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Snacking: Navigating the Temptations of Instant Gratification

Move the needle by focusing on the big tasks

Who doesn’t love snacking? Snacks are the best. The perfect mid-meal respite from hunger. They could be sweet, sour, savory, cold, hot, crispy but regardless they always hit the spot. They give you that burst of energy that you need in the moment. 

Source: Walmart ofc

But then these damn doctors tell you snacking isn’t good for you! All about moderation, eating whole foods, your meals on time, blahdy blah. Sigh, unfortunately they are right. And we know that. 

Much like our culinary intake, this lesson is also important for our professional lives. Will Larson talks about this concept of “Snacking” writ large in his book Staff Engineer: Leadership beyond the Management track

The more senior you get in your career, the more you are suited to solve for specific problems within your company. Regardless of what the actual task is, the reality is that your responsibilities tilt in the direction of what you uniquely bring to the table. In the case of managers, it could be people development goals, or cross-functional alignment that is crucial for the success of the business. In the case of senior individual contributors, it could be mentoring, high level architectural or system design goals. 

There are 2 antithetical forces that are at play here — 

  • The more senior you get, the feedback loops of your actions get longer. What that generally translates to is that they are the most important things you should do, but then they also take the most time to observe results. 

  • On the other hand, humans love instant gratification. Getting immediate positive feedback for the tasks you perform is only human nature. 

This is where snacking comes in. Its those small tasks that seem oh-so-tempting, that you totally “shouldn’t” be doing but when you do it, it feels so good in the moment. 

  • For senior individual contributors, it could be building that small feature that you have been thinking about for months but haven’t convinced anyone to do. Or it could be fixing that bug that has been lingering in the system. 

  • For senior managers, it could be donning the hat of an individual contributor or taking on a task that you had delegated to your direct report. 

Completion of any of these feels like a different time continuum compared to the day-to-day red tape you might encounter. However, just like food, snack on these smaller items in moderation.


If you are doing it often, it typically indicates three problems — 

  • No one is doing the work you are exclusively capable of doing

  • You are probably stealing a learning opportunity from someone junior who could rise to the occasion 

  • You will likely not do as great a job as someone whose focus is exclusively “that”. Inadvertently you might mess something up that needs to be cleaned up by someone else 

This is a hard reality. No one wants to be told not to do something but the fact of the matter is that your core focus should be on working on things that help move the needle for you and the team. If you don’t do it, no one will. If you feel like snacking, be self-aware of what you are doing. Timebox or restrict the activity, so you aren’t doing a disservice to yourself and the team. 

That’s a wrap. Thanks for reading! 

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