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I have been wondering this for years. Waiters and other jobs usually have downtimes when you have fewer customers. But programmers have a lot of upcoming tasks in their pocket, so you can't really have downtime.

Also with the WFH, no meaningless meetings, watercooler chats, it's just only work left.

While I agree, there is no fixed answer that fits every country/company, but what are the general expectation of downtime as a programmer? How often can you take breaks during the workday to just take a walk, or check social media and random stuff?

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    @iLuvLogix they tend to log a lot of overtime. Theoretically they use a portion of that in actual work. – Kilisi Feb 11 at 10:56
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    @JoeStrazzere Seriously? To avail a break (not an hour long one, maybe a 10-15 minute walk and stretch, without missing pre-decided meetings), you need your manager's approval? In a programmer job, this might be too much. I wonder how many discuss with their manager whether they can avail a coffee break or not? – Sourav Ghosh Feb 11 at 14:49
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    anywhere from 0 to 7.5 hours – Old_Lamplighter Feb 11 at 16:48
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    @iLuvLogix No joke here. When I worked for the government, my partner and I got more work done than the other two teams combined in half the time, and we were at no risk of dying from exhaustion. – Old_Lamplighter Feb 11 at 16:49
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    "no meaningless meetings" > Are you serious? The simple fact you don't have to find a room for it (cause that was a pain in most companies I worked for) makes having meetings so easier that what I personally witnessed is an increase in number of meetings over the past year... – Laurent S. Feb 12 at 15:28
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The amount of "time out" during the weekday while working from home shouldn't measurably differ from what you did while in the office - that's really your benchmark.

The plus side to the WFH lifestyle is that you no longer need to spend time commuting and that you're able to spread your working hours out a little.

I personally start my working day at roughly the time I used to start commuting and end it when I usually came home.

During those extended working hours, I'll swap around how to build breaks in - walking the dogs, running a quick errand etc. My work colleague all run the same kind of schedule so that we know that if we don't get an immediate response to a request, it won't be long until they get back. Obviously, scheduled meetings are respected.

The key thing is "flexibility". No one expects you to be locked to your keyboard for the entire working day and you really do need some time to get away, refresh, and maintain your mental health.

If you feel you need to time-manage your breaks, then put this into your calendar so that you (and your colleagues) know when it's your AFK time.

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    What about meeting/discussion breaks when working in-person. While you are working, you are at least not staring at the screen, which was in a way break too. Also in my case, I recently started a contract position (fully remote), so I don't have an office to compare with. – DrAnonymous Feb 11 at 17:04
  • It's funny, this has come up on the site before. it could be I live in a "different world". In "my" world, remote working is more focussed. It's only Feb 11 and three folks I know have been summarily sacked for bizarre distractions like "oh, I was walking my dog!" It's funny you mention "running an errand". That particular one is anathema to every team lead, founder, manager we work with. Again, opinions seem to differ on this. – Fattie Feb 12 at 1:23
  • @DrAnonymous - to be absolutely blunt. You seem to be looking for "ways to slack off". I would say to you: if you can get away with it, fantastic - great. – Fattie Feb 12 at 1:24
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    @Fattie You can think whatever you like. I actually feel burn out since WFH, which was never the case in-office job. – DrAnonymous Feb 12 at 8:52
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    @Fattie I suggest you put your answers in the answer box, especially if you're going to complain about people misusing comments. – Kat Feb 12 at 23:17
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but what are the general expectation of downtime as a programmer?

This is anecdotal and only based on my experience but officially companies will want you to move from one piece of work to the next with no downtime. So if you are in a meeting with your manager they will likely be lining up work for you to do. In other wise there is no expectation of downtime.

Unofficially though it's really up to you if you pile through work at break neck pace and give yourself no downtime then you'll quickly find yourself in burn out. So it's actually up to you to pad out an estimate that you give with an acceptable amount of time to allow you to slack off.

I would start with out 30% slack off time and work upwards from their. If you find yourself feeling the burn out phase kicking in again then you should bring it down say to 40% ...etc. If you start to get bored then raise it back up until you find a sweet spot that's right just for you.

How often can you take breaks during the workday to just take a walk, or check social media and random stuff?

You should be able to get away from a computer screen at least 5 minutes for every hour if you spend 3-4 hours you should get away from 20 mins. Checking social media as long as it's a quick minute or two shouldn't be a big issue but not sitting on facebook for hours on end.

random stuff

OK so bunking off just to do whatever again that's up to you if you want to do that then work into your estimates some slack time.

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  • So if I understood correctly, 30-40% of 8 hours will be around 3 hours break? – DrAnonymous Feb 12 at 8:51
  • @DrAnonymous yes that's correct but it won't likely be a continuous break. So on some days you may struggle and work much < 5 hours say only an hour or two other days you might work 8 hours or more. Mostly likely though these are small 15-30 minute breaks for things like toilet / coffee / tea / drink / foosball / replying to comments on stack exchange ...etc. – Dave3of5 Feb 12 at 14:33
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There can be no generally excepted answers for this question. The problem is that managers and business owners are eternally way over optimistic about how much work can be done at top quality. They will always put more on your plate than can be done. This is true for nearly ANY job that involves mental work. (I have a friend who is suffering this same thing in a financial analysis position.)

Instead of asking this question, you would do better to be asking how to show better quality of work. This needs to be a very personal answer as each of us has different capabilities, physiology, mental and emotional strengths, and environments. I would expect a different work output from someone in a war zone from someone who can hit the beaches of Santa Cruz. This also includes how to inform your manager of what you are accomplishing and at what quality.

Once you determine what work schedule give you the best productivity with the highest quality of work, then work according to that schedule. (At one company, a top OS guy would surf the days and show up in the office at 6PM and work the nights.) Yes, you will get "push back" from management, but over time, that will give you the most satisfaction and will give management the most profit. By the way, over the decades, this schedule will change...

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How often can you take breaks during the workday to just take a walk, or check social media and random stuff?

You can take a break during regular workday, as long as it does not affect the commitments. Also, breaks while you're working from home is to be the same while you were working in an office setup - there's no reason to have a special case for either of these work scenario.

Regarding the acceptable duration / frequency, s you mentioned, there's no silver bullet (no one answer that fits all), I find a 15 minute break after ~2 hours of desk time does work for me. Also note, 3 days a week, I have a focus time slot (~3-4 continuous hours) where I focus on work at hand in a heads-down manner. You have to adjust as per your schedule.

That said, one note, there's a saying

The best time to take a break is when you don't have time to take any.

This indicates, a refreshed you is a much better version of a burned-out you.

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    "it does not affect the commitments" How would you define commitment? Employers usually want the most from you. What about enough to not get fired. Is it not unprofessional to work bare enough to not get fired. – DrAnonymous Feb 11 at 7:29
  • @DrAnonymous Employers may want many things, but what matters is what is agreed upon. That's what is a target or a goal or commitments. It's not bare minimal, it's not about working 80-hour week, it's about what is possible and acceptable. – Sourav Ghosh Feb 11 at 7:30
  • @DrAnonymous If your employer finds breaks and watercooler chats acceptable while you're in the office, why should it be different when you're at home? Also, in many countries, letting you take a break once in a while is even mandated by law. – TooTea Feb 11 at 10:10
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    @TooTea Exactly. I made a point when I was physically in the office to get up and stretch my back, and now in my home office I get up and take the dogs outside and do the same. I just don't let my breaks get too long, and make sure to hit my deadlines – John Herbert Feb 11 at 14:46
  • @JohnHerbert That's the way to go. – Sourav Ghosh Feb 11 at 14:51
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Easy: "you've got eight hours of my day during regular business hours." Of course sometimes in this business this has to be "in the middle of the night [in some time zone or another ...]." But, nevertheless, there must be a clear delineation between work and not-at- work!

Never(!) give that up. Because, "no matter how 'good' you are, or how 'young' you are, you cannot perform miracles. If you try, "the code that you [try to ...] produce will be crap." You actually need: both(!) "time that you are focused, and(!!) "time away."

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Programmers are incredibly - amazingly - well paid.

And they only have to work the clock on the dot: arrive at exactly 9, leave at exactly 5 (or whatever your system is) - and that's it.

The idea of slacking-off midday, is nuts.

Programmers who "check out social media" get sacked instantly.

It's an incredibly embarrassing look...

"Social media" is the idiocy that "civilians" use hours on; programmers are the devils who make social media.

Arrive, keep head down and tail up, go home, and cash your enormous paycheck.

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    I am surprised you left this answer as a programmer yourself. People are paid for the value they bring to the company. So you shouldn't be comparing wages by the working hours. Many CEO's work even less than programmers while getting paid millions. – DrAnonymous Feb 12 at 8:56
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    Programming is a mental job, so sometimes you are mentally exhausted. But I am not asking for any special treatment. I am just asking for something in lieu of downtime which other workers also get. Maybe you are an exception, but 90% of the people can't work 8 hours without ruining their health if there are no breaks in between. – DrAnonymous Feb 12 at 8:59
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    @Fattie Do you even read your own answers before posting them? Because you should... – Peter Feb 12 at 10:45

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