You need to set aside time to think at work
Coding is a small part of the job of a developer. We spend a lot of time at whiteboards, drafting designs. We spend a lot of time reading code. And we spend a lot of time thinking.
We all think about code. A lot. But what about everything else? Are you thinking about the design? How about the decisions you’re making right now and the impact they’ll have on you, your team, and others now and down the line?
Mistakes tend to happen precisely at the moments we aren’t thinking. Sometimes we’re just on autopilot. Other times, we’re focused solely on the task at hand, forgetting about how it will impact other future decisions.
We need to start thinking clearly about the problems we’re solving. Decision impact is one of the big ones for sure. Too many decisions are made in a silo. How are the changes you’re making today affecting others?
What about months down the line? This is often one of the big differences between junior devs and senior devs. Senior devs tend to be thinking about the long term product strategy. Junior devs often miss this. Start thinking deeper about this if you want to advance your career.
Speaking of careers, we should be thinking about our own. This is something I missed early in my career. You know those questions you always hear, “where do you see yourself in five years?” You don’t have to think that far ahead, in fact that might be a bit foolish. Things tend to change a lot and hardly go the way you expect. But start thinking about what type of career you want to have. How can you align what you’re doing in your day job to further your career goals? Alignment between organization goals and personal goals is the best way to motivate.
How to do it
But how can we find this time? Often the demands of the job prove difficult to work in time to actually think. There are steps we can take to combat this.
Block off time on your calendar. People do not do this enough. Don’t be a slave to your calendar, make it work for you. Too often we allow our calendar to get populated by too many meetings. Step one is to just block off time so that meetings aren’t scheduled on specific times. On top of this, you have to make sure people respect that time.
That leads me to a follow up idea. Know when to say no. Decline meeting invites that overlap with time you’d like to spend thinking. Decline meetings where you won’t provide value. You don’t need to go to every meeting. I found it very liberating to start removing myself from many meetings where I didn’t think my presence really benefited myself or others. You’ll find people actually respect you more when you do this. It may be hard at first, as people may not expect it from you. But once a precedent is set, you’ll be much happier.
Find a quiet place. Its not good enough to be at your desk, there are too many distractions. See my last article. Finding a quiet area will prove hugely beneficial. This will really allow you to think and reflect.
Grab some tools. Tools like mind maps, brain dumps, and others improve your thinking. They get things out of your head and in front of you. This allows you to clear all the crud that’s in your head and focus on what’s important. It can also save you sometimes when your memory fails you.
Should you do it?
Hopefully I’ve convinced you that you need to make thinking time a priority in your own career. You’ll find that it can improve your coding without even touching a computer. You’ll improve your product by building a plan and thinking through the impacts. And most importantly, you’ll improve your career, by taking control of the direction you want to go, rather than letting others drive it. So I challenge you to set aside time at work and really think about all these things, and others.