Design Dream Work Day

I hated my alarm, especially when it screamed into the twilight for a second time after having been snoozed. Bleary-eyed, I got up to follow the scent of coffee into the kitchen at 6:00 AM. Sarah had been up for fifteen minutes and gave me the side eye for sleeping in while she had started breakfast. I took Carl and Bailey out for a short walk, grateful to escape the oppressive mood of the morning. The ride we took to the Metro station was quiet. In January, the platform was not touched by the sun while I waited. I rocked on my tiptoes and exhaled a chimney stack of breath hoping the Metro wouldn’t be late.

Sliding into an empty seat, as we rode into the city the car became increasingly full. By the time we got to Farrugut West, it was standing room only. At 8:00 AM, I walked into the swanky building and down the stairs into the remodeled basement. A clean, bright room without windows starts to feel like a cage given enough time. At 9:00 AM, we had done standup and explained what we were going to work on that day. More coding, as per usual. I enjoyed the freedom of working alone, but not necessarily the burden. The project was nearing an end and the deadline had slipped once, but the client was understanding. We were making progress but I just wanted it to be over so we could move onto the next project. I fixed a few bugs, at least I thought I fixed them. It would be a few days before our tester could come in and verify.

At 5:30 PM I headed out and walked through the whipping wind a quarter of a mile before gratefully ducking into the warmth of the metro station. The penalty for the heat was the accompanying odor of brake dust. The constant dust had settled into every dark nook and cranny of the cavernous station. I wondered if there was any relationship between riding the metro and lung cancer as two Metro trains slid by me, filled to the brim with humans. Finally, at 6:10 PM I managed to get on a mostly full Metro car. Standing for the twenty-five minutes it took to take the Orange line out of the city meant there was no opportunity for reading. I listened to a podcast and tried to ignore the man bumping into me as the car swayed. Once I got to the station, I texted Sarah, who left home to come pick me up.

Finally, at 6:45 PM I arrived home. It went on like this, more or less, for three years. The years went by very quickly. There were good moments, weekends were fun, and I learned a lot. With the pressure of the job came a lot of growth for me, personally. I learned C#, learned a lot more about CSS, HTML, and JavaScript, and learned how to build projects from scratch again and again.

My time in DC also took their toll. I gained about 20 pounds. The novelty of dressing up a bit and going to work in the big city eventually became a grind. I appreciate a great deal about these times, but also I wonder if I could have learned more quickly about what I enjoyed and what was important to me. Imagine your dream work day. Describe it in detail.

  • What time do you wake up?
  • Where do you live?
  • Do you commute to work or work from home?
  • What do you before and after work?
  • What is it like at work?
  • What kind of a team do you work on?
  • What time do you leave work?
  • Are you working on many different projects or one big product or something else?

Answer these specific questions and then write out what a day is like for you in this dream job of mine. For me, a perfect work day might look like this:

I wake up at 7:45 AM. I make breakfast with my wife and do the Wordle, get a shower, and have enough time to do some writing or make some blog posts before work. At 9:30 AM, I get online at home and get prepared for standup at 9:45 AM. At standup, I talk with 5-6 other people on my team about a common goal that we’re working toward. We are a cross-functional team and can generate ideas, define features, build them, deliver them, and gather feedback as a unit. I then do pair programming with one of them for a couple hours to fix a feature and deliver it to production. At 1:00 PM I have lunch at home with my wife, and then walk into the office for the afternoon, which I’m able to get to in ten minutes or less. I then have a meeting with a few people from my team about defining a new feature and write some documentation. In the afternoon, I learn about a new technology and then leave at around 5:30 PM. On the way home I stop off for a pint with a friend. I invite my wife out and she comes, and so we both get home around 6:45 PM and put a pizza in the oven. After that, we watch a favorite show on Netflix, and I spend about an hour writing. Then I get ready for bed and read there until about 10:00 PM and go to sleep.

Believe it or not, this describes pretty closely what my current work is like. It took me a while to get here and what I want my perfect work day to look like could change in the future. For now, I’m grateful I get to work how I’ve always wanted to – with intensity, but also without running myself ragged.

Take the time to figure out what you would want your typical work day to look like, as it will help you again to narrow your focus as you look for a job.