ 07:00 - 16:00 shift or the ‘late’ 09:00 - 18:00 one? Now that more and more companies are offering flexi-hours, developers have far more choice in the matter. Here’s how I have gone about choosing a shift to ensure that I can prioritise what is important to me.

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My priorities evolving over the years

As my career has evolved, so have my personal priorities. Fresh out of university, I started my first job as a junior developer at a financial company in my hometown, Pretoria. Because the student habits were still strong with me, I really valued the extra hour of sleep that the later shift afforded me after a late night socialising with friends.

However, when I started my next job at a corporate company in Sandton, the long commute made me think that maybe getting up a bit earlier would be a better idea. Because the stakes were also a lot higher at this company, I wanted to arrive at the office more focused on work than on the infamous N1.

Four years later, I joined a startup. Here, I was given the option to work remotely a few days of the week. I decided to try out the ‘late’ shift on those days, but quickly found if I stuck to the ‘early’ shift, I could easily do my tasks for the day and then clock off early to go to the shops or spend time on a hobby like painting (just saying - it was painting by numbers!).

Recently, having entered a role where our team is allowed to work either the early or the late shift, I have become more aware of other people’s work patterns. This led me to reflect on how, over time, I have settled on my current choice to come into the office early. Here are the five main factors that have been important to me throughout.

Having a life outside of work

While it depends where you are in your life right now, it is fair to assume that everyone enjoys having some time to themselves. This is important because it promotes balance in your life - as they say, happy wife, happy life! The same applies to your work - if you have a balanced life, then you’ll be better equipped to manage things at work.

Not taking work home

Having a home life has always been something important to me, and now that I am married, this is one of my biggest priorities.

While there will always be times that I have to grind at work, especially when a deadline for a feature has to be met, I make an effort not to take work home with me. When I was working from home, it was easy to continue trying to get a task done but this often resulted in me working late and spending less time with my family.

Spending quality time

My husband works in the same industry as me so luckily our shifts are mostly aligned. We have decided that spending time together during the evenings is important. Sitting down and sharing a meal is a valuable opportunity for us to connect after a long day. This means that the quick default to two minute noodles is out! We make an effort to make our time together meaningful.

When I was working the later shift and only getting home after 7pm, I felt like I had no time during the day. Making sure I leave the office at 4pm now means that I have the time to put into cooking something delicious for my husband and I to enjoy during our quality time together. I also have time to read a book and even treat myself to the occasional pamper session.

Tips to make this happen in your own life

  • Plan your tasks in advance - Raise any concerns when they occur, especially if you feel like the estimation time set for a task is not enough. This can help reduce the stress of projects not being completed on time and you working overtime to compensate for this.
  • Have a cut off time - Family is important, so stick to it. Be strict with your boundaries.
  • Use your breaks - If you are a young developer, you might currently be working the late shift because sleep and socialising are the most important things to you. If you feel like you have no time in the day to get stuff done, I would recommend utilizing your lunch hour to complete personal tasks. Check out malls near your work to get dinner ingredients so that you don’t have to do that on the way home at 6pm, or cram all your chores into your weekend.

Spending less time in the car

Spending unnecessary time in the car is not pleasant for anyone. Road rage is real! This is not a great way to start or end your day as the people around you at work and at home can easily pick up on the negative energy you may be giving off.

Planning around traffic

In my current setup, I live 22 km away from the office, which means that some time in the car is unavoidable. I’ve found that going in later puts you at greater risk of dealing with major accidents. These can really throw your schedule off - you might only arrive at work at 10am in the mornings or get home at 7pm in the evenings.

However, I have found that by going into work early, I experience shorter and better commutes due to less traffic congestion. This helps with keeping the stress and road “anxiety” levels low.

Don’t get me wrong, the motivation to wake up at 5 and get going is challenging. However, no one wants to arrive at work stressed out and this small sacrifice has proved very beneficial to me.

Tips to make this happen in your own life

  • Set up traffic notifications - When there is an accident you can get on the road earlier or plan an alternative route.
  • Make yourself a cup of coffee - Having something to enjoy while you drive and listening to some great music on the radio will ensure that your journey flies by and you get to where you need to be before you know it!

Having a clear mind

Making time for yourself before the day begins is a great way to give yourself a sense of purpose. It allows you to reflect on your goals, catch up on what is going on in the world and touch base with the people around you.

Making time to set up your day

When I started in my first corporate role, operations would start early, and because we were working in such a high stakes environment, if there was a situation, it was critical to fix it as soon as possible. Not having had to deal with traffic, I could have enjoyed a cup of coffee and had time to settle in before confronting the problem. (I believe this is how most developers realise the cliché yet accurate algorithm : coffee = fuel = code.) I found that I had a clearer mind, which helped get the job done quickly.

Having this sense of clarity is still important to me today - no matter which project I am working on, I want to know that I am giving it my all so that I can feel confident in the work that I am putting out.

Getting in early, I am also guaranteed to always be on time for stand-up. Stand-ups are generally set up to be first thing in the morning for agile development teams within corporate companies so that project managers can provide feedback to business at start of day. Attending these sessions is important for anyone who is part of a team. Having my plan for the day ready and well-thought out helps me contribute meaningfully to these sessions and keeps the communication channels flowing smoothly between my colleagues and me.

Tips to make this happen in your own life

  • Prioritise - At the beginning of every work day, sit and decide on three high priority tasks you feel you can successfully complete. A quick ‘TO DO’ sticky on your desktop will do. During the day, mark things off as you do them. This will help keep you on track for your daily goals.

Maximising my productivity

Being a morning versus evening person is a big factor for most developers. Everyone’s brains work differently - some people come alive at night while others are most efficient during the day.

Aligning your body clock with your chosen shift

Personally, my brain functions much better early in the day and lag kicks in at about 4pm. It is important for me to tackle my complex tasks early in the morning, while I am at my freshest, and sort out email responses, or the famously “loved” documentation, later in the afternoon. Arriving at the office early helps me maintain this routine and keeps me from feeling stressed.

While my brain works best earlier in the day, there are plenty of developers who prefer to work later, sometimes even at night. In order to be productive earlier in the day, I’ve worked on aligning my body clock by going to bed at a set time every night so that I can wake up at 5am, get on the road and get going with my code. While it might be hard at first to settle into this routine, it really works!

Tips to make this happen in your own life

  • Create a sleeping routine - Think about how many hours of sleep you need to feel refreshed when you wake up. Get into bed and set your alarm for the next morning with this number in mind. Get up as soon as your alarm goes off - don’t give in to the temptation to keep hitting snooze as this will make you feel groggy. While this routine may be hard at first, once you get into it, you’ll never look back.

Maintaining good relationships with my colleagues

You spend the majority of your day at work. Making sure that your relationships with the people that surround you are solid is key in ensuring a favourable working environment.

Finding time to collaborate and learn from others

As a young developer, I noticed that working the later shift meant that I often lost out on valuable time working with the more senior developers who preferred to come in early and leave early. This meant if I had questions, I had no one to turn to and faced a lot of unnecessary stress and confusion.

If I came in early, however, I had more time to work with experienced developers and learn from them in the process. This helped me to get involved in more complex projects: Because I was demonstrating the ability to stand up and ask questions, learn from those around me and integrate myself better into teams, my colleagues developed a real sense of trust in me and set me more exciting and challenging tasks.

Using your breaks to connect

Another benefit of arriving early and clearing complex tasks off my list in the morning has meant that I am able to enjoy my breaks more. I make it a priority to have lunch with a group of ladies that I work with as often as I can so that I can learn more about their professional experiences, as well as catch up on everyday conversations.

In my previous roles, especially the ones where I opted to come in later, lunch breaks were rushed affairs - I would grab a quick lunch with the guys who I worked the closest with and then head back to my desk. While I had a great relationship with those guys, I am really enjoying spending my free time at work with a more diverse group. I feel more integrated in the company as a whole, which makes me feel more confident in the work I do and what I contribute.

Tips to make this happen in your own life

  • Leverage senior developers in your team - Young developers, try to plan your tasks for the day in advance so that you can spend the first half of your shift working with senior developers. Remember that their priorities are most likely different to yours, with more responsibilities at home, for example. Work on adapting your schedule to make it as easy as possible to align with theirs. Experienced developers are great resources so make sure you use them!
  • Get involved in the events that your company holds - I met a lot of the people I consider friends at work when I attended our HackFest.

Conclusion

In the end, I think it all boils down to the stage of your life and career you are in now: What are your priorities? What type of company and team are you in? What time of day are you the most productive thinking-wise?

While I have found that getting to work early helps me to prioritise what is important to me, I would love to hear how the night owls out there get the most out of their days (or nights!).


Channel Lawton is a senior software developer at Britehouse, a division of Dimension Data. In her current role, she specialises in upgrading and designing fintech systems with the latest cutting edge technologies . She aspires to be a successful individual and leader within the growing IT industry by breaking the mold and changing perspectives.

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