As a software development leader, I know how easy it is to get bogged down by the never-ending to-do list and lose track of priorities. Over the years, I've developed some strategies and tactics that have helped me manage my time and priorities effectively. In this blog post, I'll share some of my insights and actionable tips that will help software developers level up and transform themselves into effective leaders.
- Prioritize ruthlessly
One of the key skills for any leader is the ability to prioritize ruthlessly. It's easy to get caught up in the latest buzzwords or trends, but it's important to focus on what actually matters most. Identify the key objectives and focus your efforts on achieving them. Everything else can wait.
As a former "multi-tasker", I can attest that it's actually much more productive to do one thing at a time. The reason is that task switching actually zaps our productivity. In fact, it's best to remain focused on one thing, do it well, and move on to the next thing. This is admittedly unremarkably simple, yet extremely effective.
- Timeboxing your day
Time boxing is a simple but effective technique that involves dividing your day into blocks of time and assigning specific tasks to each box or block. This helps you stay focused and avoids the temptation to multitask. For example, you could dedicate the first hour of your day to checking and responding to emails, the next hour to coding, and so on.
Time blocking goes hand-in-hand with the concept of doing one thing at a time, as mentioned in #1.
- Delegate effectively
As a leader, it's important to delegate tasks effectively. This not only frees up your time but also helps develop the skills of your team members. When delegating tasks, be clear about the objectives and expectations, and provide the necessary support and resources.
- Embrace automation
Automation can help you save time and increase efficiency. Look for tasks that can be automated, such as testing and deployment. This frees up your time and allows you to focus on more strategic tasks and allows your team to focus on higher-impact work. Additionally, replacing repetitive tasks with automation reduces the possibility of introducing human-error.
- Adopt a growth mindset
As a leader, it's important to adopt a growth mindset. This means being open to learning, feedback, and continuous improvement. Encourage your team members to adopt a growth mindset as well, and create a culture of learning and experimentation.
It's been my experience that leading with humility is a great way to instill a growth mindset throughout a team, and is a precursor to cultivating a fully-aligned team that is absent of ego.
- Set realistic deadlines
Setting unrealistic deadlines can lead to stress and burnout. Instead, set realistic deadlines that allow for contingencies and unforeseen challenges. This not only helps you manage your time effectively, helps create a positive and sustainable work environment, but also helps build momentum.
- Use the Eisenhower Matrix
The Eisenhower Matrix is a simple but powerful tool that helps you prioritize tasks based on their importance and urgency. Divide your tasks into four categories: urgent and important, important but not urgent, urgent but not important, and neither urgent nor important. Focus on the tasks in the urgent and important category first, and delegate or eliminate tasks in the other categories.
- Practice mindfulness
Mindfulness is a technique that involves being present and fully engaged in the moment. This can help you stay focused, reduce stress, and improve productivity. Practice mindfulness techniques such as deep breathing, meditation, or yoga, and encourage your team members to do the same.
One practice that I highly recommend is listening to a Non-Sleep Deep Rest (NSDR) guide, like the following:
- Build strong relationships
As a leader, it's important to build strong relationships with your team members, stakeholders, and customers. This not only helps you understand their needs and expectations but also creates a positive and collaborative work environment.
Some things to consider when striving for stronger relationships are to:
- Listen actively
- Empathize with others
- Be authentic and transparent
- Communicate clearly
- Provide recognition
- Be respectful and inclusive
- Celebrate successes
Finally, it's important to celebrate successes, no matter how small. This helps build morale and creates a sense of accomplishment. Celebrate individual and team successes, and encourage your team members to do the same. Another thing to consider is celebrating successes in public whenever possible. This can amplify the feeling of recognition, and helps highlight behavior to be modeled by other team members.
In conclusion, managing time and priorities is a critical skill for software development leaders. By prioritizing ruthlessly, time boxing your day, delegating effectively, embracing automation, adopting a growth mindset, setting realistic deadlines, using the Eisenhower Matrix, practicing mindfulness, building strong relationships, and celebrating successes, you can level up and transform yourself into an effective leader. Remember, leadership is not about being perfect, but about continuously learning and improving.