Despite being an IC for the bulk of my career, finding my groove amidst the daily torrent of meetings from the early hours has always felt like balancing on a seesaw during a never-ending earthquake. Now, pair that with the onslaught of Slack inquiries and the incessant chiming of email notifications, and you have a front-row ticket to the anxiety circus. There are days when carving out a single hour of focus time is a wild goose chase, pushing me to work after hours to get stuff done, followed by a guilt trip about screen-gazing my life away.
Meetings in the corporate software world come in two flavors: one where you’re charting the work terrain or dissecting issues, and the other is a procession of process meetings. Daily standups, one-on-ones with the manager, monthly all hands, and a confetti of other mandatory rendezvous that often makes you question your career choice at the tail of a chaotic but unproductive day. Although the meeting marathon for an IC isn’t as grueling as what a product manager or team lead endures, it’s still a hefty list that often sidelines the real deal—doing the actual work you were hired for.
Now, railing against the corporate sky is useless. I’m well aware that far more astute minds have written about this many times before. Also, some of these meetings are paramount in a larger organization for coordinating work among many different teams and keeping the stakeholders in the loop. But that doesn’t mean things couldn’t improve. One thing that I’ve experienced is that I work better when all the meetings are clustered together in the morning, so there’s room for a couple of hours of deep work after 1-2 PM every day. That way, I can do all the meetings, write all the emails and Slack messages, do all the busy work before lunch, and then tune into focused work until the end of the day.
Of course, achieving this nirvana is easier said than done, especially if your manager or coworkers don’t work in the same cadence. Neither should a team adopt an immutable work style that isn’t flexible enough to cater to changes. Plus, chaos induced by the messages and meetings between different teams is often beyond your control. The best you can probably do is talk to your manager, propose a potential workflow, and see whether it works for them and your coworkers.
I’m yet to discover the unicorn’s horn that’ll allow me to deftly toggle between meetings and in-zone work without having to dodge a few anxiety attacks during work hours. Whether you’re a manager or an IC, if you have a story of how your current or previous team tackled this issue or have a better idea, I’d love to hear about it!