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Short Term Decisions, Long Term Mindset

Published 8/16/2019

The most valuable decisions you make are the ones that last, but most of the decisions we make as a developer are small day-to-day. In today's episode we're talking about how we can bring long-term thinking into our everyday life as a developer.

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Transcript (Generated by OpenAI Whisper)
Hey everyone, welcome to today's episode of Developer Tea. It's going to be a little bit of a short episode as you might be able to hear. I have a little bit of a cold, so we're abbreviating this episode. We'll be back in full force next week. Before we get started, though, I want to encourage you in this short episode, in the duration of it, I encourage you to follow out your phone or whatever you're using to listen to this podcast with right now and subscribe. This is the best way to make sure you don't miss out on future episodes of this show. We put out a lot of content on Developer Tea. On Speck Network, we put out even more content. But Developer Tea, we put out three episodes a week. So it's easy to get behind. But here's the key. This is kind of the way that I hope that you listen to this show and how you view episodes of Developer Tea. The show is not intended for you to listen to every single minute of every single episode. That's a little bit unusual for a podcast. Most of the time, podcasts hosts would hope that you listen to every single episode. But the truth is, there's so much content here that really it kind of goes against some of the values of the show for you to actually try to consume it all. We believe in mindful consumption of content on this show. So I want for you to choose the episodes that are most meaningful to you. And if you subscribe, you can get kind of these regular updates of the episodes that are coming out. And you don't have to listen to them all. You can choose the ones that are most meaningful and listen to them as they come out rather than just listening to the latest episode. It may not be as meaningful to you as another episode that may have come out a week or even a month ago. The hope for these episodes is that they are always relevant or at least close to always relevant for the majority of these episodes. So you can go back and reference them as you desire. And of course, they're searchable on spec.fm along with every other episode of every other podcast. Go and check it out, spec.fm. Thank you so much for listening to today's episode. Today, I want to talk to you about a very simple concept. You've probably heard from other podcasters, from books, from business advisors, maybe colleagues, your manager, to think long term. The most valuable things that you do are the ones that last. The most valuable decisions that you make are the ones that have long term dividends. The most valuable products are the ones that aren't made just for today, but they're made to last into the future. But here's the problem. Most of the decisions that we make as developers are small. They're simple decisions. They're, how should I name this variable? And which package should I use to solve this problem? There's two or three choices and they all work perfectly fine. So how can we bring that long term thinking into our everyday smaller decisions? Of course, it's a little bit more obvious when you're making the longer term or larger decisions. The decisions that have larger effects, like for example, picking a framework or a language, that's a long term effect. But when you're making smaller decisions, when you're making day-to-day decisions or you're providing feedback on other people's code or maybe you're a manager and you're providing some kind of managerial oversight to someone's career, how can you make those decisions in a way that is oriented to the long term? I'm going to give you a visual that you can think about when you're making these kinds of decisions. I want you to imagine that you are the pilot of an airplane, all right? You're up above the ground. And the only reason we use an airplane is because if you're in a car, you have to choose routes that are kind of already predefined for you. So it breaks the metaphor a little bit. So instead, you're in an airplane and you're choosing a route to go. And you know the general direction of your long-term goal. In other words, you kind of know which way you're going. But you may not have an exact position for where that goal is. And so initially, you may turn in that general direction, let's say, towards the west. And you may know that you're actually going to turn a little bit towards the northwest, right? And so you turn towards the west, but then maybe you turn a little bit towards the north after that. Now the way that we often view decisions is one of two ways. We either, one, believe that the decision will affect us in the long term only or two, we believe that the decision will affect us in the short term only. The reality is that every decision affects us in both the short term and the long term. When you make that initial turn to the west, that's not the last turn that you're going to have to make. When you make that initial decision to set your company on a particular path, that's not the last important decision that you make. Instead, every single day, you're going to make small decisions. You're going to make small decisions, small corrections that keep you on that path. And it's very possible that if you stack up a series of small decisions, you can get turned around entirely. You can go in a completely new direction, even if you never made, and this is the key, even if you never made one big decision. This is how careers go off track. Most of the time, we're not making major decisions that take us out of that original direction that we had planned for all in one decision. Instead, we make a series of small decisions. We make perhaps a series of small mistakes. And along the way, all of those compounds. And the opposite is true. If we make a wrong initial decision, if we started going southeast, for example, in our metaphor, then it takes a lot of small adjustments to get us going in the right direction back the other way. Now, of course, we don't want to make a bunch of major decisions all of the time. If you're changing direction all of the time, then you end up going in usually a circle. So here's what I recommend. I recommend that you pay attention to those big decisions more closely. And then preserve your ability to make adjustments on a regular basis. You need both. You need both the ability to make these larger decisions in a mindful way that sets you up on a generally correct course. But then you need to be able to make those fine tune decisions in a mindful way so that you progressively refine your course. Both types of decisions can take you in the wrong direction. But when you're thinking long term, the most important thing you can do is continue to retain the ability to adjust. When you have two options in front of you, if one provides you more flexibility than the other, it's probably the right choice. Now, of course, that's not a blanket statement. It's more of a heuristic. You have to take into account a lot of other sometimes complex details about those options. But given everything else being equal, and say that the cost of both options is the same. If you can retain some level of flexibility with one option versus the other, then that's probably the best option. On the flip side, when you make big decisions, remember that it often takes either another big decision, which is risking, or a bunch of small decisions to change that big decision if it was wrong. In other words, you should spend more time spending more time thinking about your options and pursuing extra options, finding, especially if you only have two options on the table, finding a legitimate third option to consider before you make that very big decision. At the end of the day, being long term-minded is not about ignoring the short term. And making short term decisions doesn't mean that you're not long term-minded. It's important that you develop a series of heuristics for making those decisions. Heuristics like, does this match our value set, and does this create a restrictive future? Does this reduce our optionality? These are the kinds of questions that you ask about small decisions that show that you are long term-minded. They feed into that long term vision. Thank you so much for listening to today's episode. I encourage you that if you are not able to think long term, to consider why. Take that as your homework over the weekend. Consider why you are unable to think in the long term. This may be something that you are restricting yourself from doing. It may be something that your position is not allowing for you to do, but ultimately your best work will happen when you're able to consider the long term. Today's episode is produced by Sarah Jackson. My name is Jonathan Cutrell, and until next time, enjoy your tea.