Do you think that you have a lot of meetings? Do you feel overwhelmed by the distractions at work that don't let you do your job? Maybe you found some tricks to manage your time and move some meetings back and forth to create "focus time" for yourself. But how many times did it also get interrupted? Within all these, when was the last time did you think about your energy, not only your time?
In the last Mektup, I talked about the challenge between managing time and energy and promised to talk about how to manage energy and time together in more detail.
Before we start, I want you to take a deep breath, breathe in from the nose, and breathe out from the mouth.
Are you done?
And that's the first thing I do when I feel my energy depletes. We're in front of a screen for hours and hours every day. While working or watching Netflix, we forget to breathe. This situation already has a name: email (or screen) apnea. The research shows that we either hold our breath or shallowly breathe in front of a screen, which in turn puts our body into panic mode, increasing our stress levels. Reducing our stress level (and increasing our energy) starts with taking a deep breath.
“Deep and regular breathing, also referred to as diaphragmatic breathing, helps to quiet the sympathetic nervous system and allows the parasympathetic nervous system — which governs our sense of hunger and satiety, the relaxation response, and many aspects of healthy organ function — to become more dominant." — Linda Stone
Breathing is also a fundamental piece of mindfulness meditation. Wherever we breathe out, our muscles relax, and we find a moment of peace. A few years ago, I didn't believe in all the meditation propaganda. My skepticism and imagining myself as a strong person ("I don't need this crap to relax.") pushed me away from this thousands-of-years-old practice. Aaah, my ignorance. 😅 Once I tried it for two weeks, the benefits surfaced. These days, I practice meditation for 10-15 minutes every morning (I use the Headspace app). It helps me notice my feelings, thoughts, cravings, and stress. I'm also less judgmental of myself.
Moreover, it helps me build empathy for others. When they recognize I understand them well, they also build empathy toward me. At work, this improved relationship and trust make it easier to say, "I don't feel well today; I need to have a walk or leave early." in our team.
This trust also helped me deactivate any notifications about work. As we're always connected to the digital world, notifications have started ruling our lives. Whenever we get a notification, we feel like we have to respond immediately because notifications have replaced social connections. In every message, our brain thinks that the person is in front of us and wants to reply. Imagine a person talking to you in real life, and you don't say a word for hours. How awkward it would be. Our brain urges us to respond immediately to satisfy social bonds. But we need to separate the digital world's social connections. There is no need to respond immediately because the conversation is not synchronous like face-to-face; it's asynchronous. That's why I removed Slack and all email applications from my phone, turned off most of my work notifications on my computer, and always set my Slack status to "away." (I also explained these to people I'm working with, so our expectations from each other are aligned.)
One caveat of having close-to-none notifications required me to manage my meetings more carefully and be punctual. I have at least twelve 1-on-1 meetings per week, and I join other regular and irregular events weekly. Managing calendars, moving appointments, and declining events to create focused work time actually takes a lot of energy. That's why I started using Reclaim.ai and created regular habits (that's the feature's name on Reclaim) on my calendar. The beauty of Reclaim is that if I receive a meeting invitation on my auto-scheduled "focus time," Reclaim moves my focus time to some other time within the week if it can. If it cannot move, it auto-declines the invitation with a nice message I wrote. The bot helps me defend my solo work and focus time without back-and-forth messages on Slack. Here is the example auto-decline message I use.
"Hi! I'm sorry, but I cannot commit to your meeting at this time, and this slot is one of the last open slots available for me to prepare for feedback and think about problems I have to solve. Can you find another time to meet? If not, please write me on Slack."
These days, I have auto-scheduled events for lunch (1 h/day), personal weekly retrospective (45 mins/every Friday), dedicated time to think and prepare for feedback (1,5 h/week), time for engineering work (1 h/week), and morning catch-up (15 min/day), and evening close-the-day (30 min/day). I also have a 7-minute "Decompression" time that Reclaim schedules automatically after every meeting.
Having these blockers and decompression time on my calendar also helped me to build better relationships. I can be fully present and commit to meetings I join because, after every meeting, I have time to clean up my mind, organize my notes, and prepare for the next meeting.
Before I end this Mektup, I want to mention briefly one but not least thing that helps maintain energy: exercise. I wasn't regularly exercising for years and after having burnout a few years back showed me the importance of movement. All the research shows that exercising helps our mental and physical health together. That's why exercise at least 3-4 times per week. Walking is one of the best exercises we can do, and it's really easy. If you're not active, just take walks for 20-30 minutes. If you have no time, have your next 1:1 while walking. I did this even via Zoom. I asked one of my direct reports to temporarily install Zoom on the phone and put on headphones, and take a walk while I did the same. We were in different cities, but we talked while walking. It was one of the best conversations we had.
Well, that's it. If you try anything above, let me know how it goes!
P.P.S. I'm now on Mastodon @firstname.lastname@example.org.
What I Published Over The Last Two Weeks
Database transactions are tricky. Databases offer different isolation levels to solve concurrency issues. We also hear things like ACID and snapshot isolation. But what are all these? I continued reading the book Designing Data-Intensive Applications and shared my notes from Chapter 7, Transactions.
I finished the book Team Topologies, a book written on top of Conway's Law and Inverse Conway Maneuver.
It helped me understand how teams collaborate and communicate effectively to deliver user and business value while keeping system design aligned.
We all have daily routines: some of them are tedious, and some of them are delightful. But we're not destined to live ordinary and miserable. Ritualizing gives a sense of satisfaction to the most tedious and regular activities.