procrastination, Agile...and a bit of footy for luck

I've been reading an anti-procrastination book called The Now Habit and see that some of the advice is relevant to Agile development. I don't think that I have the worst symptoms of procrastination: inability to start or finish a task through fear of failure. But, a lot of projects in my personal life seem to take forever and I feel that a number of tasks at work take too long.

The procrastination log

I carried out the first activity last week, it was to keep a log for a week of how I spent my time. When I noticed that I was avoiding a particular task (mostly those that involve phoning someone) I noted that on my log. Looking at the sheets now, I can see that on some days I was highly focussed on one task and on others I was flitting around between lots of different tasks. Both types of work have their place, but I seem to spend whole days on one type of work where perhaps I should be mixing them. One part of time management is to recognise the times of day when you will be effective at each different type of work and schedule it in.

Getting started

Procrastinators are often crippled by the inability to start a task because it seems so huge that they will never be able to finish it. The book's advice is to think of it as a series of small starts. If you can achieve just half an hour of quality work to start a task it chips away at it. In software development we often face a dauntingly huge task of creating a system. even worse is that the task is going to change whilst you are working on it! Agile breaks down the long term goal into smaller steps that meet a clear purpose that is meaningful to the client. What I like about Agile is that we can have a conversation with the client about their priorities and they can then choose the one (and only one!) that is top. We then deliver this as soon as possible then repeat the conversation and see what the top priority is now. I can be a bit deep here and quote, "the longest journey starts with the smallest step". What we are doing is agreeing on which direction to head, taking a step, looking up and checking what the direction is now and stepping again. A procrastinator is so focussed on the far-away destination that they never take any steps.

and here's the footy

This also fits with my favourite analogy subject, football (soccer). After receiving the ball, many people head off upfield as fast as they can with their head down focussing on the ball. They may have enough skill to dribble round the other team and progress all the way up to the opposition's end, but the defenders are there to prevent proximity to the goal area and the attacker will be pushed to the corner of the pitch with no team mates to pass to. They will probably feel let down by their team because they have clearly been working very hard and have ended up close to the goal but with little chance of actually scoring. But it's scoring the goal that matters, and not the amount of effort. Dribbling involves sharing your focus between the ball and looking up to see where your team mates are. A well-placed pass is often more effective and takes less effort than a long dribbling run. i.e. lots of little efforts followed by a re-assessment of position and direction, perhaps culminating in a change of strategy (a pass) leads to reaching the goal in the fastest time with the minumum effort.

It's All In The Game blog (c) 2005-16 by Jez Nicholson