Taking Time Out to Check In

journal and pens image © 2017 Jen Saxena

I was introduced to stand-up meetings at HackerYou, where each week began with a small group of peers listing a few things we accomplished last week or anticipated this week, obstacles that impeded our progress, and anything we need to overcome them.

Admittedly, I didn’t see the value at first. Being in a classroom environment we all were on the same schedule; barring unusual situations, such as when the API I needed for Monday’s deadline went down on Saturday night, it felt repetitive and even pointless. If everybody did a React project last week, what do we gain by reiterating that?

Mindfulness is one of the first things I forget when life starts feeling too busy or intense over an extended period. I may need it more than ever, but it’s easy to see as a distraction from “real work” or worry that taking time out leads to missed deadlines. It can be overwhelming to see how little progress has been made, or how much is left to do!

As the weeks progressed I found myself on Monday mornings unable to remember my wins and losses from the week before. We moved on so quickly; the project I’d presented the previous Monday was a dream, the new one faded quickly into the distance. In perpetual motion progress becomes part of the scenery; focused only on the next goal, the next achievement, already looking beyond for the one after that — it creates a feeling of running in place.

It’s impossible to maintain a high level of performance when you’re in the mindset of trying to keep up. Checking in regularly allows us to stay on top of little things before they become big things, spot patterns that only become obvious over time, feel a sense of accomplishment in what we have done already rather than focus only on how much is left to do, close the book on yesterday to focus on today, focus on the task at hand knowing that the rest is or will be worked out, and approach the next task with a plan already in mind.

In a high-velocity situation, even a week is too long to go without checking in with myself. Starting each day with a review of what has been done, setting today’s priorities and making sure I’m aware of tomorrow’s demands gives me a solid foundation in the present, so time doesn’t fly by in a haze of “doing things” without awareness. It ensures I don’t forget anything important, and frees up cognitive bandwidth to solve problems without subconscious worries about time management or other responsibilities.

Even if repetitive, it is valuable for that reason. Going to the gym is repetitive, practicing an instrument is repetitive — growth and maintenance both require approaching every day and task as if it were the very first time; with attention to detail, planning and execution.

Happy new year, friends! It’s going to be a good one.