One of the strange ‘benefits’ of having been doing my current job for nearly 15 years now is that I can see the cyclical patterns inherent in the life of an independent developer. The last few weeks were a reminder of one of the more challenging one of these patterns.
There is a fabulous passage in the The Fellowship of the Ring where Bilbo tells Gandalf that he feels “Stretched…like butter that has been scraped over too much bread”. That turn of phrase has really resonated with me recently. It is an eloquent summation of how I was feeling at the start of April.
The beginning of March saw the launch of a major, total upgrade to Pedometer++ and then a few weeks later the recognition and launch of my 100 Million Download Update to Widgetsmith. These two updates have wholly consumed my working mind for months now, and I’m very pleased with how they both turned out.
The challenge I find is that once I finish a major project I often end up with that stretched feeling. Like am all out of butter and the basket of previously backlogged bread[tasks] is just too much to handle.
I don’t think it is just overwork, though perhaps partially that. Particularly the interesting thing I notice is that the feeling only emerges after the launch and not right before. Something changes in the moment I hit ‘Release’ which radically shifts my mindset.
As I experienced this feeling with these updates I’ve tried to really interrogate the feeling and see if I could find out where it was coming from.
The best analogy I could come up with is that of a rubber band.
Imagine pulling out a rubber band to its full extent. In that moment the rubber band is being rightfully employed in its primary function, it is living its best life, it is right in the groove of what makes a rubber band a rubber band. Then imagine releasing the rubber band and letting it fall loose again. Now the rubber band finds itself without direction and is aware that in the process of its useful employ it has been altered slightly, that it is now slightly looser.
I think this is the root of the stretched feeling I so often experience after the release of the major update. The period of time leading up to the launch is filled with productive energy, excitement and focus. However, the moment it is released that sense of direction and purpose almost instantly disappears, replaced with only the awareness of the mental and physical impact those labors have accrued.
Like I said, the benefit of having experienced this feeling enough times is that I’m no longer surprised and alarmed by it. I know it is an old (if not completely welcomed) friend, and so I now have my strategies to deal with it.
My first strategy, like Bilbo, is to yearn for The Mountains. There are few things as therapeutic for my psyche as spending time surrounded by mountains. The distant hum of wind in the fells and of water coursing down their slopes finds resonance with my soul. So off to the mountains I went, on a weeklong family trip to the Lake District in north-west England.
While out there I tried to pay attention to when my time there had cleared out the cobwebs and I felt like myself again. For this trip it took six full days to feel restored to my typical self again. That is much longer than I would have guessed if you had asked me before I left.
My second strategy is patience. Not particularly dramatic but just the understanding that I won’t feel fully productive, engaged or focused at work for several weeks as I get into the next chapter of my work again. The build up to major updates is a hard act to follow, especially when the next chapter is angled towards smaller and less dramatic (though no less important) outcomes.
The true benefit of having now gone through this several times is to know that strategies do work. That I will again overcome that feeling of being stretched and instead gain a productive posture again. But it will take some time.