How You Work

Learning how you work best is a superpower. Imagine, creating and seeking environments where you succeed best. Likely you remember times where you got into a flow state and produced magic, but you can’t pinpoint why.

I was in this position and so took some time to figure out how I work best.

Product user manuals have a section dedicated to “ideal working conditions” - to get the best out of the machine. This includes the maintenance, the temperature and location and how it should be operated. In the same way, you can develop a “personal user manual” documenting how you work best and where.

In my user manual, it’s broken down into five sections.

  1. The kind of work I do best
  2. The environment for doing that work
  3. How I enjoy doing that work
  4. How I receive feedback
  5. How I get motivated

For example, my user manual is included below.

The kind of work I do best

  • Creating things that I know will benefit people.
  • Automation and saving time.
  • Turning rough specs into tangible products.
  • Thinking of edge cases and being able to dream of scenarios where bugs will occur at scale.
  • Building clear API’s that are secure and scalable.
  • Writing technical documentation.
  • Architecting and building systems that can handle millions of customers.

The environment for doing that work

  • I’m informed of the bigger picture and the impact of my work.
  • I like a small to-do list.
  • Requirements stay reasonably consistent. But I have the autonomy to figure out how to meet those requirements.
  • The benefit of my work is somewhat measurable.
  • There is a culture of gathering and reviewing data to make decisions.

How I enjoy doing that work

  • I prefer to work asynchronously and reserve synchronous work for solving specific problems.
  • In line with the above, I like to keep meetings to an absolute minimum. Including many of the sprint reviews, standups and retros that are commonplace in most software businesses.
  • I like to have the flexibility to work inconsistent hours. Often, I find I solve problems better away from the computer rather than bashing my head against the wall.
  • I believe in transparency and equality, I prefer to work with organisations that foster that same ethos.

How I receive feedback

  • I love to improve my work and constantly question personally on how to do this. But, I need to understand the reason why something is better or is important.

The Benefit

By preparing a user manual, you can quickly establish a rapport with your co-workers and effectively communicate your “ideal working conditions” to your manager. Having led teams, I ended up putting together versions of a “user manual” for everyone in my team in my head. A written document from that person would have proved vital.

The advantages are that both yourself and the people around you can understand each other and make everyone happy by aiming to keep work within those ideal parameters. Of course, this is not always possible. Tough, stupid things sometimes need doing. But a keen-eyed manager will always be aiming to balance these tasks with work you love.

I’ve found my manual allows me to reaffirm my ideal work. Whenever I am thinking “I hate this work”, I review this manual and figure out why I dislike it.

I’d love to see your manuals! Send them to me on Twitter - @joshghent or via email at [email protected]


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