Time and attention are extremely valuable assets and I try to avoid wasting them when selecting projects. By looking at what I like to call The 4 E’s of Meaningful Work, I can maximize the likelihood of a positive outcome.
I’ve been recently learning a new approach to mobile app development: using declarative UI instead of the imperative approach that I’ve known and used for years. If you’re not a technical person, don’t worry. Knowing the details of the differences in these two approaches is far less important than how the areas or meaningful work
In talking about the each area, I’ll discuss the benefits, the impact of missing it and how I try to make up the difference. Hopefully, you can use this approach in evaluating the work that you do and improve your decisions about what is worthy your time and attention
This is the most important area for me so it’s where I tend to start. I am far more likely to do something that provides an educational benefit, even if it’s lacking in the other three areas. In learning Declarative UI, I saw the educational benefits coming in four ways:
Increase of Competence and Confidence
Learning by doing is a great way to improve efficiency and efficacy. The process may been slow at the beginning but with each new coding challenge and sample project, I get faster and I find my confidence growing as I integrate the new concept into my current body of knowledge.
Expands Area of Expertise
Having a different approach to develop mobile apps provides the added benefit of having more perspective on something that in which I already specialize. Of someone has a need, I can now draw from a larger pool of expertise to find the optimal solution. Having more arrows in my quiver means that like Arrow or Hawkeye, I’m more likely to have to right one for any occasion.
Allows You to Stay Current
Because the declarative approach is the “new hotness”, learning how to do it keeps me current and able to engage in what the cool kids are doing. I don’t give this aspect much weight normally, as there will always be another new shiny thing and I can’t afford to invest time and attention in all of them. In this case, I felt it was a good time as I saw a convergence on both major mobile development platforms. Google was further ahead with its Flutter framework by about 2 years but the strong commitment by Apple with SwiftUI means that I can learn simultaneously two solution to the same problem.
Can be really fun
Learning new things not only increase confidence and competence, it can also be fun. Remember the joy of a young child, constantly asking questions and acquiring new information. I’ve been using resources such as Paul Hudson’s 100 Days of Swift. His approach makes the process fun and I’m digesting it in reasonable bytes. Likewise, the The Boring Flutter Show has an great forum that provides a good mix of education and entertainment
Not Reaping the Benefit of Education?
Not every project will be challenging or allow you to acquire new knowledge of skills or use them in a different way. Too much of this can lead to stagnation and burnout. To combat this, push yourself to go beyond the requirements (if time allows). For example, perhaps the project doesn’t require continuous integration or testing but use the project as a testbed (pardon the pun). Because the project isn’t itself isn’t challenging, you’re free to use you mental capital in learning the new thing.
While I’d love to imagine that I’m above it, in a world of financial realities, it’s hard to ignore to ignore the economic impact of the work that we do. Deciding to take on this endeavor is no different. There’s an opportunity cost in engaging, you could be reaping financial benefits by doing something else. I’m still doing this because I believe there will be a future economic benefits via client work such as:
Keeps the Lights On
Two of my favorite activities are sleeping indoors and eating. I enjoy them so much, I try to do them daily. Receiving payment for my development efforts allow me to continue doing more work, even if it’s not in luxury. Tacos are cheap but they aren’t free.
Having a financial buffer also creates runway, time in which I can survive financially if my income and expenses remain constant. The more runway I have, the more I’m able to invest in future projects and improvements on existing ones. As Walt Disney once said, “’We don’t make movies to make money. We make money to make more movies.’
Support Meaningful Endeavors
In addition to keeping my own business and life going, I like to support others who are doing meaningful work. As my economic benefits increase, so does my ability to support them. Some personal examples for me include Black Girls Code and The Human Utility.
Provides a quantifiable measure of value.
Even though I’m not working on any paid projects using declarative UI frameworks, I can use the current projects to gauge levels of effort when estimating future project costs. In addition, I am able to create reusable components and gain experience which allow me to provide a better level of service to my clients.
Not Reaping Economic Benefits?
This can be a pro-bono or open source project that you’re working on. It could be a project in which the client didn’t pay or simply an app that you love but hasn’t generated any sales. Take the learning from this project and try to monetize it in other ways.
This factor is a hot button amongst creatives. We are often approached to do unpaid work as a way of gaining exposure. I would caution anyone who has heard this to consider a few things. Firstly, reread the previous section. Secondly, paid opportunities also provide exposure in addition to the money (Imagine that!). Whether paid or not though, exposure provides benefits:
Offers Social Proof
If a tree falls in a forest and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound? Of course it does, that’s how sound works but who will know? Gaining exposure allows that noise to be heard and validate that it indeed happened.
Publishing work allows you to establish trust with others. By sampling your work, others can gain confidence that you know not only what you’re talking about but what you’re doing as well.
Taking on new challenges can make you more marketable. As previously mentioned, staying current with new technologies has educational value but applying those new skills to help those who need it has a multiplying effort. It’s here that we can see the junction of the Education, Economic and Exposure aspects. There’s one more coming but first:
Not Getting Exposure?
We live in an age where the democratization of information and access to it provide you a greater degree of control over how much exposure you can receive. Toot Your Own Horn! Post what you’ve done on your website, blog, podcast and/or video channel. Even if client work is of a sensitive nature (under NDA or classified), there may still be lessons drawn from it that you can migrate into something that can be shared. Talk about the concepts, challenges and solutions in abstract terms.
Human beings are emotional creatures so decisions are not typically made based on tangible factors alone. Self actualization and esteem are at the top of Mazlow’s Hierarchy of Needs. In addition to the other benefits mentioned, how we feel about ourselves and the work we do is important. It provides benefits such as :
Higher Quality of Work
When we are passionate and enthusiastic about our work, it shows. It’s so much easier to go the extra mile when you are fully invested in what you’re doing. I do caution that passion should not be a substitute for a strong work ethic. Keep your word and do what you say you’ll do.
It Feels Good
Work that we enjoy is less arduous even if it’s hard. As the saying goes, “Time flies when you’re having fun”.
Not Getting Esteem?
Soul sucking projects are harmful in the long term. Taking on projects that compromise your values can take a toll and doing them is a difficult decision. However, more often than not, it’s not that the work is compromising, it’s just boring. To combat this, it can be helpful to tweak your outlook on these projects. Find an interesting angle that you do find interesting. It could mean taking a broader view of the project find connection points between it and things that you are passionate about.
Choosing where to allocate your time and attention is as important as the work you do. I hope you find this guided approach useful in your own decision making. I talk in more detail about my process on The Cocoa Nomad Podcast. Feel free to tune in and get more insight and examples.
How do you decide on which projects are worth your time and attention?