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Inspirational Nugget of the Week
Spend Your Time Intentionally
I'm sure you have those days as well: you're asking yourself in the evening "what have I achieved today?" and you don't have an answer. You've been busy the whole day, sure, but with what? Probably with reading and writing e-mail and chat messages, talking to people, and random urgent things that popped up.
At the end of the day you have nothing to show for your busyness.
The more senior your role becomes over time, the more you'll experience days like this, because the work becomes less structured and more people ask you questions and more people in general want things from you.
To get out of this situation and to feel productive every day, you have to spend your time intentionally. Instead of letting your environment drive your day, take control over it! You define what you work on and when you work on it, not the people and environment around you!
That's easier said than done, of course, and it's probably not possible to control 100% of your workday, but here are some things that help me spend my time intentionally.
Share your priorities. This especially helps when you are in a more senior role that is not defined very narrowly anymore. I have a Confluence page outlining which focus areas I spend how much of my weekly time on. I call that page "Tom's Top Three" (because of the alliteration, of course), and I share it with everyone who I feel should know how I prioritize my time, most importantly with my manager to align with his expectations. The page contains a prioritized list of high-level tasks for each focus area, so that I don't have to think about what to do every day ... I just have to look into that list and start to work on it. This page is the single most important tool for me to being intentional with my time. Even if other people don't look at it, I write it with the intention of sharing to make myself think through my priorities.
Themed days. If you're working on multiple projects or themes, it always seems like a project you're currently not working on has urgent emergencies that cause you to be distracted and unfocused. In most cases, this feeling of distraction is overrated. What happens if you do not react to those urgent emergencies today, but instead tomorrow? Maybe they are not urgent at all. To get into the right mindset, it helps to declare to yourself (and maybe your co-workers) what you're working on each day. If your mind is set to working on a certain project today, it becomes easier to push other projects to tomorrow.
Work on a focus task before even reading your e-mail. Starting your day with reading e-mail is so tempting! You just open up your e-mail client and start reading. You don't have to make a decision, but just let the e-mail client direct your attention. Same with reading through a chat in the morning. Before you realize it, an hour is gone. And now the day's meetings begin and you already know you're not going to get anything done today. Instead of starting the day with passive tasks like reading e-mail or chat, start your day with a focus tasks. Read that documentation that you've been trying to read for weeks or outline that document that you need to write. It's so much easier to concentrate when you are not (yet) distracted by e-mail and chat messages! Even if you're doing this only for an hour every day, you will make progress on your focus tasks!
Pick tomorrow's focus task today. If you sit down at your desk at the start of the day and you don't know what to work on today, it's easy to just open up your e-mail or chat client and start letting others take control of your day. If, before even sitting down at your desk, you already know what you're going to work on today, you can start on that right away and care about the e-mails and chat messages later. Every evening, think about what tomorrow's focus task will be.
Categorize tasks into "focus" and "batch". There are tasks that require deep, focused work, and tasks that are more superficial and don't need a whole block of time by themselves. I try to work on at least one focus tasks at the start of the day. Then, if I have time in the afternoon, I take an hour or so to go through my "batch" tasks. These batching sessions can be very satisfying because I'm usually getting through quite a few tasks and this frees up my mind for the next focus tasks.
Block focus time in your calendar. If people keep booking meetings throughout your day, block some time in your calendar for focus work. I have blocked every morning until 10.30 in my calendar with a note that people should ask me before booking over that time. That makes it clear to everyone who's looking into my calendar that I mean it. Until 10.30, I'm not even looking at my e-mail or chat and solely working on a focus task. It helps that my team's daily standup meeting is only at 10.30 and not earlier, so there is no context switch until then.
Being intentional about the things we spend our time with is a very powerful tool in shaping our work. If we're not intentional with our time, we let other people control it and we'll always feel bad about it.
Take control of your time today.
I can warmly recommend these books if you want to dive into the topic some more (these are links to my book notes):
Spring Boot offers convenient support for integration tests with its @SpringBootTest annotation and friends. The @TestConfiguration annotation is a lesser known annotation that can be very powerful in integration tests to control which beans are loaded into a test environment and which are overridden by mocks, for example.