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I've been working as a web developer for almost a year now. Before this I spent 3 years in university on a bachelor degree, which included mostly practical tasks instead of theoretical exams.

During the past 4 years, I've come to acknowledge that I work rather fast compared to my colleagues, but in exchange, my attention span is much shorter and I require more breaktime. For example, if someone spends 4 hours on a project, I could probably do it in 2 hours, but require a 2 hour break afterwards.

While this is great for working on personal projects (quoted per project, not working hours), this is a bit troubling for my full-time job. I'm having a lot of trouble to actually focus on my work for 8 hours. I know I would perform a lot better if I could take breaks whenever I need them, but I can't just open up a game during work. My colleague in the office already is suspicious about what I do the entire day, as it often looks like I'm doing nothing (and I am, because I've lost my focus).

How do I communicate to my colleague and/or boss how I feel about my own working pace? I think I would perform better if I could manage my own breaks and actually just open up a game during work, without stressing or having to worry about "being caught not-working" by my colleague. But I can hardly justify my boss paying me full-time while I'm working only half of it.

For the record: Since I started here, I've always kept to all deadlines, and usually get praised for the quality of projects I deliver. I don't have any negative feedback from my boss, although my colleague in the office has expressed complaints about how I seem to "slack off".

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What are the reasons of losing your concentration? Have you seen someone about this issue? Thought about working at home with flexible hours and using deadline projects (if your current work culture allows that)? –  Ajaxkevi Mar 28 at 9:59
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What is the quality you deliver in 2 hours compared to the quality your co-worker delivers in 4? 2 hours seems like a lot of break time needed for 2 hours of work... –  Ajaxkevi Mar 28 at 10:09
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Not an answer, just a comment: maybe what you need is not so much a break, but a change in what you do. Maybe changing tasks or even reading SE for a couple of minutes after two hours' coding would be more acceptable than gaming to your colleagues. –  Stephan Kolassa Mar 28 at 10:13
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consider asking a separate question rather than expanding one you asked: at Stack Exchange sites, “chameleon questions” are not quite welcome –  gnat Mar 28 at 12:29
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If a full workday leaves you burnt out and depressed, you are normal. If it leaves you massively burnt out and severely depressed, you have a medical problem. –  2rs2ts Mar 28 at 18:03

3 Answers 3

up vote 13 down vote accepted

I start with beaten advice to consider job change because first, maintaining productive work style was in my experience very important for professional and career growth and second, because currently you are indeed in a very good position for that.

Just think of it, any other company that would want to hire you, you can present them a requirement:

I would want to work <this way>... by the way, my current job is pretty nice except that it does not allow me to work the way I prefer.

You see, you are in a very strong negotiation position here. They can't just dismiss your requirement because if they do, they have nothing to offer to attract you (see above point that your current job is already okay except for that).

They just have to offer something to motivate you for move; it can be either confirmation that your work style is acceptable, or some material benefits ("okay our job sucks same way but we'll pay you twice") - whatever they choose, you'll have nothing to loose. The worst that can happen is they won't make an offer - but then again, it's not a big deal as you already have a job.


Besides seeking for a better job (which I believe never hurts no matter how good your current one is), the most reasonable move in your situation is to come to your boss, lay out your concern and ask for their advice.

  • Learning about their employees concerns and helping to resolve these are typically considered one of the most important parts of IT manager's role. It's quite unlikely, but just in case if you find out that in your company this ain't so, then I strongly recommend you to look back to the part of my answer about job change, because this would indicate quite a toxic work environment and being a programmer you have a pretty good chance to find a better place (see eg The Rise of Developeronomics article).

Above, I used words concern and advice - and I would like to stress the importance for you to stick with these. Think of it, compared to job-change "scenario" described above, here you are in opposite, weaker position to negotiate.

To put approval of work style change as a straight requirement to your boss would be a bad idea: you have nothing to motivate them to compromise in your favor and it only may leave a bad feeling in both of you if it turns out that boss can't meet your wish.

As opposed to that, concern is safe - you simply explain your worries of how your style may be perceived by the boss and colleagues, not limiting the options to address that. Even if it turns out that they can't "integrate" this work style, boss will at least become aware that your pace isn't because you're lazy - not bad isn't it.

Now, I would like to explain a bit what I mean suggesting to ask for advice. Avoid asking boss for specific help - because you simply don't know if providing this kind of help is an option for them or not. As you don't know their options, try to keep these as open as possible - extremely broad and open ended question like "what would you advise me?" is probably your safest bet.

If they give an advice and you feel it won't fit, avoid dismissing it offhand, as this may negatively affect your further relations. If they offer something that you didn't expect but are not sure about, consider giving it a try, especially if they suggest some productivity trick.

  • I learned through my career that experienced managers often know better about productivity than programmers and it's worth at least giving their ideas a try. Worst case, if it doesn't work, you'll learn that your manager is not very good at productivity techniques - it never hurts to learn a bit more about your boss strengths and weaknesses.
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@DarkAshelin well per my reading the way you laid it out in your very question, looks fairly good: "During the past 4 years, I've come to acknowledge that I work rather fast compared to my colleagues, but in exchange, my attention span is much shorter and I require more breaktime. For example, if someone spends 4 hours on a project, I could probably do it in 2 hours, but require a 2 hour break afterwards." - it doesn't lay it out as a straight requirement, but you can add something like, "is there a way to accommodate for that in your company/project?"... –  gnat Mar 28 at 11:48
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Bit of a late follow-up reply, but I did follow your advice (about a week after you posted it) and had a short meeting with my boss. I focused on expressing my own concern and asking him for advice, and in the end we agreed that I could simply work on a slower pace (ex. take double the time I would usually need for a project), especially since there wasn't enough work for me to fill the week otherwhise. It wasn't the ideal solution for me, but good enough to make the work bearable. About 6 months later I did opt for a job-change though. –  Dark Ashelin Nov 28 at 11:19

Talking about it to your boss would not be easy, as it can easily be seen as a "slack-off" excuse. I have had the same problem, and my boss told me one day in a 1:1 I looked "bored". I wasn't, but, just as you, was used to take frequent breaks. Fortunately for me my boss was comprehensive, but asked me to stop nevertheless: he told me that impressions ARE important, especially as I have to work at clients sometimes (and I understand his point of view as well, of course).

So, if I were you, I would be extra-cautious about bringing up the subject, and how to bring it would highly depends of how your relationship with your boss is, and if he hears about the "slack-off rumors".

I see two ways to make it looks good (or, at least, not "bad"):

  • Saying, honestly, that you need more frequent breaks, but offer to stay later instead, and take a shorter lunch break. It may not be accepted, but you will be seen as wanting to solve the "problem", and can lead to a constructive discussion.

  • Ask for more diverse works. As Stephan Kolassa said, maybe a change can be as useful as a break to you, as you use different parts of your brain (Alterning intense work like programming and non-intense work like documentation layout, for exemple. Not as efficient, but more socially acceptable). It was the solution my boss and I agreed to take, and I was surprised how it actually helps me.

I don't think of any way to safely ask to "open a game" on your computer, though. Even if your boss agrees to let you take more frequent breaks it is highly likely that it would be seen as a "bad example". You should better go on a "coffee break" (on the outside, in the rest room, or whatever) and play shortly on your phone, if games really help you to make a break.

Another alternative is to try to change behavior. I don't have a magical solution, but I am trying the Pomodoro technique right now. I just try it for some days, but it seems to really help me with this issue for the moment. It is simple:

  • you work for 25 minutes or so.

  • then you force yourself to take a 5 minutes break

  • every 4 "25 minutes work", you take a longer break.

For me, the advantages are:

  • If you work for 2 hours in a row, no wonder your brain is tired and need a large break. This technique forces you to take shorter breaks, more often. Better for your brain, (for the breaks to be more useful, try to go away from the computer. Go to the bathroom, take a glass of water... it is also better for your back!)

  • It is easy to change tasks (it makes you use different parts of your brain, and avoid boringness): 25 minutes dev, 25 minutes documentation...

  • It helps you to track what you are doing, making it easier to defend yourself against a "slack-off" accusation.

  • Challenges help me to concentrate (and it's more fun this way): "ok, I have 25 minutes to debug this method. 3, 2, 1, go !"

Hope it helps! My apologies if my english is not perfect.

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This is a good alternative, but doesn't answer OP's question. Which was how he has to communicate this with his boss. –  Ajaxkevi Mar 28 at 10:43
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You are right. I initially wanted to post it as a comment, but then realised I don't have enough reputation. But I will try to edit my answer to make it less off-topic. Thank you! –  Lazuli Mar 28 at 10:46

I work in bursts like this as well. Not only in terms of hours per day, but also in terms of weeks. I might go a couple weeks of doing very little, and then a couple with very high productivity. Over an average 8 hour day, I may only be actually 'coding' 2-3 hours. I've just learned to understand thats just how I operate.

One habit I've adopted is to always get something done. Be it a new feature, a bug fix, whatever. This way I always have some concrete item of production I can demonstrate (even when its just to myself). Doing this may help mitigate the impression that you are slacking off at work (when you aren't actually slacking off, what you are really doing is thinking), which in turn should help you when dealing with those who might question your pace.

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Typically verbally, in English. The point of my second paragraph is that by consistently having concrete examples of productivity, even if small, the need to 'communicate this' is much less because theres not as much of an apparance of 'slacking off' in the first place. –  GrandmasterB Mar 28 at 17:49

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