It's that time of year again when many across the globe are in a reflective mood and looking towards the future. As the year winds down, people begin winding down along with it, and this relaxed state creates the ideal time to look back at what we've done over the last 365 days and start pondering what's next. At this time, you're probably thinking about what you want to accomplish for your career as a tester in 2022. Whether this year was your best yet or challenging at times, it's still a good practice to plan for better things in the near future and start planning them now.
The problem isn't planning for most—it's keeping those goals and accomplishing them throughout the upcoming months. Countless studies show that "New Year's Resolutions" fail for most people. So you might think, why bother even setting them if the odds are against you? How can you set yourself up for success? It turns out that most people commit the same mistakes that lead to broken plans. Thankfully, you can avoid them if you take some preventive actions.
Here are a few planning tips that have helped me and will hopefully set you to become the best tester you can become in 2022.
The Planning Phase
Do a brain dump before filtering your desired goals
Most of us have lots of things we want to accomplish for ourselves. As testers, we have many options to choose from to make our careers better. We can search for a new job that provides unique challenges. We might want to add test automation or DevOps to our skillset. Maybe we want to obtain a new certification or two that lead to better opportunities or a higher salary. Off the top of your head, you likely have multiple goals you'd like to reach in the short term and beyond.
An excellent way to begin your 2022 planning session is to make a list of absolutely anything you'd like to do in the next 12 months. Nothing is off the table—if it's something that you'd like to achieve or explore, put it on your list. Sometimes, these ideas may feel silly to add because they are too tiny, seemingly insignificant, or seem impossible. But at this first step, don't restrict yourself. The purpose here is to clear your head of all those loose ideas floating around into a more structured, visible place.
One tip I strongly encourage everyone to do when planning for anything is to write things down by hand, with good old-fashioned pen (or pencil) and paper. You'll likely default to using digital tools, as they provide plenty of advantages like jotting down notes quicker and the ability to search through your notes in an instant. However, lots of research show that writing notes by hand engages different parts of your brain and strengthens your ability to remember why these goals are essential for you. Consider hand-writing your plans to give you a better chance at actually hitting those goals.
Be ambitious but know your limits
Once the dreaming is over, now it's time to come back to reality. When your list feels complete and your head is clear, take a look at each item you wrote and honestly ask yourself the following two questions: "Is this something I can do in the next 12 months?" and "Is this something that I truly want to do?" These two questions are fundamental because they will filter out those goals that won't benefit you, even if you think they will.
The first question ("Is this something I can do in the next 12 months?") will help you primarily in two ways. First, it will help you determine if the goal is too large. Usually, if a plan spans over a year, you can probably chop it up into smaller pieces to keep your focus tight. Second, it also serves as a "gut check" into how much effort you'll need to reach what you want. If you can't see yourself putting in the work to achieve your desired outcomes, it'll lead to lots of frustration down the road.
The second question, "Is this something that I truly want to do?", is crucial to ensure the goal is something you want to do instead of something you think you need to do. For example, I find a lot of manual QA testers who want to get into automation not because they want but because they feel a need to do it. They later discover it's not the path they wanted when they attempt to switch. While it's good to think about future trends for your career, you also need to consider your feelings. There are few things worse than feeling coerced to do something you genuinely don't want.
Split your goals into pieces
Large and unspecific goals are sure to end up in the junk pile of "Things I wanted to do but never got to them" because they will become overwhelming at some point. At the first sign of trouble, we abandon these goals because it feels like we're never going to reach the end. That's why making your plans smaller and manageable will give you a better chance at getting to your destination. It's a lot more motivating to see portions of your desired goal completed than seeing a small fraction of a bigger plan remaining.
When talking about splitting a goal into smaller pieces, most recommendations only mention breaking everything down to the tiniest achievable portion you can do daily. One thing that has served me very well is to also split my goals into monthly, quarterly, and yearly goals, along with what I need to accomplish daily. It helps keep the long-term goals in perspective while having actionable steps every day and in the near future. For more information on this, check out the book The 12 Week Year, which provides an excellent framework for setting up your goals this way.
The Execution Phase
Do regular reviews throughout the year
Another mistake most people make with their goals is that they only set them up at the beginning of the year and never look at them again. They never take the time to regularly review how they're doing in alignment with what they planned. By the time they do check out their goals, they likely veered way off track with almost no way to get things back under control. By doing frequent reviews, you'll avoid surprises when you realize you're nowhere close to your destination.
Reviewing your goals every single day is the best way to ensure you'll stay on the right path and makes adjusting your goals easier. However, it's tough to take the time for it. At the very least, a weekly review provides enough time to know if you're still on track and to course-correct if needed. Any later than that, you risk getting farther from what you want to achieve. Monthly and quarterly reviews are also excellent to keep your eye on the bigger picture.
The most common complaint I hear is that reviewing is too time-consuming. In reality, it doesn't have to take too much time if you prepare for it ahead of time. Here's my goal-reviewing routine, including how long it usually takes me to go through:
- Daily: I take 5 minutes before bed to write down short snippets of what I did to move me forward toward my goals.
- Weekly: Every Sunday morning, I take 15 to 30 minutes to review what I did during the week, plan for next week, and make some notes on how to improve things that didn't go well.
- Monthly: Around the 1st of the month, I spent about 30 minutes reviewing what I did during the previous month and checking if I'm on track with my quarterly goals.
- Quarterly: This review is more extended, taking between 45 minutes to an hour to check what I did during the previous three months and plan for the next quarter. I do this review a few days before the end of each quarter.
All of this might sound a bit too much, but it's worth the time to keep you on track. Think of all the time you spend on activities that don't serve you towards your goal, and I'm sure you'll be able to find a spare 30 to 60 minutes for reviewing what you want to achieve. Even more important than making sure you're on track is that these reviews serve as motivation to see how far you've come. We all think we do far less than we actually do, so reviewing reminds us that we've done a lot. I can't tell you how often I finish a weekly or monthly review feeling completely re-energized.
Find ways to measure your goals
Measuring anything is tricky because it's so easy to measure the wrong things. It's easy to fall into measuring for measurement's sake, finding vanity metrics that may motivate you in the short term but mask any real progress. We've all seen examples of these kinds of useless metrics, like the number of test cases written or bugs fixed in a sprint. It's nice to see those numbers, but it doesn't show you if you're making the right kind of progress. The number of test cases or bugs isn't an indicator of quality in a product.
Finding the proper measurements will guide you through a successful journey. I'm a firm believer that what doesn't get measured doesn't get tracked, and what doesn't get tracked will eventually disappear forever. If you can't find a way to track progress towards your goal, I can almost guarantee you'll end up abandoning it because you won't have a clear idea of how far you've come. Over time, these measurements will keep you honest about your progress and help you make better decisions for your future planning.
Find a few ways to get tangible measurements that show clear progress towards a goal depending on what you want to achieve. If you're taking a course, keep track of how many course modules you've finished every week or month. For reading a book, write down how many pages you've read or books you completed. When learning how to code, it's helpful to list out what you've learned. Every goal has something that indicates you've improved or regressed, so use that to your advantage.
Be careful with measurements that seem like an indicator of progress but, in isolation, don't move you any closer to your destination. For example, keeping track of time spent reading or studying alone can trick you into believing you're making progress. But if you're not retaining the information or putting what you learned into practice, the time you spent is not moving you closer to the goal. Choose your measurements wisely and with the proper context around them.
Roll with the punches
Life has a nasty habit of getting in the way whenever we make plans for ourselves. When things don't quite go as intended, it can feel like we should give up. But if you have done most of what this article encourages you to do, it'll become significantly easier to adjust and get back on track. That's why writing down your goals, filtering the ones you can and want to do, splitting them up into manageable chunks, and regular reviews are so crucial to the process.
In 2021, I learned how these routines helped me achieve one of my goals. Before the year began, I planned to learn a new programming language (Elixir) to expand my current knowledge and expertise in software development. I wrote down what I wanted to accomplish ("Land a paid contract for a project using Elixir by the end of the year"), specified my intentions, and split up the goal into doable 12-week sprints. Everything went well for the first quarter of 2021 until real life reared its ugly head.
Progress began coming in slower, and I started pushing back on my goal while other work and personal issues crossed my path. Of course, I got discouraged and considered pausing my objective until next year. For some weeks and months, I literally wrote "I didn't do anything towards learning Elixir" during my reviews. However, the act of reviewing helped me reassess what I could do, and it helped me adjust my life where I found the time to once again study regularly with hands-on practice. Thanks to these shifts, I managed to get hired to work on an Elixir project starting in November—hitting my goal for the year.
The purpose of this story is to remind you that life can and will get in the way, but it doesn't always mean you need to let go of something you want to achieve. If you can't get back to your original plans in weeks or months, hold on to them anyway. Keep doing those reviews and measuring your progress, even if it's making a note that you made zero progress. If you really want to hit your goals, you'll eventually find your way to it if you keep reminding yourself about where you want to go.
Stop comparing yourself with others
Even with a solid foundation of planning and execution, there's one thing that can bring all of that crumbling down in an instance: comparisons - especially comparisons between where you are right now with someone else who's doing or did what you want. This attitude is the silent killer of all goals and dreams, and it's especially prevalent nowadays thanks to social media, where everyone publishes their highlight reel for all to see. As former U.S. President Theodore Roosevelt once said, "comparison is the thief of joy."
Most of us have gone through times where we see others seemingly having a much easier time accomplishing a similar goal than ours, discouraging us to a point where we want to give up and quit. Sometimes it comes in the form of a well-intended comment that reminds us that we haven't made as much progress as we'd like ("Wow, you've been studying this for a long time, you must be an expert!"). Other times it sneaks up on us subconsciously through social media and blog posts. These comparisons can quickly destroy any hopes you have, whether directly or indirectly. I admittedly run into this problem more often than I'd like to admit, including this year.
Another of my goals in 2021 was to study for the AWS Certified Solutions Architect Associate certification and pass the exam. My studies began in April, and it took many months to get where I felt comfortable even thinking about taking the exam. Whenever I searched online for learning resources and landed somewhere like Reddit or Twitter, I'd see people mentioning it took them a month or less to pass the exam with a high score. There's nothing more demotivating than seeing those comments while you're four or five months in and still feel unprepared.
Had I let these feelings fester, I would have easily given up. Eventually, I kept going and took the exam after six months of study and practice. I passed it with just slightly over the minimum score. These situations remind me that everyone is different, with unique conditions and circumstances that control how we progress with any goal. It's challenging to ignore comparisons in this hyper-connected world, but it won't serve you. Keep moving at your pace because that's the only pace you'll need.
At the end of every year, most people begin reflecting on the previous 12 months and inevitably want to make plans for the future. Unfortunately, a large percentage of those who make plans fail to gain any traction. The issue often isn't coming up with goals since we can spend hours just dreaming about things we want to achieve. This article gives you a couple of tips that have personally helped me reach most of my goals in the past year.
First, it begins with the planning phase. Most of us can write a few pages worth of things we'd like to do in the future. But we also need to filter them by assessing if each one is something we can achieve in the near future and, more importantly, if it's something we want to do. Big ambitious goals are fine, but you also need smaller milestones along the way to keep you on track. You also don't want to do something you feel like you need but doesn't light you up inside. Make sure to keep your goals easily accessible to remind you of your ultimate destination.
After planning comes execution, where you put the time you invested into good use. Regularly reviewing and finding ways to measure your progress ensures that you're on the right track at all times, even if you need to make some adjustments along the way. Know that life often gets in the way so you can roll along even when it feels like nothing is going how you want. Finally, don't compare where you are now against others who seem much farther or quicker along the path than you are. As long as you keep a pace that's manageable for you, that's the pace you need.
As testers, we should always strive to improve our capabilities to become the best version of ourselves we can become. It gives us better opportunities to help our team, organization, and customers as best as possible and provides the growth that we all need to feel fulfilled in our lives. Let's make 2022 our best year yet.
What goals would you like to achieve in 2022? Share your hopes and dreams for the new year in the comments section to get you pumped up for what's coming ahead!