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Premortems for Personal Goals

Published 5/4/2022

Premortems aren't just a tool for teams launching projects. You can use these for your personal goals as well.

What are the things most likely to stop you from achieving your goals today, this month, this year, or by the end of your career?

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Transcript (Generated by OpenAI Whisper)
What are the greatest threats to your success? This may seem like an easy question to answer, but we're going to dive into why it's a little bit harder. Maybe you haven't really thought about this question with reference to your goals. My name is Jonathan Katral, you're listening to Developer Tea. If you have goals that are short term or medium term, then this episode is for you. That's pretty much everybody. Hopefully, that's listening to this episode. Short term, medium term goals. Long term goals are always on the table. Those are harder to apply this particular question to. We do this, this question. We apply this question. We do this kind of thought experiment. We call it a pre-mortem, something that we do with teams, engineers generally do this. The idea of a pre-mortem is very simple. We try to imagine what threats would come the way of our success on a project. Probably a pre-mortem is going to look at something like a launch and try to determine upfront what the most risky parts of the launch are. You might be wondering, why do this particular exercise in the first place? The simple answer is, when we're going through the process of developing a plan, when we're writing stories, writing tests, going through that common feature work that most all of us are doing day in and day out. We're not thinking about how could this go wrong? Most often, we're thinking about it from the perspective of how it could go right. In other words, we know that this particular pathway could work. We focus on that and we almost become myopically focused on that. In other words, we can easily trick ourselves that just because there is a way that this particular plan could work, that it will. By explicitly asking the question, what are the ways where this would most likely break? What are the places where this would most likely fall apart? What are the threats that we haven't tried to think about yet? When we intentionally root these out, we're changing our focus a little bit. Instead of focusing on making it possible, we're imagining ways that it could get broken. We're imagining ways where it possibly could fail. This is a shift in your thinking strategy at a core level. This works pretty well for project work. I imagine, if you're most people, you've put your career progress or your life goals on autopilot. Maybe you set some goals on some cadence, the beginning of the year or the beginning of each quarter. Maybe you have some kind of measurements, some tracking system, an OCR system, or maybe you manage your to-do's on a regular basis. All of these are good strategies for things that are going to work. In other words, you're in that mode of thinking about a way to progress towards those goals. But I want you today to ask yourself the simple question, what are the things that are most likely to cause me to fail to meet those goals? Think about your long-term goals. What are the things that are most likely to cause you to fail to meet your long-term goals? That's a big question. It's difficult to answer a question, but you're likely to think about something different than you've ever thought about before with relation to your goal setting. It's easy to set a goal and to imagine that their path that you're on leads towards that goal or could lead towards that goal. But part of this planning process is identifying the risks, spending time to locate those risks, to give them a name, and label them for what they are. Some of those risks are internal. Some of them are completely external and out of your control. Some of them are a mixture of both. Some internal choices or internal states might lead you towards external risks. But all of these things share something in common. If you can imagine them and think about how you would get around them, you're in a much better place to prepare for them than if you didn't think about them at all. If you figure out ways that you might be risking your goals, if you think about ways that right now you're already seeing possibly the detrimental effects of a particular risk, maybe you are identifying a behavior, a habitual behavior that you didn't realize until you did this thought experiment was actually a risk to your goals. Well this kind of thinking, this thought experiment that specifically focuses on those risks and tries to predict what they may be gives you an opportunity to work around them. Even those external risks that you don't really have direct control over, you can hedge for those risks. In other words, maybe you can plan a new route or even adjust your goals. Maybe you're realizing that the path to a particular goal is more risky than the path to an alternative goal that would make you just as happy. Ultimately, this shift in thinking changes you from having blinders on and just focusing on trying to trot down that same pathway that you've always expected would take you towards those ultimate goals. And instead, it forces you to think about all of the hazards that you may encounter along the way. And in that thinking, you provide yourself the opportunity to prepare. Thanks so much for listening to today's episode of Developer Tea. Once again, my name is Jonathan Cutrell. My goal on the show is to help driven developers like you find clarity, perspective, and purpose in their careers. If you feel like this episode could help you find clarity, it could help you identify more of what you feel like as your purpose in your career or is giving you a new perspective. Well, that is the goal of the show. And you can expect more of that, hopefully, in the future, if you subscribe and whatever podcasting app you're currently using. Also, especially if you're a long time listener and you're getting a lot of value out of the show, you don't really ask a lot of this audience. But one thing that I do ask that you do is leave a review in whatever podcasting platform you use. Of course, the most effective place to leave a review is iTunes, that cascades into pretty much every other platform. It provides useful feedback to me and gives other developers a chance to know a little bit about the show before they come in to listening. Thanks so much for listening. And until next time. enjoy your tea.