(First published at CodingMindfully.com).
A new year is a chance to refocus. It’s an opportunity to check in, to ask yourself what you truly want out of life, whether you are getting that and if not, what might you do differently.
We all have limited amounts of time and energy. How we choose to allocate those determines to a large extent the degree to which we are satisfied with life. If we find ourselves dissatisfied, we can examine the way we are spending our time and adjust as needed.
There are two shortcuts that I use to make sure I’m spending my time and energy wisely:
- Optimise for flow
- Optimise for meaning
I’ve written extensively about Flow here (in fact there’s a lesson in my online course The Mindful Developer that gets into it in depth).
Flow is an inherently satisfying state of being. Many of us hit flow regularly in our coding life – it’s part of the draw.
I try to fill my life with flow generating activities. Outside of coding, there is yoga, meditation, writing and so on.
Programmers are natural flow junkies. But flow begets flow, and it’s useful to have multiple sources of flow in your life. Grab a pen, list where your flow comes from, and see if you can think of a potential new source for the year ahead.
(I’ve chosen to enrol in an Improv Comedy class – a group flow activity!)
I want to spend my precious time here on earth on things that have meaning to me.
But what does “meaningful”, um, mean?
The answer is, it depends on your values.
Your values are the principles or ideas that drive you. They aren’t fixed – they will change over time (mine certainly have, as I’ve aged).
You’ll find a sense of meaning in activities that are aligned with your values.
You’ll likely encounter frustration in activities that are less aligned with your values.
Here’s my current list (I keep a spreadsheet which I update every few months):
- Financial stability
- Contribution beyond self
It’s worth having a think about this – you can use this list of values as an aid.
Knowing your values is a great way to make decisions that are right for you.
For example – imagine you’ve just been offered a new job. The pay is great, but the hours are likely to be long from time to time.
If your core values include, say, wealth, it might be worth it.
If your values include, say, family time, you might need to consider whether the job is right for you.
My personal values include health – which includes mental and physical. I know from past experience that working long hours can affect that in a way that doesn’t work for me. So, it’s a pass on the job for me in this case.
Here’s another example. Say I’m given the choice between learning two programming languages or frameworks (React and something much more obscure, but kind of cool - take your pick).
If my values include curiosity, or learning, I might be more inclined to take on the obscure platform.
If my values include stability, and I know there are a heap of jobs for React programmers, then I might be inclined to take that option instead.
Another example from my life - right now I choose to spend my leisure time on non-coding activities (in particular, writing).
My value of Creativity is driving that. In a few months time, my values might shift, and I can reassess where the time goes.
I’ve also chosen to cut down my list of side projects to just two. This is in line with my value of Completion. However you might value diversity of experience for example, and be willing to pay the price of not finishing things to work on lots of cool stuff. It’s up to you!
So – have a look at the things you do in your life. The company you work for. School. Family. Relationships. Hobbies.
Which ones are in alignment with your values? Which ones are out of whack? How does that affect your sense of meaning? What can you change to optimise for that?
This is a short intro to the framework that I use to answer the greatest of questions – how should I spend my time?
I hope it’s useful for you. It’s not just for the beginning of the year either! You can do this any time (I recommend every few months).