Hi, I'm Kris

Headshot image of Kris Carta
I'm a software manager and developer, and this is my space for exploring thoughts on *everything* to do with modern (agile) software delivery, from management to technology


Under Pressure

Focus on the essentials

These days, I am busy. At work, I’m managing multiple complex projects, and I’ve been engaging more in internal admin activities than usual. In my personal life, I’m fighting the daily battles to stay connected with myself, my loved ones, and my core activities, while living in a highly bizarre and stressful time.

This all has me stretching past my comfort zone for prolonged pressure. Especially with work, which I can easily expend all my energy on if I’m not careful, and which I can find hard to detach from.

This isn’t my first time working under pressure. I’ve even failed here before, having burned out hard on at least one occasion. I know what toll that can take on my personal and work life, and how long it takes to recover. Avoiding burnout is an “at all costs” goal for me.

Through years of failure, I have learned an important lesson: when under pressure, focus on the essentials.

To do this, I practice three steps:

  1. Make an ordered list of priorities
  2. Set a line somewhere on that list
  3. Cut out everything underneath that line

Priorities, ordered

For a long time, I set and ordered my priorities physically, on paper. Nowadays, I have a very clear mental image of my priorities, that I can recall when the going gets rough. When I find myself under a wave of pressure, I focus on these and clear out everything else.

My priorities are:

  1. My mental well-being
    • This means that if I need to detach, I will, regardless the context. With time I’ve learned to see this coming from far off, and I’ve never had to drop the ball on anything important like work or a partner because of this, at least not in recent memory.
  2. My loved ones
    • I take the “put your oxygen mask on first before helping others” approach here. My health comes first, but of course my partner, family, and friends are never far behind.
  3. My work
  4. My social life, non-negotiable activities like language courses
  5. Planned activities & events
  6. Free-time activities, personal improvement, entertainment, social media

1, 2, and 3, are my essentials

4 is close behind

5 and 6 are non-essentials.

During a big stress spike, like the one I’ve been under for the past few weeks, I try to set the line somewhere around 3/4, and I’ll then drop anything below without a second thought. Note that I haven’t posted on this blog for ca. 6 weeks - this is the reason for that! Furthermore, I’ve noticed that among the things I toss out, if there were any truly important items, they have a way of resurfacing later anyways.

Work Priorities

In my current role as a delivery manager, I have a lot of responsibilities - off the top of my head:

  • To my team members
    • e.g shielding, nurturing, prioritizing, unblocking
  • To my customers & partners
    • e.g. supporting, strategizing/advising, relationship-building
  • To my projects
    • e.g. organizing, documenting, budget/progress reporting
  • To my company
    • e.g. financial reporting, documenting, admin, 1:1s & check-ins, culture & practice improvement
  • To myself
    • Skills & reflection

Roughly speaking, I tend to prioritize my responsibilities in this order. In a normal work week, I strive to meet all of my responsibilities, and generally can. In a stressful week, again roughly speaking, I will cut away all of these that aren’t strictly essential. I’ve seen that for the non-essential tasks, no one ever notices anyways, and if they do, they simply poke me, and I re-prioritize accordingly.

I have tools for helping to stay focused at work. I’ll write about those in another post :)

Even if it Hurts

I hate stasis. I have terrible wanderlust, and I feel intense shame when I feel like I’m not producing or progressing as much as I should1.

The hardest, but also most important, thing for me to do when under pressure is to set other activities aside. Activities such as this blog, which I haven’t worked on in the last month, and my normal self-improvement activities, which have also been put on hold for the time being.

My internal negotiations for setting these activities aside are always driven by the realization that:

I cannot focus on improvement if that causes me to neglect the essentials2

  1. This is also why numbing is my go-to self-destructive behavior - defined by Brene Brown as “Taking the edge off emotional pain with [food, video games, Netflix/YouTube, …]” 

  2. Getting this equation backwards is what caused my last burnout!