The influence of goals on stress

A little while ago I learned an important lesson: lack of goals in a project can lead to stress. Yes, not only can goals cause stress, apparently, they can take a part of it away too.

For a few weeks, I had been restless at work, wondering how much work there was in the current project. I had no idea how much work there was besides a few work items on the scrum board. The items I picked (or received) were sort of random, what I or the team lead deemed most important at the time. I had trouble motivating myself and I dragged some of the work items on throughout the day. I noticed the quality of my code slip and I do think that my colleagues noticed too.

All this time, I was hoping I would stay on this project. It’s a fun, challenging one with nice teammates where I learn a lot. First time I saw domain driven design, first time I saw event sourcing and I’m partially in charge of the security (which is heavily peer reviewed, but I get to write it first).

Then, after a meeting where the future of the project was clarified, I felt a burden lift from my shoulders. A burden I never knew I carried until it was lifted. When the new goals were revealed and I saw which ones were assigned to me, I got new energy. I looked forward to figuring out how to tackle these issues. Having clear goals gave me a sense of direction and focused me.

After that, we discussed using scrum, proper scrum, in the project. Not the semi-scrum we are doing now where we have issues on a board that everybody can add to when they like. Actual scrum with a proper backlog, defined sprints with their own sprint backlog decided during planning and a retrospective to end the sprint. A product owner and scrum master were appointed. They prepared the first sprint over the next two weeks and afterwards we started using it.

Surprisingly, this took even more of the burden away. Knowing that there is a planning, having a say in that planning and having more structure throughout the project instead of looking day to day to the board and picking random tasks is calming. It gives a feeling of certainty and makes me feel involved.

I like this change, I was surprised how much more motivated I became and the announcement  took away stress I didn’t know I carried. I think I’ll set more goals in my life or define the ones I’m pursuing now and see how that affects my stress and happiness.