Balancing a Maker and Manager Schedule
This year its been quite tough to hit the right balance between focused dev time, time for the general admin around running a project, and having time to think further ahead about upcoming work and better ways of working.
To try to do something about this, I designed a schedule that I’ve actually managed to stick to with reasonable success!
Here it is:
First I’ll just elaborate on each of the themes, then explain a bit about how I think its working so far.
Email / Day Plan:
- Check through email inbox to review anything that’s come in over night; figure out any tasks / next actions
- Check my “starred” items; figure out any tasks / next actions
- Decide on 3–5 things to do today. Generally I aim for 1 product development task and then a selection of other bits and pieces
- Generally things like doing our daily pro admin, banning spam user signups, responding to email, triaging issues.
- I try not to plan anything for these slots – instead I use it as reactive time, or time to do things that are on the top of my mind that I can make a bit of quick progress on.
- This is a nice divider. I’m not a morning person, so I don’t try to do much intense work before standup. After standup is my cue to start getting in to more focused work.
- Its also a sounding board for my “day plan” – to check whether I need to tweak it based on others being blocked etc.
Review / Easy Dev:
- I try to do PR review early to unblock others, and so that it eases me in to “real work”.
- If there’s no review to do, I tackle some easy tickets from my sprint plan. This is nice because you can check off some quick wins early in the day.
- As it sounds, I try to switch off all distractions (notifications, email, Slack) and get stuck in to more demanding dev tasks. Think feature development, or less clear bugs that take some deep investigation.
Email / Shutdown:
- I try to minimise email checking during the day, so I make sure I leave some time at the end of the day to have a scan of things that have come up. These either get responded to now, or starred to handle in the morning.
- I’ve also been trying to do a really quick “review” of the day – just making a few quick notes of whether I did what I wanted to do, and anything worth chatting about in standup the next day.
Sprint Planning Prep:
- This only happens on Mondays, but it takes a good chunk of time to triage where we got to, and what we want to do in the next sprint.
- On the alternate Monday, we do have a shorter Pro catchup. I use this time to think about more Pro-specific issues and direction.
- I’m pretty spent after a sprint planning session, so any time after that is generally used for the odds and ends after the session; creating and updating tickets, adding design tasks, etc.
- I try to have some defined blocks of time that I don’t plan at all.
- There’s always stuff to do that we haven’t accounted for in sprint planning, so that can happen here without impacting on our sprint plan too much.
- I’ve also been trying to use this time for thinking about upcoming work – things like scope-hammering things we want to try to add to our roadmap.
I think in the past when I’ve tried schedules, I’ve failed at sticking to them because I’ve tried to plan too much (i.e. the whole week) in advance. I think one of the main reason’s its been working for me this attempt is because I’ve only blocked out chunks of time, rather than scheduled exact work.
I only assign tasks to the time chunks in the morning when I do my “day plan”. This means that if a day doesn’t go to plan, I’m not fighting to get back on track the entire week. I think this “work debt” is a recipe for getting pretty frustrated and burnt out.
I’ve been pretty aggressive in sticking to the schedule. If I can’t finish what I’m doing in the given chunk, it’ll have to wait until the next day. I was a bit unsure of this initially as I was concerned about context-switching cost. In reality I’ve found it quite liberating. Even if I don’t finish something in a given time chunk, I’m fairly confident I can finish it off the next day. Previously I would want to stick with something until it was done because I didn’t know when I would get chance to work on it next. This meant that the work we scheduled in sprint planning always came second to reactive tasks, even if longer-term the planned work is much more valuable. Now I feel like both types of task are getting a fair chance. I sometimes deviate from this if there’s something really important to do, or if sticking with the task will unblock someone else.
The focused dev time has been invaluable. Its generally made me feel more productive; not because I’m doing more work, but because I’m doing more work that we planned to do. I could be better at muting distractions here – I generally still have chat open on a separate monitor – but for now its generally been low-enough noise that I can concentrate on what I’m trying to do.
I want to improve the unstructured time. At the moment it feels a bit too unstructured, and I end up just reverting to more dev or review tasks because they’re clearly defined and easy to get on with. The kind of work I want to do here is to think more strategically about the next sprint or two, and work on removing unknowns so that when it comes to sprint planning, we can just assign tasks out and get them done, rather than spending half the sprint figuring out the problem.
I’ve been printing the planner while I get used to the schedule, but I’m beginning to internalise it and just plan my day with the schedule in mind.
I haven’t really blocked out time in my calendar for the focus time, but I have mentioned to the FOI team that I’m following this schedule, and (tried to!) make it fairly clear in standup about when I’m doing specific tasks. It’s definitely something worth considering though.
So that’s it really. Writing down something like this always makes it sound like far more process than it actually is. In reality, it’s just adding a few checkboxes to my notebook and scribbles of the things I want to do. YMMV, but I’ve found I’ve had far fewer days where I’ve felt like I’ve done loads but achieved nothing.