Sten Vesterli's Blog

Work Fewer Hours

You are working too many hours and not getting enough done. It’s gotten worse during the pandemic where people have been working even more hours from home.

Some people who get paid by the hour. For them, working more hours equates to more money. But for most IT professionals, working more hours simple means less time for the rest of your lift. Sadly, the additional hours do not create value for anyone. You can always spend extra time refactoring or attending another status meeting.

Track how many hours you work this week. Next week, work one hour less. You will find that knowing you have less time will focus your attention. You will get just as much done.

Plan Your Life

Have you planned next week? People who don’t spend some time thinking about their future often experience that all weeks feel the same. That feeling can accumulate to general dissatisfaction with your life.

It’s each to prevent this. Simply write down in your calendar what you intend to achieve next week. Because the world runs on a weekly cycle, making weekly plans is a good way to keep your life moving forward. The end of the week provides you with some spare time, and is a good trigger for planning.

People who make specific plans achieve more. Decide today what you will achieve next week.

Don’t be a Jerk

Twitter is belatedly implementing an idea that the xkcd comic suggested many years ago: Showing people when they are being jerks.

Twitter just rolled out a new feature that looks at a tweet before it is sent. If the software thinks the message is harmful or offensive, it offers the user a chance to reconsider. That’s a good use case for some machine learning, and they have now tweaked their algorithm to take your connection to the recipient into account.

But it shouldn’t really be necessary to have an AI to tell you to behave. How about you just train your brain to not be a jerk? Think before you post.

Be the Author of Your Life

Are you the author of your life? Think of your life as a book where you write a new page each day. Some of the things that happen have to be done. You need to eat, sleep and take care of personal hygiene. You will spend part of your time on your job. I discussed that on Monday.

But that still leaves a lot of time under your control. Are you spending that time wisely? For some people, watching Netflix is the right choice. For others, it is keeping in touch with friends, contributing to open source, or learning something new.

The test of your priorities is to write down what you did with your personal time each day. If you feel proud and happy to write about your day, you are on the right track. If you feel hesitant or shameful when writing down how you spent your time, that shows you there is something you can improve.

Evaluate the Options

Just like the rest of us, you’ve got too much stuff. We’ve got too many gadgets, and we are increasingly aware of the fact that we are consuming more than the planet can provide.

Next time you feel you need something, spend a little time evaluating the alternatives before your rush online to buy it. You might be able to repair something instead of buying something new. Or you might not really need the latest version. If you do need it, you might be able to get a used item instead of a brand-new one. If you need to buy something, you can buy it from a vendor who uses fewer resources, green energy or builds things made to be repairable.

Every decision has many possible options. It’s a good idea to get your thinking brain involved in the decision-making instead of just going with your first impulse. Sitting quietly for a few minutes every day gives your conscious mind the chance to help you improve your decisions.

Why are You Working?

Are you one of the oppressed workers of the world? Even if you were not out waving red banners and calling for the workers of the world to unite, you can still use May Day to reflect on your job.

There are only so many minutes left in your life, and you are spending many of them on your job. Some people are fortunate to have a job that makes them happy. I’ve loved my work as a programmer, IT architect and now as as consultant and mentor. I have colleagues who are not as passionate about IT, but who use the money they make as fuel for their life outside work. Flying small planes is an expensive hobby, and needs a solid income.

You can choose either path. But if you’re not in your job for fun or for money, what are you doing there?

Reflect on Your Life

Do you think about your life? Today is Great Prayer Day here in Denmark, and other countries have similar days. Even if you are not religious, you can take this reminder to spend some time reflecting on your life.

It is easy to get caught up in the little things we need to do to run our lives. We are so busy that we do not have time to think about the longer term. But if you have not decided where you want to go, you have no guidance in your life.

In Alice in Wonderland, Alice asks the cat: “Which way should I go?” The cat asks where she wants to get to, and she says: “I don’t much care where.” The cat replies: “Then it doesn’t matter which way you go.”

Spend some time today, or this weekend, thinking about where you want to go in your life. What do you want your life to look like in one year, in five years, in ten years? What legacy do you want to leave?

You might think you don’t have an answer, but you do. You simply need to give your brain space and time to think. That’s why religious people pray, and others meditate. You don’t have to do either. You just need to turn off all your devices and spend several hours doing nothing. You know the answer. Let it come to the surface so you can act on it.

Restart Your Health

If you weren’t out of shape already, you surely are after the pandemic. If your exercise routines was centered around going to a gym or participating in a team sport, it’s been dormant for a year now. Very few people have had the willpower to implement a new solo regime, so that’s why we’re all out of shape.

With gym reopenings beckoning and team sports starting up again, you need to prepare to go back. Start doing a little bit of exercise every day. If you’ve been taking a complete break from exercise, start with ridiculously small amounts of exercise, but add a little every day. Keep a record in a spreadsheet and make sure you do just a little more each day. If you jogged for 100 yards yesterday, jog 150 yards today. If you did 3 pushups yesterday, do 4 today.

Movement is crucial for both your physical and mental health. Start building your exercise routine back.

Don’t Let Your Devices Kill Your Brain

Have you outsourced your thinking to your devices? That’s not a good idea. Surveys show that spatial awareness and the ability to read a map are both declining rapidly as everybody uses navigation apps to go anywhere. Now Apple is offering to similarly damage your short-term memory with AirTags. Since you will no longer have to remember where you put your keys, your ability to remember will atrophy.

If there are parts of your brain you are not using, the brain will repurpose that capacity for something else. You might not need to store a lot of facts because they are available at your fingertips at any time. But you should not let your ability to remember and find your way around disappear. Your mind knows that you are no longer able to survive on your own, and it weighs on your self-image.

Try going a few days without your gadgets. You will find that it is harder than you thought. And you will experience a sense of primal accomplishment by being able to live your life unsupported by a smartphone crutch.

Fight for your Time

During lockdown, knowledge workers has increased the amount of time spent working by one whole hour. The average meeting is now 10 minutes longer. Clearly, fully remote working is not working for most of us.

It used to be only managers who spent their days in back-to-back meeting, but that is now the reality for many of us. A lot of the casual coordination that happened at the coffee maker or in the corridor now requires a meeting.

One way to fight back is to start scheduling shorter meetings. No online meeting needs to be a whole hour. If you schedule it for 50 minutes, you will get exactly the same amount of work done, and you will have 10 minutes to decompress before your next meeting. If you can’t get that through in your department, start putting a dummy 10-minute appointment into your calendar every hour from 10 minutes before the hour until the hour. In that way, the scheduling function will be unable to fit whole-hour meetings into you calendar, and the scheduler might get the hint and schedule only 50 minutes.