Before you say context-switching is the worst, hear me out — being a manager, I’ll often have several calls back to back and need to shift emotional context quickly. I sometimes carry the mindset and energy of one meeting through to the next and it leaves me less emotionally attuned.
I was getting tired from the effort of context-switching and sometimes would be visibly drained or stressed. This is a catching disease: second-hand stress is a problem for a team and getting energy and focus right is core to managing yourself.
Stress gets everywhere. Like sand.
When context switching was a battle, I would feel confused and overwhelmed about how to engage, what to share, when to listen versus coach, or when to push back or advocate. I worried about boundaries, and about transparency. At one point, I remember consciously trying to “just act human” and feeling utterly paralyzed. It’s really hard to read a situation and use my intuition when my mind was only half-way switched to the new scene and I was trying to brute-force/think my way through an emotional process.
I needed a way to effectively play each role I have — engineer, engineering manager, engineering leadership team and senior management team — when there are sometimes only minutes to switch my mindset and get on the right wavelength. I needed a quick experience. A special hat? Too distracting. A special hairstyle? Too slow (those Pinterest 3 minute up-dos are lies). A special playlist?
I created a playlist for every role, and then some. It’s really powerful to hear the music and feel my mood shift. I found that I instinctively knew how to handle myself in most meetings. I get into the zone much faster and am much more able to bring the right energy to the situation. I feel my productivity have been higher since I stopped trying to brute-force this switch cognitively and tapped into the feeling of a song.
For engineering work (I don’t ship product anymore, but do keep my hand in so I can better understand engineer’s context) I have a trusty coding playlist. The first three notes are almost pavlovian; I switch into deep focus very quickly. It once came on at a cafe where I was eating lunch and I immediately stopped talking and pulled out my laptop.
I chose brighter, calmer feeling songs for my engineering manager playlist because that’s the energy I seek to bring into the 1:1 relationship.
Go your own way is a bit different and has a special purpose to me — the chorus is to remind me that each engineer will one day go their own way, so it’s something of a judgment day for a manager: people leave managers, not companies.
In the best outcome, moving on is the result of a lot of growth, and the next step in a journey onwards to new bigger challenges. This relationship has a timeline, and it’s my mission to be fully present today so that when the day comes they go their own way it’s a celebration.
Short Skirt/Long Jacket, because there I’m a woman in an all-guy team with fingernails that shine like justice, and I want to own that. I also really admire Caryn, although I’ll be sticking with my own name for now.
The Buffer leadership team playlist starts with Devlin’s All along the watchtower. I’ve chosen a remix of a remix of a classic — you can recognize Hendrix’s guitar riff, the pace of Dylan’s cryptic lyrics. It’s a collective work but also a very different song. The mindset is one of holding my own, but learning and absorbing the wisdom of experienced and talented leaders.
This track has no lyrics, but I can’t forget that all along the watchtower, princes (and princesses) keep the view.
We even have a team at-bat playlist for the team, with all our most motivating songs. It’s amazing to listen to what my teammates listen to to get pumped up, and I get so meta-motivated.
I’d love to hear what you think of this technique!
Originally published at open.buffer.com on May 11, 2017.
Originally published at medium.com