It's hard to remember sometimes, but our priorities are our own. We have agency over our time. Even our obligations are more often determined by our chosen values than they are by actual survival.
When we accept that we have agency over our priorities, we can start to reclaim time that we feel is being taken from us, eliminating a feeling of chaos and frustration and regaining a sense of calm and intention.
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Transcript (Generated by OpenAI Whisper)
It's easy even when you've taken a lot of time off, even when you feel like you've had a vacation, even when you are at the end of a year, ready to start a new one. It's easy to feel overwhelmed, overwhelmed by what you have to plan, the things that you didn't expect to happen that are happening, all that you expected to get done but didn't the feeling of overwhelmed often leads us to try to get a handle on things. This is one of the impulses we have as the year turns over from one to the next. In today's episode, I want to give you an empowering reality to remind you of something that is easily forgotten about your time. My name is Jonathan Cutrell, you're listening to Developer Tea. My goal on this show is to help different developers like you find clarity, perspective, and purpose in their careers. Here is the simple reality. We'll start with it at the beginning and then at the end, we'll talk about ways that you can change how you're thinking about this overwhelming feeling that you probably have if you're listening to this episode, if you're like me. That simple reality is that you decide your priorities. You get to decide your priorities. This isn't true if only if you own your own business. This isn't true if you are in senior leadership. This isn't just true if you are a manager. This isn't just true if you're a senior engineer. This is true for anyone who has agency over their own time, which is virtually anybody who's listening to this episode. If you feel obligated, if you feel like your time is spinning out of control, if you feel like all of the things that you wish you could do, you can't, it is likely because you have forgotten the agency that you have over your priorities. Now, I want to be clear about something here. Just because you have control over your priorities does not mean that you have control over the consequences of your prioritization. Additionally, your priorities, whether you consider them a priority or not, may misalign with your actions. In other words, you may mentally or emotionally have a priority that your actions are not necessarily aligned with, whether by accident or by lack of effort or some other reason. Again, your priorities are yours and yours alone to determine. You might be listening to this and saying, well, that's not true. I get my priorities handed to me by my boss or I don't have the autonomy to prioritize. I have so many people who depend on me. I have children or I have a significant other or I have family members that depend on me to prioritize their needs. The truth is, in most cases with some very important exclusions, you have chosen those priorities. You have chosen and continue to actively choose those priorities. Now, there may be very good reasons for the ones that you're choosing and the feeling of obligation may actually be driven by an underlying value that you have. For example, you have children. You may have the underlying value of being a good parent, of being present and loving your children. Therefore, you have a responsibility, an obligation, and a priority that you place on your children that you feel is non-negotiable. In other words, there is no way you're going to change that. For that reason, you may feel like you have a lack of agency over that priority. The truth is, you have agency over the priority, but your choices are aligning with your values. This distinction may not really change much in practice in these kinds of scenarios where your values essentially dictate a large amount of your priorities. What it can do is it can change the way you think about your agency in those scenarios and in other situations. In other words, the priorities that you have set for yourself, whether they're driven by values and they feel like obligations, or if they're absolutely something that you've chosen with clear agency, those are all your priorities. Those are all owned by you. This is important because when we feel overwhelmed, when we feel like our calendar is being taken by other people, it's absolutely essential that we remind ourselves of the very simple fact that what we do with our time is our choice. What we do with our life then is our choice. If you feel like your calendar is being taken, you know, kind of ripped apart by other people, ask yourself why you're allowing that to happen. Is this something that you feel like you have to do, for example? And if you stopped doing it, what are the consequences? What if you instead said, no, you can't book time on my calendar. I control my calendar. You can come and talk to me. This is a very simple example of something you could do to kind of take back that agency over your priorities. Now the exercise is not intended to make you create enemies amongst all of your coworkers, but instead to ask yourself those deep and digging questions about why you feel the way you do about your priorities. Why do you feel the way you do about the way you spend your time? If you do not have control over your time, then who does? And why? Very often the true answer to this question is seated deeply in some kind of fear. If I don't do those things, then either a bad consequence will happen or be the actions that I take will not be aligned with the values that I hold, which was what we were talking about with making your children a priority for most loving parents. So once you accept that your priorities are in your control, they are what you get to decide. Then you can take a step back and think a little bit differently about how you plan your daily time. That's what we're going to talk about right after we talk about today's sponsor. This episode is brought to you by Launch Darkly. Launch Darkly is helping you create feature management for the modern enterprise, fundamentally changing how you deliver software. Here's how it works. Launch Darkly enables development and operations teams to deploy code at any time, even if a feature isn't ready to be released to users. Rapping code with feature flags gives you the safety to test new features and infrastructure in your production environments without impacting the wrong end users. You're ready to release more widely. You can update the flag and the changes are made instantaneously thanks to their real-time streaming architecture. Here's the reality about feature flags. There's been so many projects that have worked on where it was either cost prohibitive or nearly impossible to actually replicate what was happening on production, whether it's because you can't really replicate the stresses that are put on the production environment or you can't replicate the data because it's sensitive data. There's a lot of tricks that you might be able to pull to make your staging look like production. But at the end of the day, there's going to be something different happening in production than is happening in your staging environments. You can't replicate those one-to-one almost never. Especially for features that you are developing that you're trying to release either to a partial audience or maybe you're just trying to queue those in a production environment without actually releasing to the production environment. You don't have to do crazy weird hours releases where somebody might see the release if they log on in a particular time, but your QA team is having to stay up all hours of the night to finish this testing. That stuff is over. With Launcher Darkly, you can release to just your QA folks or you can release to a beta testing audience or you can release to the wider public with a single flag change. Go and check it out. Head over to launchadarkly.com. You can start it for free today that's launchdarkly.com. Thanks again to launchdarkly for their support of Developer Tea. Your priorities are your own. You get to choose them. You get to choose what you do with your time. You have the agency. You have the power over your calendar. No one else can tell you on equivocally what to do with your time. Now, if someone asks you to do something different with your time and you refuse, there might be consequences. If your boss asks you to be in a meeting on Tuesday and you instead decide to skip work that day without telling anybody, this is something that you have agency over. You can do that. That's possible. Nobody's going to stop you necessarily. But there will be consequences. The point of this episode is not to explain to you that you have no consequences or that you're overthinking things. That's not the point. The point instead is for you to take a step back and consider how many of your priorities are you allowing other people to determine and how much of that agency are you giving up at your own detriment? No you probably shouldn't just skip work as often as you like. No you probably shouldn't merge code without anyone's approval or anything like that. Even though you have the opportunity to prioritize your actions in a way that aligns with whatever you want, there are consequences. Once you've kind of accepted this idea that your priorities are your own, that you don't have to have them handed to you from someone else all the time, then you can change the way that you plan your time. Specifically, I want you to start thinking about your daily list of things to do. However it is that you track that. Most people do this in some form or another. However that is, maybe it's your calendar, maybe it's actually in a to-do application, maybe it's in a sauna or something like that, some kind of project management tool. Maybe it's on a sticky note. I don't know how you do it, but whatever it is that you use to manage your to-do. Instead of thinking of it as a list that you add on to in a reactive way, whenever you stumble on something that you need to do, you write it down to do later. Or somebody asks you for something, you write it down on that list. I want you to break the chain between reaction and the list. In other words, all of the input stimulus that you get in a given day, it's to me lie, I guess, if it's plural. All of these various things that are coming at you from all angles, all of them, the thoughts that you have in a fleeting moment, the shopping list, reminders and the requests that come in via email, the text message you just got, all of these different stimuli are coming in. It's our kind of automatic process to imagine that everything is meaningful. We should take this stimulus that we just got and immediately convert it into an action. A lot of times the true best action is to do nothing at all, to allow that stimulus, to hit our brains and then do nothing initially with it. And instead of using that stimulus as the driving factor for determining your priorities on a day-to-day basis, I want you to take a step back and generate your list of things to do. It's not to say that you can't capture some of that information. Some of it is important to capture in the moment. You might forget that you need bananas if you don't write it down. There is a difference between doing nothing at all with the information in a pure way and doing nothing in the sense of not taking in the immediate action. Write down these notes, take down the stimulus, record the important parts or whatever, but don't do anything necessarily authoritatively with your time management as a result of that stimulus. Okay. When it's time to generate your daily thing, whatever it is, your calendar, when it's management time for your priorities, now you take into account all of that stimulus that you've delayed on. You can review it, you can parse through it and decide with that agency mindset, rather than a reactive mindset, what is the most important stuff to you? What on this list that I have in front of me that has all of these various experiences, all of these values that I hold, all of the stimulus that's, there's stimuli that's come in over the past day or three days or a week, what is important for me to do about it? Now, this seems like a subtle shift and it might feel like a subtle shift initially, but what it does is it gives you a chance, it gives you a chance to look at the whole picture and to take control of building your schedule, of building your priority list, of actually kind of evaluating the kinds of information or the requests that you're getting from other people, and then choosing what to do about it in a more intentional way. So the critical idea here again is to replace that to-do list, that reactive to-do list with a to-do generator, right? A task generator that's based on your more carefully thought out, prioritized, value-driven way of thinking about your time, rather than just tacking on something to the list, right? Finding the next open window for that meeting that somebody is requesting from you. Instead, take a moment and allow that to come in and evaluate it at a different time, disconnect that reactive process from that planning process. Thanks so much for listening to today's episode, reminding you that you have agency over your priorities as we head into the new year. Thanks again to today's sponsor, LaunchDarkly, head over to launchdarkly.com to get started with Enterprise Grade feature flagging. Thanks again for listening to this episode. Developer Teahas a community of engineers just like you. It's totally free for you to join. It's a Discord community. Head over to developertea.com slash discord to join today. Thanks so much for listening and until next time, enjoy your tea.