Categories
Work

Appraisal

I had my yearly performance review/annual appraisal today. I know a lot of developers (and non-developers!) who treat these with a very dismissive or laid-back attitude. A lot of the time it’s because it’s seen as a “box ticking” exercise with little obvious benefit to the appraised. Another common attitude I’ve seen over the years is that the outcome is already decided before the meeting, often on personal or emotive reasons rather than an honest and clear-eyed look at how the preceeding twelve months have gone.

I’m not someone who sees the annual appraisal this way. As someone who has been on both sides of the table at different times, I view the appraisal as an important milestone in the year, and should be treated as such. If you don’t take your own appraisal seriously – particularly in the preparation for it – then how can you expect others to? In the rest of this post I want to talk about the appraisal, and my thoughts around how to approach it (from the point of view of the appraised in this case – maybe next time I’ll do the appraiser viewpoint)

In my experience the appraisal is a good opportunity to do three things:

  1. Confirm to yourself what you’ve achieved over the last year – and maybe more importantly – remind your manager of it. Managers are not omnipotent. They don’t necessarily know or remember every little victory you’ve had. So remind yourself, and remind them.
  2. Look at the trajectory you’re on and where you’re headed over the next year. Is that where you want to be? Is that where your manager wants you to be? What do you want to achieve?
  3. How do your colleagues see you? Where does that fit into the above two points? Make sure you get some honest, constructive, feedback from coworkers.

The important piece is that this isn’t just some onerous process which is mostly for the benefit of HR. An appraisal is guaranteed one-on-one time with your manager to have an open and frank discussion about you and your career. Not just the job you’re doing now, but also what you’ll be doing next and beyond. The appraisal can be thought of as the regular status check on your career ambitions.

This year, my appraising manager isn’t who I directly report to on a day-today basis. They used to be closer to me in the reporting structure, and they chaired my promotion panel earlier this year, so they’re not unfamiliar with me – but they don’t necessarily know the fine details. For example, they knew I had been looking into training and development activities, but didn’t specifically know I had completed four certifications in the last few months; they also didn’t know all of the impact I had been making on my current project – so I had to recount those stories, backed up by the feedback from my colleagues.

It’s supposed to be an honest discussion, so I make sure to touch on the things I feel didn’t go so well – not to dwell on them, but to acknowledge what could have been better and that I am or have been thinking about ways to improve for next year. Showing self-awareness and openness to identifying, accepting and working on your own failings is an underrated skill, in my opinion, and it’s generally stood me in good stead over the years

In return my manager highlighted some areas of feedback that I had glossed over in my own reading, chiefly around leadership skills and my capabilities as a leader. It’s odd; I’m a lead developer who can guide a team to a goal, but I never really see myself specifically as a leader. Cheerleader for the team members, maybe! Yet here I was being asked to think about my leadership style and if there were any leadership-oriented training I would like to do. I hadn’t considered it before the meeting, but maybe I do want to start thinking about what comes after the full-time technical roles.

Finally, I make sure round out each appraisal by asking the appraiser to tell me exactly where they see how I fit into the organisation and what it is they expect from me. Normally you’ll have a sense of this from throughout the discussion, and there’ll usually be a written version of this after the appraisal, but I find explicitly asking the question has some benefits:

  1. It lets you know immediately if you’ve been successful in getting your own message across about the year.
  2. Generally it will give you the more “unfiltered” version of your appraiser’s thoughts. We can’t always help it, but often there will be a difference in how people answer a question directly in conversation with someone, versus how we write it in a document which might be read by others.

You want to use your appraiser’s response to judge where you go from here. It should inform and set the tone for what you do in the year to come.

I won’t give you the response I got to this question, but I was definitely happy with it. It was positive, constructive, and gave me ideas for the coming twelve months. It told me that where I want to get to is well aligned with where the organisation would like me to go, while also suggesting steps to bridge into what comes after the shortterm plan.

And that’s great. Because it meant that the work I put in for this appraisal – and the previous appraisals too – meant that I’ve been able to carve out a space where I can be fulfilled in the sense of controlling my own career progression and what I want to do, while also keeping myself in tune with what the organisation wants and needs from me.

So I implore you: don’t write off the annual appraisal process. Engage with it, learn from it, and use it to your advantage as another tool you can use to build your career.

Categories
General/Life Work

A Typical Day

Inspired by Jeremy, Colin, and Cassie, I thought it might be instructive to myself and others to set out my “typical” day. I find writing about something helps focus my thoughts on the thing in question.

Off-the-bat, it’s worth noting I tend to have more of a typical week than a day, especially when it comes to working hours. My week ebbs and flows on a regular rhythm: I’m more likely to be head-down and coding on some days, more likely to be in meetings on others. My work schedule is mostly fixed around our two-week-long sprints, with the sprint “ceremonies” providing the regular landmarks to keep me on track.


As a brief aside on scheduling and organising – lately I’ve been using Sorted3, on iOS, and it’s been somewhat of a revelation. Scheduled meetings are entered first if they’re not already in my calendar (these are “fixed points in time”), then I add everything else I need to get done (with an estimate of how long it will need, if I can) and use the auto-schedule function to slot everything into place around the fixed points. I’ll manually tweak things if I need to prioritise something. It’s still early days, but I’m finding this a much easier system that needs less cognitive input from me – essential to making it a habit I can stick to better than previous apps and methods I’ve used over the years.


5:30am – 7:10am: I’ll wake up somewhere between these times. If it’s on the earlier side, I’ll generally snooze or try to get a little more sleep – usually unsuccessfully. Once upon a time I would’ve gotten out of bed around 6:10am, but the COVID Era has beaten that out of me. At 7:10am, my Apple Watch starts tapping me on the wrist. From here: if I’m feeling rested and/or awake enough, I’ll get out of bed; if not, as is usually the case, I’ll read a bit on my phone – check my personal emails, scan the news and my RSS feeds, maybe some Twitter. I try not to wake my partner, Caley, with the glare from the screen. If she is awake we’ll have some mumbling, half-asleep conversation about the news headlines, weird dreams, or whatever.

7:45am – 8am (or thereabouts): If I haven’t already, this is when I’ll get out of bed and make my way downstairs. My first step is to shower. During the week, that’s a cold shower. I find it helps me shake off the last of the cobwebs, get energised, and generally helps my mood. Right now it’s winter in Scotland, so the water coming out of the shower head is extra cold. A side benefit of a cold shower is that it tends to be quick… but I do like to stand with the water hitting the base of my neck for as long as I can stand it. I find this gives me the most “feel good” benefit when I step out. Next is getting dried + dressed. For a while I was trying to maintain a sense of “normality” by wearing my usual work clothes during the week. That’s long passed. Well-worn jeans and a t-shirt or jumper are the order of the day now.

8am – 8:10am: Around about now, Caley tends to make her way downstairs. I fire up the coffee maker while she heads to her desk in the living room and switches on her laptop. The measures on the side of the coffee pot tell me we’re drinking a little over twice as much coffee now as we did back in March 2020. I pour my coffee into my Bodum travel mug and head upstairs to my WFH area.


8:20am – 8:30am: Time to log in to my work laptop and connect the VPN. While everything is getting connected I’ll scan my email on my work phone, just to see if there are any short-notice issues or schedule changes. I’ll post a “good morning” in the general Slack channel, along with some emoji to represent the weather report.

8:30am – 10am: Read through my emails properly, check my calendar, and plan and prioritise how I’m going to approach my day. I have an hour and a half before Daily Stand-up, so I use the time to either polish off tasks I didn’t quite get finished yesterday, or take care of any admin-y tasks, answering queries from the newer team members, or non project-related work. For the last few weeks I’ve been using this time to work on my promotion presentation. Around 9:40, I’ll wander downstairs for a 10 minute break and coffee refill. During my breaks throughout the day I’ll chat with Caley and we’ll update each other with how our respective days are going. Often this means I’ll listen while she exasperatedly describes what the latest problems she’s dealing with.

10am – 10:20am: Daily Stand-up, following the usual format: what I did yesterday/what I plan to do today/anything which might block me. If someone needs something from me this is usually when I’ll find out about it – at which point it gets prioritised and put into the plan for the day.

10:20am – 11am: I try to tick off the smaller tasks on my list during this time. These might not be the most high priority, but I’ve found this is a good time for them. Forty minutes is an awkward amount of time to fill. Once one or two tasks are done, I’ll take a 10 minute break away from my desk.

11am – 12:20pm: If I have another project-related meeting in the morning, it’s usually for 30-60 minutes at 11am, depending how many people need to be involved. Usually these meetings are for high level planning/one-to-one’s with the project management team, or responding to any potential risks. If there’s no meeting, I use this time for making progress on any user stories assigned to me, fixing defects found by the QA team, or working through any code review comments I need to resolve before a story can be merged in. This is often my most productive time, and most likely to be when I’m “in the zone”. I try not to, but often I’ll lose track of time and continue on right through to 1pm.

12:20pm – 12:50pm: Assuming I haven’t lost track of time, here’s where I try to fit in 30 minutes of exercise. I push my office chair into the far corner of the room, throw on shorts and a different t-shirt, and pull out my exercise bike. If needed, I’ll go downstairs to refill my water bottle. I load up Apple Fitness + on my iPad, which fits in a mount on the handlebars, and start peddling while I pick a 20 minute workout to go along with. Once the cycling workout is complete, I load up a 10 minute “mindful cooldown”. I’m not particularly into mindfulness, but I am finding these particular exercises to be quite good for mentally “resetting” for the afternoon.

12:50pm – 1:20pm: Get changed again and go downstairs, where I’ll have lunch in the kitchen and try not to think about work for 30 minutes. If I’m on a 16-8 cycle, this will be my first meal of the day. Caley will usually be starting her lunch around 1pm, so there’s a little bit of overlap for chatter and updates.

1:20pm – 1:30pm: Take 10 minutes to check through the various organisation-wide Teams channels and chats for anything which needs a response or I want to get involved with. Scan my email for anything which needs my attention. Respond if it’s a quick task, or file it for later if it needs more than a couple of minutes.

1:30pm – 2pm: 30 minutes of smaller tasks; typically this will be preparing a pull request of my own, or finalising a review and approving the pull request of someone else. Updating the story board and admin-y tasks like timesheets often land here.

2pm – 4pm: If I have an afternoon meeting, usually it will land in this slot. Some (like the end of sprint wrap-up) will take most – if not all – of the 2 hours; most are 30-60 minutes – the defect status call, the local office “social chat” and catch-up… that sort of thing. If the time is free from meetings, this is when I’ll have pencilled in my most important bit of work for the day – usually it’ll be working on the main chunk of a user story (possibly a different one to what I worked on in the morning), or a particularly big code review. Other candidates include responding to anyone who needed a considered or researched reply. If there were one or more meetings then I’ll fit tasks around those, trying to keep as much progress going as possible.

4pm – 5:30pm I start to wrap up my working day. If I have anything remaining which will fit from 4-5pm, then I try to do it here. More often than not, this will be the busiest time for other members of the team asking me a technical query, or “preparing” me for something they’ll need tomorrow. I try to deal with these as efficiently and quickly as I can. I would prefer to finish at 5pm, but usually it stretches to 5:30pm. If I remember to, I spend a couple of minutes making notes on how the day has gone and what I achieved, then I put the laptop to sleep. Occasionally there will be a meeting 4pm-5pm, but thankfully those are rare.


5:30pm – 7pm Decompress from work time. I’ll head downstairs and join Caley on the sofa, or in the kitchen. We might put some short YouTube videos on the living room TV, partly as background noise. Decisions are made about what we’re eating for dinner, and generally Caley will start cooking it somewhere between 5:30pm and 6pm. I help where I can/she’ll let me, or I’ll pick a household chore to do that won’t get in the way. When dinner is prepared, we head back to the sofa to eat and find something to watch while we chat . It’ll either be one of our YouTube subscriptions, or if there’s a series like Bake-Off currently on the go, we’ll watch the latest episode on catch-up.

7pm – 8:30pm If I’m going to do anything other than chill out on the sofa, this is when I’ll think about making a start on that. Caley usually pulls out a book or a craft project while we’re on the sofa. For me, things I might think about doing include: reading a book of my own, picking a game to play on the PC or PS4, tinkering around with something on the PC (like the internals of this blog…) or, less frequently of late, indulging in some miniature painting/building.

8:30pm – 10pm (or thereabouts): Caley normally heads upstairs for some “quiet time” reading in bed between 8:30pm an 9pm. If I’d found something to do earlier, I continue on with that until about 10pm when I start to wrap things up. Otherwise I’ll be jumping between apps on my phone for a bit to keep myself amused and relaxed.

10:20pm – 11pm Around about now I start the bedtime routine: brushing teeth, checking the doors are locked, etc. If there’s anything to prepare for tomorrow, and if I’d forgotten about it earlier, it’s done now.

11pm (or thereabouts): Lights out.


Reading through all that, you might think my work day is dominated by meetings. It’s really not as bad as it might seem. For most of the meetings I have, I can multi-task in the background – making progress on other things I need to be doing while I’m listening in, waiting to give my inputs.

Like most people I suspect I have days where I don’t feel like I’ve actually achieved anything, and others where I’m amazed by how much it seems I’ve made it through. I find the trick is to just keep going steady. Those really productive days are usually the culmination of work you pushed yourself through on the slower days.

As far as general work-life balance goes, right now I feel things are “okay”. Working from home full time in this COVID Era can make it feel like you’re always working, as you pretty much never leave “the office”. This comes and goes depending on the restrictions in place and how safe it feels to be out and about. I’d love to have some more time completely away from things – the thing I probably miss the most from my pre-COVID routine is my daily commute to/from work (and to a lesser extent, my lunchtime walk). It was a combined 2.5-3 hours a day away from almost everything, and I could zone out listening to podcasts or an audiobook while I walked the 4.5KM to-and-from the office. I find it’s harder to do this while at home. But as a general rule, things are fine right now, and I find I’m generally feeling in a good spot and positive despite *gestures at the world*.