New Year, New You

I did a quick talk called New Year, New You at the FreeAgent engineering all-hands recently. I thought I’d write it up in long form.

It’s 2022! 🎉

Happy new year everyone! I wanted to do a talk about change, give people some food for thought. I’m not trying to suggest you have to do all or even any of these things, they’re just ideas that are in my head.

New year is a good time to think about changing stuff isn’t it because our old habits die hard. That’s what I think, and it’s what Bruce would say.

And what I mean by old habits is:

  • Same old routine
  • Same old backlog
  • Same old todo list
  • Same old meetings
  • Same old, same old…

It sometimes feels a bit like this doesn’t it? It does for me, and not just at work either, life generally I suppose.

People like to do resolutions don’t they, because it’s a good time to change things. People have had time off, perhaps a couple of weeks or maybe more. Nobody can remember what they were doing back in December so actually it’s a great time to start afresh, clear the decks and capitalise on it. It’s a bit of an opportunity.

🥅 Set some work goals

You don’t have to have goals. Huddersfield Town don’t have goals most of the time, which is a bit of a shame. It would be nice if they did.

Talking about goals is a bit cheesy, work goals, but they are quite good. You can think about what do you want to do, or achieve. A promotion, that’s a bit of a goal. You might want to talk to some customers. Engineers should work as close to the customer as possible, so maybe we should talk to some customers? You could do that, talk to them and write about it. Talk to some other people in the business, what would become of that? You might want to change team, to a platform team or the other way round. You might want to participate on on-call? It’s a good thing to do and you’ll learn a lot. Don’t start looking for a new job though, not unless you’ve tried all of the above beforehand – that would be helpful 😉

🏡 Habits

I talked about habits, these ‘same old habits’, bad habits, whatever. Good habits, really good habits is how people get things done. Don’t take my word for it, there are a couple of books here that are quite good:

These are all about getting 1% better every day or every week. James Clear talks about the aggregation of marginal gains and he uses British Cycling as an example. How did British Cycling go from being terrible for decades to winning the Tour de France, and it’s all about getting 1% better every day. Improving our habits is a good thing to do and you could start by maybe reading these books.

🔁 Cancel recurring meetings

I’m not saying recurring meetings are bad per se, but maybe they are. You put them in as recurring and you don’t necessarily challenge the fact that they’re there do you? So – new year, new you – you could cancel them all, talk to your team and say should we just get rid of these and see what happens. Then if there’s a need to then have this meeting again in the future then of course you can consider that, book it in, and make it recurring again. Or maybe not! Maybe free up some time in your diary that you wouldn’t normally have had. Maybe you should do that.

📬 Clean your inbox

I agree with this, but I also think it’s less important over time and maybe it should be more about Slack but I don’t actually have anything useful to say about that. I haven’t really figured it out to be honest. Anyway, with your inbox, mine has been an absolute nightmare in the past but it’s pretty good these days. There are lots of things you can do to make it look like this, which is what mine looks like most of the time now:

Mainly because of filtering anything that has the word “unsubscribe” in it, and now using this Promotions tab which, from what I gather, is a bit like a spam filter but spam for recruiters and stuff, but it tends to work quite well. I wrote a blog post about this a while back. You can have a read of that if you want, but it’s a good thing to do because honestly it’s quite nice having an inbox that looks like this. If only we could figure it out for Slack.

🗓 Colour code your calendar

I thought this was good. I have stolen it from Gergely Orosz. His point here is to try and identify where you’re spending your time.

You have a calendar full of stuff and if it’s all the same colour then you can’t really distinguish one thing from another, but if you say here are my one-off meetings, here are my recurring ones (which is interesting because you can identify which ones you want to cull or not), hiring and 1:1s. And then there are the Very Important things, and the idea there is that you can identify the important ones because it will make you get prepared – “I’ve got an important one on Friday, I better get prepared for that”. I quite like that idea.

So that might be something that you want to do. For engineers, hopefully your calendar doesn’t look like that, though if it does then you definitely need to get cleaning it up. You don’t really want a whole wall of colour do you, you need thinking time, whatever.

🚧 Change your team processes

It’s a good time to reflect on how you work. Talk with your team, get feedback. Is it working well? Could it be better? Do we have too many Trello boards, too many cards, too much noise, shall we clear them out? Shall we try something new?

You can do this!

There’s nothing stopping teams trying something different. Report back, how does it work? It’s a good opportunity to do that, especially with Wiggle Week around the corner.

🤗 Have fun!

Have fun is the final one. It’s a new year and, y’know, work-life balance is really important. Hopefully you have a good work-life balance at FreeAgent, but if you’re not having fun then ask yourself why and try and fix it.

That it really. I winged it a little bit, but maybe it’s useful? Let me know what you think! I’d be interested to know who does cancel those meetings and whether it goes spectacularly badly or otherwise. Don’t blame me though, I’ll be gone by then 😜