Catching Your Breath

Many managers and leaders have become addicted to productivity porn. Everywhere I look, I see teams discussing time wasted, optimizing processes, and squeezing out some more time to work (remember Soylent?). As someone who regularly talks about tripling impact-per-engineer, I want to stress the difference between chasing productivity and focusing on efficacy. You cannot create a remarkable organization, with regular innovation, in a sustainable manner while also aiming to operate at 100% capacity constantly.

I can see why operating factory lines 24/7 smoothly makes sense. Every wasted second translates to lost opportunity (I’m no manufacturing expert, so take this with a grain of salt). That mindset doesn’t apply to our kind of work. Having to do creative work, be it software engineering, product discovery, or even leadership, our output is not solely the product of the time we put into it. We have to make space for thought and introspection. If we succumb to a relentless pace, we’re bound to focus more on our foothold than where we’re headed and the ideal path there. Let us consider actively catching our breath.

Calling a Timeout

I’ve written extensively about the concept of intermissions for injecting innovation into teams’ schedules and making time to amass tech capital (it is the main subject of chapter 8 of The Tech Executive Operating System, which is the sample chapter you can download for free here). Executed correctly, it offers countless benefits purely in making teams more engaged and proactive.

However, this article will cover another set of benefits that some would consider even more important. Using intermissions, we make it acceptable to take time to think. How avant-garde!

Essentially, many product leaders I talk to feel like they are in a constant rush. They feel in charge of “feeding” the engineering beast. When you have productive engineers, that often translates to constant work. The second a big feature is released, the team is already off to the races with the next one. The problem with that is that we rarely consider how good what we’re doing is or if it even accomplished what we wanted it to.

Intermissions once or twice a quarter provide us with breathing room to take stock of where we are. Good teams should have a general roadmap in place, but those plans shouldn’t be set in stone. Having a week to see how recently released features behave in the wild, running a couple of experiments, and taking in feedback can provide a breath of fresh air (am I done with all of these breathing analogies and metaphors? Don’t hold your breath).

Meditating and Mindfulness

If you’ve tried practicing meditation, you surely have heard that a great deal of it is learning to become mindful of whatever you’re doing. Intermissions can induce a meditation session that encompasses an entire organization. Once we make it acceptable to operate slower for a few days, people can become more aware of what they are doing, what is happening around them, and what opportunities lie ahead.

When talking, executing, and preparing documents, you are not likely to be thinking. Yes, you are making things happen and using your brain, but how about inducing more of those shower-insight moments? You get those because you’re not too busy doing something. Bringing that into our work is essential for teams that want to innovate, disrupt, and continue growing instead of merely doing more and faster of the same.