Taking a gap year and working at a fast food restaurant

Most people thought I was crazy for doing this, but I spent the last few months of my gap year working as a short order cook at a family-owned fast-food restaurant. Here’s a short reflection on 2 things I learned from the experience as it pertains to my gap year. If you’re a programmer you’d probably be more interested in this post instead. Of course, I learned much more than this, but the rest is basic food service industry lessons that would be cringy to write about, so I’ll keep it to myself.

But… but why?

Why did I do this? I’ve always been curious about what it’s like to work in food service, and in the service industry generally. Taking a gap year has given me lots of free time, and since it’s better to do these things sooner than later, I went for it. I didn’t want to regret not trying when I had a perfect opportunity to do so.

I didn’t have ethical concerns about taking a job that someone else may have needed more because the restaurant was desperately struggling to hire, as were other local businesses.

Context switching is hard

I worked about 10 hours a week between 2 shifts. Technically I was scheduled for only 4 hours per shift but I would usually close, which meant staying an extra 30 minutes to do all the cleaning & closing work. I intentionally chose a small number of hours per week because I had projects going on that I still wanted time for.

An 11-4p shift seems like it would leave a lot of time left, but in practice it would consume the entire day. There wasn’t much time for project work in the morning and by the time I got home, physical exhaustion made it difficult to context switch into programming, blogging, or making music.

Context switching was hard in general. I was often scheduled with a day between shifts, and I found it hard to get serious work done that day. There wasn’t enough time to shift back into deep work. So 10 hours of work translated in practice to 3 less days per week for project work. At the start I considered working more hours, but I’m glad to stuck with 2 days per week.

Friday, how I missed you

An unexpected delight of doing this was getting the feeling of Fridays back. My typical gap year week has little distinction between weekend and weekday. I work on some kind of project every single day, in the same place, in the same position. Since it all mushes together, Mondays hurt less but Fridays bring less relief. Everything is dampened.

Despite only working 2 days per week, this was enough to bring back the Friday relief. It came from looking forward to a few free days to solidly switch back to my projects. I had much greater appreciation of the “weekend” during this time compared to when every day was the same.

If you’re lucky enough to take a gap year too, I still recommend trying it “fully unemployed” to feel what that’s like. But this showed me that a small amount of external pressure can make you appreciate your free time more, and use it better.

Any thoughts?