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From Developer to Manager

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From Developer to Manager

Yesterday you were responsible for managing the bits and bytes of your life that constitute the code you created. Today you are responsible for a group of people’s well-being, their career growth and yes, their code.

That’s right, you have ascended to the level of leadership where it’s more than jumping in to save the project and lead the team through the late night battles, more than volunteering for the really tough project and what’s more you cannot go into the cave when something needs to get done by you, the one-person tiger team.

Today, you are the face that your team will look to for guidance, leadership and tutelage.

Do your shoulders feel a little heavy right now? Did you think it was going to be an all “let’s keep writing code as a team” and “if we keep our collective heads down we’ll all be happy” type of thing? What about when people start to irritate one another? Were you hoping to slide between them to get to the espresso machine?

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Getting started as a new Development Manager is a daunting task – yes, it IS a daunting task not CAN BE – it takes a lot of work to do it right and do it well. I remember my first day, after it was announced I was a newly minted manager of a new team. A slew of emails flew into my inbox from HR – objective reviews, manager meetings, training requests, etc, etc – and I was dying for guidance on what to do next, how to get started, where to start!

My Director sent me a great email, which sadly I’ve lost, but hopefully the spirit remains true here with some added thoughts of my own.But make no mistake, the position might be Manager, but the path is Leadership. If you want to be great, be a leader, if you want to be good, be a manager.

It’s about the People

If you think your new role is about shipping code, then you are sorely mistaken – that is for the Team Lead. The Manager is focussed on the people more than the code – the people are who think of, create, imagine and deliver the code – without the people, you have no code, no product. You need to focus on building a great team because a great team is what begets a great product. Was your team handed to you? No picksies?

No problem, now it’s time to figure out who does what, how, what they are good at, where they need help and how you can help them. I have sat down with many people over the years and every interaction is always different, and always has to be. A great way to interact with your team is via monthly one-on-one’s. It doesn’t have to be formal, they work better if they are not. The value is you give each person time to sit down with you, they pick your brain, you pick theirs, you adjust your plans, rinse and repeat.

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Your Team is not a Factory

It is very easy to fall into the trap of thinking that you are now running a production factory focussed on the delivery of goods and services to the world. Yes you write code, yes you deliver software (or perhaps some other good) but how you deliver this is just as important. The greatest part about being a developer is the creativity to imagine new approaches to the resolution of problems.

If you take over all the fun design stuff or give it to someone else to do, you are taking that element of fun away from your team. Every job has an element of fun to it and in software this is the greatest part – coming up with new ideas, leveraging new frameworks, trying out new ideas.

As their leader, you should be very concerned when you see the number of new ideas from your team dropping because it means they aren’t engaged, don’t feel empowered and even worse are simply going through the motions to get their work done. Don’t turn your team into a factory, focussed on producing code by certain dates, turn them into a team that churns out great ideas month over month. Those ideas will win every day.

Be Open

It is okay to not know everything. Newsflash – you don’t, I don’t – we only know what we can know. You don’t have to be the perfect leader for your team, whether you’ve been on the job for a few days or few years, there is no threshold for perfection. Be honest with your team on what you know, where things are at, what is next, what you are unsure of, where you need some help and clarification on.

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These are all great ways to show your humanity to your team. Sometimes you can’t tell them everything, sometimes you can only tell some people bits and pieces, but be open and honest on what you can share. The most rewarding response from a team is when you are open and they rally beside you to help you through it.

Help them Leap

So now you’ve met everyone, found out their likes and dislikes, what works, what doesn’t, where they want to go and don’t – now you need to think of how to grow them. Think of your team as plants and you want to grow them into trees. How do you do that? You listen to what they want to do, where they want to go, you look at where the company is and where it wants to go and you help them build those career paths.

“Waiting for someone to die” to take their position is not a career path, that is a career line, where they have abdicated themselves to waiting behind you (or someone else) to wait for their career to happen. There is always a path, there is always a direction, but not everyone can see it – and that is where your job is so critical.

Trust

This seems obvious right? Trust your team to do the right thing. Make the right call. Step up to the plate when you are not there. My biggest “tip of the hat” has always come when I’ve taken sick for a big meeting, presentation, deployment, etc only to come in the next day and see it went off without a hitch. Where I thought I was a linchpin, I wasn’t.

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The team realized the importance of what needed to be done (because I was open), they might not have known what was to be done today but they came up with some ideas to make it happen (because they are not a factory), they weren’t afraid to jump in and try something new (because they know how to leap) and they knew they could handle this (because we discuss more than their work) and THEY MADE IT HAPPEN.

Trust does not happen over night, it evolves, it grows, to get there you need to focus on honing your skills on the above traits to make it happen, each day, with each person, fostering that consistent message so you can get there.

A Culture Aside

You want to have a great culture like Hubspot or Valve or some other culture child of the day? Fantastic. Was that built overnight? No. Culture is not a transplant process, just as you cannot transplant someone’s soul into another person’s body. You can transplant parts and pieces but not the raison d’etre. It’s an evolutionary process, a growth that happens over time driven by your commitment to the above tenants.

You cannot create passion when it is not there, it is either there or it is not, some people fall into the wrong jobs by accident and it’s up to you to make sure they wake up wanting to get up and put both feet forward to help your team reach their goals.

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Remember the individuals, nurture the team, be open, help them leap and build trust. If you can do those 5 things, day after day after day than you will do more than become a manager, you’ll become a leader.

Featured photo credit: Matt Jones – Magdeleine via magdeleine.co

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Greg Thomas

Software Architect

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Last Updated on October 28, 2021

15 Strategies for an Effective To-Do List

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15 Strategies for an Effective To-Do List

One of the age-old productivity techniques around is the classic and effective to do list, and for good reason. It’s one of the most productive ways for you and everyone else to get anything done. Whether it’s a mental list or something that you are writing down, a to do list is an essential productivity tool.

At the same time, it is one of the most confusing productivity tools around. Many people discredit this for various reasons and don’t believe that a to do list is any good. But my argument is that maybe you and other people aren’t making an effective to do list, so here we will go over how to get one done right.

Why Bother With an Effective To-Do List?

You’ve Been Using Them Wrong

Before jumping into strategies to make an effective to do list, it’s worth knowing why you should bother making one. The first important point is that many people have been making to do lists all wrong.

Two of the most common mistakes are:

  • People use lists as a measurement of whether they are productive or not.
  • They put too many items on the list.

It’s understandable why you or other people do this, though. A to do list is a productivity tool, so it makes sense to pile on tasks. However, the brain doesn’t work that way. If you have a lot of tasks on your list, it feels like torture as the list never ends.

At first, it can feel nice that you always have something to do, but keep in mind that you only have so much time in a day. It’s important that you place more value in quality work rather than sheer quantity.

On that same note, if you are someone who has a tendency to seek validation, a to do list can be tough. There will be days where you won’t get everything done due to life events. This creates unnecessary pressure and sends you into a stress whirlwind.

It Helps You Stay Focused

When you build an effective to-do list, the main goal of these lists is to provide clarity and focus. If you’ve been doing them wrong, you may have noticed that you are focusing in on a task on your to do list and getting it done.

This may be overshadowed by the multiple items on your list, but you are focusing on a task during a given time. You really see this in action when you consider having a shorter to do list, though.

I understand that a to do list isn’t for every single person, but this focus is helpful to people when starting out. You’re still not certain about your goals or the path that you want to take. You may also struggle to determine the next step to work towards.

A to do list is a guide you can refer back to it whenever you need it. Furthermore, the techniques that I’ll be mentioning below will make to do lists more effective for you.

15 Strategies for an Effective To Do List

You’ll begin to see how powerful a to do list is when you consider the various strategies you can incorporate in one. This is your to do list, so pick from the strategies below to find what suits you. If you’re not certain, don’t be afraid to experiment and mishmash several combinations.

Remember that the road to success is one with many branching paths, so the methods you use are your choice.

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1. Break the List Into Two Parts

The first strategy is to break a list into two parts. These two parts are called dailies and to do’s.

Dailies are the everyday tasks that you want to develop more. For example, if you want to make a habit out of exercising in the morning, a daily task could be following a 15-minute workout routine or going for an hour-long walk.

Your to do’s are non-daily tasks that you need to be getting done at some point. Maybe you need to prepare a report at work or make a presentation. You can put that into your to do column.

This is an effective strategy because it saves all the clutter that most people gravitate towards. As mentioned before, people stuff their lists, and a lot of it is usually tasks they you would do anyway, like going grocery shopping or dropping the kids off at a friend’s place.

2. Put a Limit on Items

If you find breaking your list into two parts too much, I’ll suggest brevity to be a virtue when making these lists. You can set any number of items, but the key is that you do have a set limit in mind. Some people have no more than seven while others go as low as three. Do what makes you feel comfortable.

The idea behind this is to narrow in on the most important tasks that you need to accomplish that day. Of course, there are other things that you’ll be doing during the day, and that’s fine, but you want to prioritize the items that on your to do list before the day is done.

3. Use Checklists for Complex Tasks

If you’re already making narrow lists but are putting in tougher tasks, my suggestion is to break that task down. Whether it’s full-on steps you need to take or jotting down important details that need to be present is up to you.

Either way, this allows you to ensure that you’re getting everything done the proper way and that you’re not missing any key details or steps.

4. Tackle MITs First

MIT is the “most important task.” Another way to look at this is to tackle the largest and most intimidating task first[1]. Why you want to do this goes back to how our brain works.

You may feel compelled to do the easier tasks first before getting to the bigger task, but the problem is that these tasks—even the easy ones—drain your energy. Furthermore, if you have a really big task to complete, chances are that’s going to be on your mind over the course of the day. That means you’re spending more energy just thinking about it.

All of that wouldn’t be a problem if that big intimidating task was dealt with first thing in the morning.

5. Create a “Done” List

Another interesting approach to consider is to have a “done” list. This is a list of the tasks that you’ve completed from your to do list. Many people find it satisfying to merely cross an item off their list and be done with it, but depending on what you’re putting on those lists, a done list could be inspiring.

Imagine if you are someone who places above-average difficult tasks on your to do lists, activities that require an hour or two to complete properly. This can inspire you to do more if, after a day of working, you notice just how much you accomplished over the course of the day via this list.

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6. Make Your List Easy to Spot

From colorful paper to posting it in an obvious spot, you want your list to be in a place where you can spot it easily. Mind you, you don’t need to have this list in front of you all the time as it could create unnecessary stress. But setting it to one side is a nice idea—a glance to the side and you know exactly what needs to get done.

7. Add Gaming Elements to It

If pen and paper isn’t your thing when making to do lists, there are several apps that can guide you along as well. The beauty of to do list apps is that there is more room for creativity, and some of the developers incorporate games into them.

For example, Todoist has an achievement system where individuals earn badges as they complete more tasks. There’s also Bounty Tasker, which makes you feel like your tasks are side quests in a video game.

8. Give Yourself Deadlines

Work expands to fill time allotted.

It’s an old philosophy that still rings true with how we are productive. For example, say you’re assigned to write a report, and you’re given a week to do it. You’ll likely work on it steadily throughout the week. Or if you’re a procrastinator, you’ll put it off until the night before and finish it.

But what if you’re given that same task and only allotted an hour to complete it? You’ll likely get the report done, but you’ll prioritize the main, important points and highlight those rather than fill it with unnecessary fluff.

The whole point of this is that with your goals and the items on your to do list, you want to have deadlines. When it comes to to do lists, my suggestion is to give yourself a day to complete the tasks there. This is enough pressure and incentive for you to work hard on them.

9. Add Tasks When They’re Fresh

Another strategy is to assign yourself tasks even when you are working on something else. Keep in mind it’s not something you have to do right now, but this can help with people who are struggling to think about what to focus on next.

This is along the same lines as when you hear something interesting and you write it down. It’s a wise thing to do as it saves you the bother of having to dwell on that idea rather than focusing on the task at hand. It also saves you from having to recall what the task is if you’re the type to write up the next day’s to do list at the end of the day.

10. Be Comfortable With Revising Your To-Do List

Depending on your overall mindset, another good strategy is to look at your to do list and make changes to it. If you’re practicing the previous strategy, there may be a possibility that your to do list is getting lengthy and you’re setting unrealistic expectations that you can finish it all.

By giving yourself the opportunity to revise your to do list, your allowing yourself to spread out your tasks rather than have them clumped up. This helps your mindset as you’re not overwhelmed by the list.

11. Write Tasks, Not Goals

You should have separate lists for your tasks and your goals. The idea is to not put goals on your task list at all.

While tasks can help you lead to your goals, goals are larger desires and not something that you can achieve over the course of the day. For example, “learn to speak French” is a goal; however, you can break that into a task by saying “read French content for 15 minutes” or “watch a movie in French.”

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This also extends to objectives, too. You can see these as milestones. Going back to the example of speaking French, an objective can be, “discuss my favorite foods with someone in French.” It’s the desired outcome that you’re looking for from your practice.

12. Keep To Do Lists Brief

Here, brief means scannable in that you can quickly look over at the list and know what needs to get done. How you can do this is by focusing on the keywords of specific tasks and not dragging them out. For example, say your garage is a mess and you want to clean it up. Instead of writing a lengthy sentence, keep it short and write something like “clean garage for 30 min.” or simply “clean garage.”

With this strategy, you’re spending less time writing the task down when making the to do list. Furthermore, you’re relying on trigger words to get your mind to recall specific details for that task.

13. Have Multiple Lists

As mentioned above, it’s a good idea to have separate lists for various things, like having a separate list for goals, objectives, daily tasks, and to do’s. Another way you can look at it is to have a system where you are consulting from three lists.

These lists are:

A Master List

This is where any of your long-term goals are, things like moving to a new house, getting out of debt, or building a business. These are things that will take a year or more to accomplish.

A Weekly Project List

These are things that you want to accomplish by the end of the week. These are things that will move the needle slowly towards some of the items on your master list. From the previous example, these could be doing research on getting a business loan, house hunting, or setting up a savings account.

A High-Impact List

Lastly, these are tasks that need to be accomplished today. Whether they are related to the previous two lists or not doesn’t matter. This is where high priority tasks are placed. Examples can be calling specific people or working on a project or a report that’s due soon.

By having these lists in place, you’ll be referring often to the weekly project list and the high-impact list and determining whether a weekly task should be moved to that list.

As you do that, you’ll begin to notice how much your daily life has an impact on those goals that are written on that master list. That can be inspiring since what you are doing is actively bringing you closer to your goals.

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14. Don’t Ramp up Difficulty Until You’re Ready

Some of the strategies mentioned can seem easy on the surface, but they require a lot of mental fortitude. Motivation is an unusual thing, and our brains are wired to process a certain way. If you’re looking for genuine change and something that sticks, the best principle is to keep things simple and easy at first.

It may be a drag, but you don’t often realize how those baby steps can play a crucial role in you being able to start running and chasing your dreams. Don’t be ashamed if you have to start off with simple tasks for yourself. Even going back to daily tasks that you do anyway like showering, doing the laundry or shopping for food is a good way to start.

Putting those items on the list at first makes you feel like you’ve had a productive day. From there, you can challenge yourself with more difficult tasks. Incorporate an exercise routine or spend a half-hour on a task that means something to you.

The idea is to ease yourself into a routine so you don’t feel overwhelmed.

15. Measure Your Time

The last strategy that can help you is to measure your time. How long does it take you to finish a specific task? You don’t need to go for specifics, but make a point of timing yourself over the course of a week and get the average time spent on that task.

Why is this important? This information can be broken down in two ways.

The first way is to use it as a marker to boost efficiency. Depending on the task, you can find new ways to achieve the same results in a shorter time.

It also allows you to know what you can do in a given day. If you know that it takes you an hour or so to go through your entire morning routine, you’ll be more conscious about how you move through that routine.

Furthermore, if you know what tasks you’ll be doing the next day, you can better manage your time since you know roughly how much time it’ll take to get everything done.

Final Thoughts

Building an effective to do list is not as easy as it seems.

There are all kinds of unique strategies to try out, some more challenging that others. However, if you are motivated to use this productivity tool to make your life easier, then it will get easier.

All that you need to do is keep putting effort and experiment and reevaluate when necessary. So get started with your to do lists today.

More Tips on Using an Effective To Do List

Featured photo credit: Emma Matthews Digital Content Production via unsplash.com

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