How to get things done when you’re languishing

Last year was the year that felt like a decade — it was the year of “Blursday,” Zoom fatigue, and working from home in a pandemic. For those of us who were used to working in an office, getting used to the homogeneity of working from home, living from home, and just being home for an entire year was quite an adjustment.

Recently, the NYTimes published this post about languishing that describes this feeling many of us are familiar with — of feeling “blah.” Not in crisis, not thriving, just existing.

At work, that feeling of languishing might look like…

Earlier this year, we interviewed a few dozen tech leads and asked them this simple question:

“What does success look like as a tech lead?”

Across small and large companies, infrastructure and product teams, enterprise and customer-facing companies, people shared that being a good tech lead means some version of: good execution with a team that’s happy.

On every team and at every company, tech lead roles can vary substantially. Tech leads can be managers. They can be mid-level engineers dipping their toe in “people stuff.” …

By Anna Bauer (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

A short story

A few years ago, Company X was a five-person startup. Everyone talked to everyone every day, and it was super clear what needed to get done — if someone saw something not getting done, they went ahead and did it. It was chaotic, but the early employees also found this “wear many hats” mode exhilarating and inspiring.

As Company X grew, it developed into another sort of chaos. A few levels of management were added, communication silos started to develop, and people stopped taking as much initiative.

There is a rift of understanding between those at the “top” and those…

This post was originally published on July 17, 2018 on the Co Leadership blog.

When I left my full-time tech job as an engineering manager a year and a few months ago, I had crafted a lovely narrative on why I was going into coaching.

When people asked, I responded that I took the part of my job that was most rewarding, and decided to just do that. And in talking to many engineering managers, I also realized that people didn’t have much support as they moved into management roles — and they were lonely. …

does this library need refactoring?

I walk past the CEO in the hallway. “Hey Jean, it’s been awhile. What are you working on these days?”

Scenario one: I reply, “Oh I’m working on this big refactoring project. It’s taking a few months, but we had really accumulated a lot of technical debt.”

Scenario two: I answer, “I’m working on a large project to make product development a lot faster for existing engineers, and to make onboarding the 5 new hires starting in the next two weeks a lot faster.”

Same project, different perspectives, and probably two very different reactions.

In the first scenario, my manager…

Many years ago, I worked at a five-person startup.

I brought crackers and cheese and fruit that I had bought with my own groceries over the weekend and put them in the mini-fridge, so that we’d have snacks.

As we started to look for another Android engineer for our team, I put together an interview process and blogged about the process, so that we could attract even more candidates.

I drove to Berkeley to speak to college seniors about our product and handed out pamphlets. …

originally published on on February 12, 2018

It had taken me two weeks to write the email, even though it was on my mind constantly as something I wanted to do. She replied a few days later, attaching a pdf with details of the coaching engagement and rates. For another two weeks, the reply sat, pinned to my inbox, with no response.

I desperately wanted to work with her, but the money was more than I had ever spent just on myself. As a coach myself, I of course charge for coaching, but in my mind, there was a…

I was walking my 4 year-old daughter to preschool last week, and I was noticing some anxiety I had about a workshop later that day. As we crossed the street, hand-in-hand, I figured I’d tell her what was going on so that maybe I could be more present with her on our beautiful morning walk.

“I’m a little nervous about a workshop I’m running this afternoon.”

And then I thought, well, I’ll just go full-on with coaching language and see if she gets it.

2018 New Year’s Liberations

Thanks to Cate Huston for starting us off with her New Year’s Liberations. We need to be explicit about what we say no to, to make time and room and mental energy for what it is we want.

In 2018, I am liberating myself from:

  • My limiting beliefs about money and how much I deserve.
  • Being completely practical and responsible all the time
  • My preconceived notions of what it means to be a parent. …

The story behind the picture is at the end of this post.

This is a very simple question, but one I’ve struggled with at work and home. In the early years of my marriage, I would sometimes (ok often) ask my husband Tyler, “Hey do you want to try that restaurant?” Depending on the situation, that innocuous question could mean any of the following (and usually I didn’t even really know which):

  • I really wanted to try it, but didn’t want to make it all about me.
  • I was curious about trying it, and was trying to gauge his interest level to figure out our joint interest level.
  • I was not interested…

Jean Hsu

Co-founder of, transforming engineers into leaders. Previously engineering at @Medium, Pulse, and Google.

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