Estimates, Goals and Finding the Time

I write this on the evening of 28th December 2014. I have recently blogged about my goals for next year and which of those I am aiming to achieve before the end of this year. I have currently achieved none of them. There is still some time to go, but it is clear that I am not going to achieve them all. I am a little  disappointed but not embarrassed or ashamed. I made estimates on what could be achieved based on gut feel at the time, but they have proved to be off the mark for several reasons, and two in particular:

1. Christmas is such a busy time of year, real life gets in the way like no other.
2. Technical material covering a lot of concepts that are new to the reader, demands to be read much more slowly and carefully than say a novel. I knew this, but didn’t actually calculate how much time would be needed.

However I am still pleased that I set myself a goal publically. It has helped me to get closer to my goals within the given time-frame, and I will surely accomplish them early in the new year.

Now you’re probably thinking that you don’t have a lot of time to hear about what I’ve been doing recently and even less time to hear about what I HAVEN’T been doing. Just give me one more minute of you’re time and I’ll get straight to the point.

We all have a limited and unknown amount of time left on this earth in order to achieve something meaningful for the good of the human race and for the planet, and as we near the end we don’t want to have any major regrets. A study by Bronnie Ware has shown the top 5 regrets are:

1. I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me.
2. I wish I hadn’t worked so hard.
3. I wish I’d had the courage to express my feelings.
4. I wish I had stayed in touch with my friends.
5. I wish that I had let myself be happier.

I have previously written about the importance of spending extra time to improve yourself professionally. I kept it deliberately short in order to avoid getting side-tracked away from the main purpose of the article. I may even have sounded a bit lofty or dismissive, using words such as “excuses” and the need for “time management”.

I will expand on this topic here and now, and then never again. Getting your priorities in the right order is key. In terms of our professional ambitions, there is always more to learn than we have time for and we must make many choices about which subjects are likely to give us the most benefit relative to the amount of time we need to invest in it. But there is also a life outside of work, and an important one.

Whenever I blog about my top priorities, they are things that are important to me, but not the “top top” priorities. Those are things like getting enough sleep, food, important social occasions with friends and family, essential housework (i.e. whenever the wife says it can’t wait another minute!), generally having a happy home and personal life. Professional objectives are fitted in and around those whenever and however I can. I work hard, but not so hard as to burn myself out or make myself irritable.

Programmers are stereotyped as having no life, and especially the ones who spend extra time at home coding or studying, but it isn’t and doesn’t need to be a reality. Many developers are very social and popular.

We all have different demands on our time, and never as much free time as we would like. If you can even find just one hour a week outside of your normal day job to study the programming topics that you are interested in (this includes blogs, podcasts, reading books, watching courses, going to a developer meetup or actual programming), then you are already doing better than 90% of other developers.

The more time you are able to spend on these things the more you will benefit from them. But the key thing is to enjoy what you do. As long as you are enjoying it you’ll never feel that you are working too hard.

Choose a job you love, and you will never have to work a day in your life. – Confucius

You can avoid regret number 1 just by showing integrity. Nobody asked me to write a post about my imminent failure(s) and I could have pretended to have achieved more than I had and nobody would know any different. I am human like everyone else, I don’t always get everything right but I try to learn and do better.

I have never been an enormous fan of SMART objectives at work. They absolutely have their benefits, but they can also modify employees behavior away from the things that are the most important things for the business in order to focus so achieving those limited specified objectives. However for personal goals I think SMART objectives are the way to go. Just remember that you can change them at any time if you believe that they are no longer working for you.

I have found that personal objectives are very much like sprint/iteration objectives. Time is short, and more work is continuously identified as needing to be done. Whether that identified work is better “brought into the current sprint/iteration” or “put on the backlog for a future iteration” isn’t something everyone agrees on, and I think different approaches work better for different people.

I do allow my personal priorities to change, but it comes with some overhead so I try to finish what I have started before moving on to the next thing. This Christmas I heard about the beta readers offer for the No Estimates book. I temporarily postponed reading the book that I most want to finish reading in order to read and feedback on the first chapter. I am looking forward to reading the rest of this book and telling you all about it. But not until after I’ve finished Professional ASP.NET MVC 4.

In both your personal objectives and your daily professional work, it is also always worth considering what might happen after the current iteration, i.e. look at the bigger picture. Are you heading in the right overall direction? If not, what could be changed to benefit everyone over the longer term? Where should you be taking the overall project, and where should you be taking your overall career? Whatever you decide, you have my best wishes and I hope to read about your success in your own blog in the future.

Further Reading
Top 5 regrets of the dying
Making the most of Pluralsight (covering excuses and time management)
No estimates book
No Estimates Summary and Commentary

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