I hope you had a relaxing Easter weekend. I was so busy with non-productive things like sleeping and spending time with the family that this week's newsletter is a day late.
Inspirational Nugget of the Week
Have you ever been overwhelmed by anxiety? Every task seems urgent and you just don't know where to start?
When I first took architectural responsibility in a software project, I felt that way. There were so many things to do and so many uncertainties that, at times, I just sat there and didn't know what to do. I remember sitting in the office and not being able to think coherently because of all the things that came at me.
Everything was urgent. My project manager expected me to deliver on time and on budget. The developers expected me to solve problems to unblock them. The client expected me to deliver an architecture that would fit into their infrastructure. A subcontractor expected me to review the latest version of their software, threatening with delays.
In hindsight, I was showing some symptoms of burnout. This was a dangerous situation to be in.
Here are some things that I wish I had done at that time to manage the anxiety I felt:
Manage expectations: I thought I knew what people expected from me, but I never asked them. So how could I know? Unconsciously, the uncertainty of not knowing what people expect from me added to my sense of uneasiness. Set up 1:1 meetings with your stakeholders and ask them what they expect from you. The worst that can happen is that you get some helpful advice. At best, you'll find someone to talk things through regularly and reduce your anxiety.
Delegate: I wanted to do everything myself. I didn't trust the developers in the team with important architectural tasks. I felt uncertain if I gave such tasks to someone else. That's bullshit, of course, because in the end, it took me longer to do because I had so many other things on my plate. Delegate tasks and schedule regular check-ins with the new task owners to reduce the uncertainty you feel about delegating.
Say "no": Whenever a task came up, I would resort to adding it to my to-do list. After all, it had to be done, and I was responsible for the project's success. But did it really have to be done? Don't say "yes", but instead say "I'll get back to you". This gives you time to think about it and talk it through with your stakeholders and team to come up with a decision. What would you have to drop if you did that additional thing?
Increase your sphere of influence: Many tasks that came at me I thought I couldn't do anything about, anyway. I can't change things, I'll just have to power through. But you usually can change things just by talking to people. Make a list of the people who you think can change things and just talk to them. It doesn't even need to be about work. Just connecting to people will help you see that the others are just humans and maybe change things for you a bit.
Exit: if nothing helps, don't stick around until your anxiety eats you up. Don't be too proud to move on to another project or even another employer. Us developers are in the lucky position that we're almost always needed elsewhere, as well.
There are probably a lot more things you can do to fight anxiety, depending on the situation you're in, but I think the most important thing to do is to talk with people. Talk about expectations, about not doing tasks, or about anything with people that you think can change the situation you're in. You'll be surprised how helpful people can be when you just talk to them.
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