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Stepping Back, Taking a Breath, Letting Go, and Saying "NO" (TESTHEAD)

On August 7, 2014, in Syndicated, by Association for Software Testing
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Many will, no doubt, notice that my contributions to this blog have been spotty the past few months. There’s a very specific reason.

A few months back, I did an experiment. I decided to sit down and really see how long it took me to do certain things. I’ve been reading a lot lately about the myth of multi-tasking (as in, we humans cannot really do it, no matter what we may think to the contrary). I’d been noticing that a lot of my email conversations started to have a familiar theme to them: “yeah, I know I said I’d do that, and I’m sorry I’m behind, but I’ll get to that right away”.

Honestly, I meant that each and every time I wrote it, but I realized that I had done something I am far too prone to do. I too frequently say “yes” to things that sound like fun, sound like an adventure, or otherwise would interest and engage me. In the boundless optimism of the moment, I say “sure” to those opportunities, knowing in the back of my mind there’s going to be a time cost, but it’s really fuzzy, and I couldn’t quantify it in a meaningful enough way to guard myself.

I decided I needed to do something specific. I purchased a 365 day calendar (the kind with tear off pages for each day), and I took all of the dates from January through May (at the time I did this, that was the current date). I wrote down, on each sheet, something I said or promised someone I would do. Some of them were trivial, some were more involved, some were big ticket items like researching an entire series of blog posts or working through a full course of study for a programming language. As I started jotting them down, I realized that each time I wrote one down, another one popped into my head, and I dutifully wrote that one down too, and another, and another, until I had mostly used up the sheets of paper.

WOW!!!

I came to the conclusion that I would have to do some drastic time management to actually get through all of these, and part of that was to find out where I actually spent my time and how much time it took to actually complete these tasks. I also told myself that, until I got through a bunch of these, I was going to curtail my blog writing until they were done. I’ve often used my blog as a “healthy procrastination”, but I decided that, unless I was discussing something time sensitive or I was at an event, the blog would have to take a back seat. That’s the long and short of why I have written so little these past three months.

In addition, I came to a realization that matched a lot of what I had been reading about multi-tasking and effectively transitioning from one task to another. For every two tasks I tried to accomplish at the same time, I came to see that the turnaround time to getting them done, compared to doing them independently, was four hours above and beyond what it would take to do those tasks individually. That was at the absolute best case scenario, with me firing on all cylinders, and me in “hot mode” brain-wise. As I’ve said in the past, to borrow from James Bach, my brain is not like a well oiled machine. Instead, it’s very much like an unruly tiger. I can have all the desire in the world, and all the incentives to want to get something done, but unless “the tiger” was in the mood, it just wasn’t going to be a product I, or anyone else, would be happy with.

The areas and stimuli that had the best effect was an absolute drop dead date, and another person in need of what I was doing to make it happen. Even then, I found myself delivering so close to the drop dead date that it was making both myself and the people I was collaborating with anxious.

Frankly, that’s just no way to live!

Next week is CAST. I am excited about the talk I am delivering. It’s about mentoring, and using a method called Coyote Teaching, along with the rich (but often expensive) nature in which it allows for not just transfer of skills, but also truly effective understanding. In this process of writing and working on this talk with my co-presenter, Harrison Lovell, I decided to use it on me, a little bit of “Physician, heal thyself”. I came to realize that my expectational debt was growing out of control again. In the effort to try to please everyone, I was pleasing no one, least of all myself. Additionally, I have been looking at what the next year or so will be shaping up to look like, where my time and energy is going to be needed, and I came to the stark realization that I really had to cut back my time and attention for a variety of things that, while they sounded great on the surface, were just going to take up too much time for me to be effective.

I’ve already conversed with several people and started the process of tying up and winding down some things. I want to be good to my word, but I have to be clear as to what I can really do and what time I actually have to do those things. Time and attention are finite. We really cannot make or delay time. No one has yet to make the magic device from “The Girl, The Gold Watch and Everything”, and time travel is not yet possible. That means that all I can do is use the precious 24 hours I get granted each day to meet the objectives that really matter. That means I really and honestly have to exercise the muscles that control the answer “NO” much more often than I am comfortable with doing. I have to remind myself that I would rather do fewer things really well than a lot of things mediocre or poorly.

I am appreciative of those who have willingly and understandingly helped by stepping in and taking over areas that I needed to step back from. Others will follow, to be certain. For the most part, though, people are actually OK with it when you say “NO”. It’s far better than saying “YES” and having that yes disappear into a black hole of time, needing consistent prodding and poking to bring it back to the surface.

I still have some things to deliver, and once they are delivered, I’m going to tie off the loose ends and move on where I can, hand off what I must, and focus on the areas that are the most important (of which I realize, that list can change daily). Here’s looking to a little less cluttered, but hopefully more focused and effective few months ahead, and what I hope is also a more regular blog posting schedule ;).

 

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