"Things which matter most must never be at the mercy of things which matter least."
One of those days, as I got to share an idea with a coworker on how to move forward with a project, which has been in the planning phase for a while, I was posed with the following question:
Coworker: Were you not scheduled for another project this week? I wonder how you balance working in both projects.
That was very true. I was scheduled to work on another project and, yet, we've been exchanging ideas and communicating with other stakeholders the whole week. The inquiry led me to explain how I structured my day. And it was roughly like that:
I'm the most productive in the early morning and right after drinking coffee – I drink 21 g of freshly grounded pour over coffee at 9:30 and again at 14:30. To not waste my precious attention when I feel at my best, I avoid doing any company related ceremonies that provide me little value – answering emails, chats, etc. In fact, I try to read e-mails only twice a day. Here and there I try to recharge a bit, by playing with my cat or chatting with my wife…
My structured day isn't the secret sauce, though. So, I strongly believe. It's my approach towards the remaining time I have. Essentially, I keep the time I feel the most productive for deep thinking work. Naturally, if I feel behind schedule, this might vary, but overall deep thinking work is a personal priority – despite what I've been scheduled to work on.
Deep thinking work is mostly what challenges me, such as achieving rough consensus, reflecting on how to make the team more effective, dealing with abstractions, reviewing design documents from peers, considering how I can best help my mentee, etc. Work that might not have been directly assigned to me, but that nevertheless brings me joy. Occasionally, the work I'm assigned matches that ideal situation, when I'm truly faced with an unquestionably hard engineering problem, but more often also not.
Were I to say I don't have time for deep thinking work, it'd mean that it isn't a priority. But it is, and I need to stay true to myself. It is because it helps me to stay motivated and fulfilled. It keeps me learning, and it challenges me, even when I'm officially working on the most mundane of things. After all, even though there is a business need for it, implementing an A/B experiment for the nth time won't be the most enlightening of experiences – engineering wise.
I'd even make the case that, since I'm motivated, this impacts the mundane work positively just as much. Furthermore, it's in the best interest of my employee to maintain that holy pair: me constantly learning and me feeling challenged.
That reminds of the quarterly conversations I just had with my manager, in which he asked what would motivate me to leave my current company. To which I replied: on the most basic level, observing one of two things. That my learning is plateauing and that I'm no longer challenged.
Was I always that conscientious about my work life? Sadly not. It took me years of reflection. Of feeling something was wrong, but still couldn't quite put my finger on it. No matter if you have gotten to what you might consider your “dream” company already or not, you will still be faced with the same work conundrums. So do yourself a favor: reflect upon it. Be proactive for your own good.
That's all I have to offer on the matter. There are no gimmicks, no moldy self-help literature, no productivity tools, no coach fad, no re-packaged life philosophy – ultimately, no ode to either multitasking or hustling culture. It's just me calmly doing one thing after the other with the understanding that I better prioritize my career, since no one else will.